UPDATE: June 12, 2016
The Skokomish River ecosystem restoration project, as proposed by
the Army Corps of Engineers, remains on track. The
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on May 25
unanimously endorsed the Water Resources Development Act, which
would authorize the project. The legislation must still be approved
by the full House and Senate.
After decades of in-depth studies and anxious waiting,
restoration of the Skokomish River ecosystem took a major step
forward today, when a committee of the U.S. Senate endorsed the
$20-million effort as part of a larger legislative package.
The Skokomish restoration was one of many projects that sailed
through the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee as it
passed a $9-billion authorization bill on a 19-1 vote. The bill
must still be approved by the full Senate and House, but supporters
of the Skokomish restoration were thrilled with the light at the
end of the tunnel.
Rich Geiger, project engineer for the Mason Conservation
District, has been shepherding the Skokomish effort for as long as
I can remember. I asked him how it feels to finally see some action
“It feels really really good,” he said slowly, emphasizing each
The restoration program consists of five separate projects along
the Skokomish River. Although not designed for flood control, these
projects for improving ecological health are expected to reduce
flooding along one of the most frequently flooded rivers in the
The restoration effort has received support from far and wide.
As Rich likes to point out, experts generally agree that Puget
Sound cannot be restored without restoring Hood Canal, and Hood
Canal cannot be restored without restoring the Skokomish River.
Sen. Patty Murray has been a strong advocate for the
“The waters of Hood Canal and Puget Sound are essential to the
Washington state environment, economy, and our way of life,” the
senator said in an email, “so I am proud to fight for investments
in the restoration of the Skokomish River. This critical work will
restore habitat and wetlands and improve fish passage, which in
turn supports salmon recovery — all necessary to maintain our
precious natural resources.”
U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, said improving the health
of the Skokomish River would be a boon for Mason County and the
entire region. He said he applauded the efforts of the Skokomish
Watershed Action Team, the Skokomish Tribe and area residents who
worked together to shape the restoration program.
“This project ensures we can better protect critical species
like salmon … while restoring more natural areas for folks to
explore,” Kilmer said in an email. “That will help bring more
visitors to recreate in this watershed while protecting it for
The $9-billion authorization bill, known as the
Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (PDF 4.1 mb), includes
money requested by the Army Corps of Engineers for water-related
projects across the country. In additional to restoration efforts,
the bill includes authorization of projects related to flood
control, dredging, drinking water emergencies, water treatment and
pipelines. For a summary of the bill see the
report to the committee (PDF 284 kb).
The bipartisan endorsement and near-unanimous support offers
hope that the needed money will be approved in a future
appropriations bill tied to the budget, Rich Geiger told me. He is
also optimistic that the 35-percent state/local match will be made
available through state grants or a legislative appropriation.
“Now that have an approved plan, we are coming to Washington
state with a funding request that is much larger than normal,”
Geiger said. “This is a little unprecedented.”
The federal share for the project would be about $13 million and
the state share nearly $7 million.
Some money has already been provided for engineering work, Rich
said. If things go well, the final designs can be ready for the
start of construction in October of 2019.
These four projects would come first:
Confluence levee removal: This levee was built
with old cars at the confluence where the North Fork flows into the
mainstem of the Skokomish. Some 5,000 feet of the levee would be
removed. A small channel would be created to allow water from the
mainstem to flow into the North Fork and return at the existing
confluence. Large woody debris would help direct water into the
channel. Estimated cost: $7.5 million.
Wetland restoration at river mile 9: The
existing levee would be breached in four locations, and a new levee
would be built some 200 to 300 feet farther away. The levee would
allow for minor over-topping but would not increase the flood risk.
Estimated cost: $2.4 million.
Wetland restoration near Grange: Larger
breeches are planned for the levee near the Grange hall at river
mile 7.5 to 8. A new levee, up to 10 feet tall and 2,900 feet long,
would be constructed 1,200 feet farther back with no increase in
flood risk. Locations are still under discussion. Estimate cost
Side channel connection near Highway 101: An
old remnant channel between river mile 4 and 5.6 would be restored
to take water from the mainstem at high flows. Woody debris would
help define the inlet and outlet to the channel, which would become
a ponded wetland at low flows. Estimated cost: $3.1 million.
The fifth project would be constructed over two years in
Large woody debris: Upstream of the confluence
with the North Fork, large woody debris would be installed. Large
clusters of trees with root wads, as well as some single trees,
would be placed between river mile 9 and 11, as measured from the
estuary in Hood Canal. Estimated cost: $3.2 million.
The original plan for the Skokomish, as developed in an early
report by the Army Corps of Engineers, called for more projects and
would have cost closer to $40 million.
Some of those other projects are being funded through other
programs, such as the Salmon Recovery Funding Board. For example,
the reconnection of a stagnant section of Weaver Creek to the
free-flowing Purdy Creek is scheduled for this summer using SRF
In addition, numerous man-made logjams are being planned to
create salmon habitat, reduce sediment flows and stabilize the
stream channel. Also, preliminary designs and discussions are
underway to relocate Skokomish Valley Road, a main route into the
Olympic Mountains. Moving the road would allow for the removal of
levees, river bank restoration and a reconnection to about 60 acres
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