Cleaning up our streams

A single bare-boned Coho carcass sits on top of the rocks and sediment washed into lower Johnson Creek. The spinal cord is a symbolic and lingering reminder of storm-caused devastation to last year’s salmon run.

Patrick Allen and other members of Trout Unlimited, a national organization supporting cool water fisheries, aided in the creek cleanup March 27, making it more inhabitable for local trout and salmon.

Allen said December storms sent water rushing from the top of the hill near construction sites downstream through a culvert where the fresh water stream enters Liberty Bay. The culvert, too small for surging water to get through quickly, resulted in a flood 15 feet higher than the stream bed. All the Coho salmon eggs were flushed out.

“It had to have been a 50 to 80 percent loss of fish,” Allen said. “They had just spawned. The water was moving those rocks, which are big compared to the salmon eggs, so fast that those little eggs didn’t stand a chance.”

Allen, who recently earned his bachelor’s degree in environmental science and is currently pursuing a degree in fisheries, said it didn’t have to happen. “That culvert is antiquated. The water had such force it looked like a firehose.”

Johnson Creek used to be the main drinking water historically for Poulsbo residents said Paul Dorn, salmon recovery coordinator with the Suquamish Tribe for 34 years.

“Historically it had great habitat and was clean enough to drink,” Dorn said. “Now no one, without a considerable amount of effort in cleaning and boiling, could make it suitable for drinking.”

Poulsbo City Council Member Becky Erickson is a self-described “environmentalist type” concerned about Poulsbo streams.

“It’s just wonderful they (Trout Unlimited) were out there cleaning up,” said Erickson. “It’s always a concern to have sediment build-up in our streams. A lot of people have already destroyed many of them and I want to see the creeks preserved. This is very encouraging.”

Sediment buildup accumulates in streams near construction, urban development and heavily trafficked roadways, said Chris May, Poulsbo resident, North Kitsap High soccer coach, and urban stream coordinator for the city of Seattle. Johnson Creek is surrounded by all of these.

“In these streams, it’s the pollutants too, not just the sand and silt,” May said. “It’s the metal and oils that get attached to it that create more problems. In the case of Johnson Creek, you unfortunately have the Olhava Development and a highway at headwaters of creek,” May said. “Anything going on at the headwater is going to wash down into the stream.”

May said it is difficult to capture all effects of urbanization on streams. The natural sediment lying in the stream bed can also be washed downstream when there is an excess of water moving too fast.

“Where there are impervious structures such as asphalt parking lots, trees have already been cleared and there isn’t anything for the extra runoff of water to soak into,” May said.

Dorn said the trees are one of the most vital factors to a stream’s health.

“They act as sponges for rainfall and produce needle litter on the ground,” he said. “It all helps in holding back water from rushing through the stream.”

Once second and old growth trees are cut, it’s a century or more to get the protection back, Dorn said.

“There are ramifications that come about with development pressures if we continue to develop and cut trees, and that’s nothing new,” Dorn said. “There will be fewer fish for us to catch, fewer crabs and wildlife, which are all dependent on the quality of our stream.”

However, with the projected growth for the area, it’s not realistic development will stop altogether.

Dorn said it is best to provide a streamside buffer that slows down the stream. Buffers can be plants and bushes that provide habitat for birds and food for butterflies, he said.

“If you can keep from cutting down trees and uprooting soil you are far ahead of the game,” Dorn said.

Dorn advised residents need to watch what they put on their lawns, gardens and homes. Pet waste, pesticides and other chemicals continue to wash into the water and change the makeup of the stream.

“We will never get back to its historical water quality but we can try to get close,” Dorn said. “A clean Puget Sound depends on clean streams entering Puget Sound.”

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