Tag Archives: flooding

Some salmon take the low road to get back home to spawn

“Why did the salmon cross the road?”

OK, I’ll admit that I used this line once in a story many years ago when I first observed the Skokomish River overflowing its banks. I was amazed at the number of chum salmon swimming through farm fields and across pavement in the Skokomish Valley as they tried to get back to their spawning grounds.

Despite extensive work in the Skokomish River estuary, the waters still back up and fish still swim across roads during heavy rains and floods.

I was not the first to bend the old joke to ask, “Why did the salmon cross the road?” And I was definitely not the last, as two new videos went viral the past few days, resulting in news reports across the country. Hundreds of thousands of people must have been surprised to see Puget Sound salmon skittering across the pavement in a most unnatural way.

I even received phone calls from relatives in other parts of the country wanting to know more about this phenomenon. All I can say is that it’s not a good thing to have salmon swimming across fields in an uncertain effort to find their way back to the stream channel. Many of them never make it.

“Salmon are known for jumping up waterfalls to get to their spawning grounds, but crossing a flooded road? That’s a new one,” wrote someone on the Facebook page of CBS Los Angeles. (In the Skokomish, it is not a new thing.)

“Why did the salmon cross the road?” wrote reporter Amir Vera of CNN. “Simple. To have babies, at least according to Alexis Leonard, a fish hatchery specialist who recorded the video of more than a dozen salmon swimming across a flooded US Highway 101 in Shelton, Washington, on Saturday.” Leonard was making the video for her sister, who had never seen the sight. The video and story are posted on CNN online.

The other viral video, which is shown at the top of this page, was featured by Ben Hopper of UPI, who credited Terri Sue Potter for the video.

“Why did the salmon cross the road?” One clever response has been “to get to the other tide,” although we know that adult salmon are actually swimming away from tidal waters.

One of the most impressive videos of fish swimming across a road was made two years ago by videographer Terrence Allison, who captured a low-angle shot on a sunny day. The fish can be seen gathering at the edge of the road, then shooting across one by one. Part 2 of his two-part show can be seen in the second video player on this page. Part 1, which better shows the surrounding area, can be seen on Terrence’s YouTube channel.

Jim Ames, who retired from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in 2006, was as impressed as anyone with these road-traveling salmon. To him, salmon are an icon of our state, culturally revered by both Native Americans as well as anyone who appreciates nature. Salmon provide a commercial resource, a sporting adventure and a critical food supply for fish and wildlife, including our endangered orcas. Not everyone loves to eat salmon, but for many they are a good-tasting, healthy meal.

“Salmon deserve their special status for all of those reasons, but more than anything because of their indomitable spirit,” Jim wrote for the WDFW website. “Salmon are the embodiment of a willingness to ceaselessly struggle, and ultimately succeed, against seemingly overwhelming obstacles.”

Jim put an optimistic spin on a still photograph of a salmon swimming across a flooded road. “At this point, it is not possible to determine the ultimate outcome of this particular chum salmon’s struggle,” he said. “However, it seems likely that he will make it across the road and continue upstream to spawn.

“The fate of the other fish waiting in the road ditch is even less clear. The longer they wait to attempt the road crossing, the lower the water will drop… If the receding waters leave no alternate passageway upstream, the salmon will not give up… The salmon will continue to fight to find a way upstream until they are successful, or until their energy resources are totally expended and they die. But, they will never quit.”

Corps completes draft plan for Skokomish River

UPDATE, Jan. 27
The Army Corps of Engineers published a news release today about tentatively selected plan. It lists the total cost of the projects at $41 million. This information was not available when I wrote my story for Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.
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Residents in and around the Skokomish Valley have demonstrated incredible patience, along with some frustration, while waiting for the Army Corps of Engineers to develop a plan to restore the Skokomish River.

Map courtesy of Skokomish Watershed Action Team
Map courtesy of Skokomish Watershed Action Team

I was pleased to announce in today’s Kitsap Sun (subscription) that top officials in the corps have now approved a “tentatively selected plan.” This plan will now undergo extensive review inside and outside the agency. Two public meetings are being planned, although they have not yet been announced.

I’ve been following the development of this plan for many years, actually long before I wrote a four-part series in 2009 about the past and future of the Skokomish River. See “Taming the Skokomish,” Kitsap Sun.

As Rich Geiger of Mason Conservation District told me last week:

“We are very glad to be at this point, because we are talking about a physical project moving forward and not just more planning. We asked the Corps to produce a single integrated restoration plan, and they did.”

Rich did not slam the Army Corps of Engineers for taking so long. He and I did not discuss — as we have in the past — how restoration of the Skokomish River plays an important part in the restoration of Hood Canal as a whole.

But we did talk about dredging, which many area residents believe is the only answer to cleaning the river channel, clogged by sediment and flooded more frequently than any river in the state. The corps has determined that dredging is too expensive for the benefit provided and would require ongoing maintenance. I look forward to reading the analysis by the corps and hearing the discussions that follow. I’m sure there is plenty to be said.

Before the agency releases the tentative plan, a final check must be made by corps officials to ensure completeness of the documents, which will include a feasibility report and an environmental impact statement, according to project manager Mamie Brouwer.

The plan includes these specific projects:

  • Car-body levee removal: Years ago, junk cars were used to construct a levee where the North Fork of the Skokomish flows into the main river. Although the course of the North Fork has changed, the old levee continues to impair salmon migration through the area, Brouwer said. This project would remove the levee and restore the natural flows at the confluence.
  • Side channel reconnection: Restoring a parallel channel alongside the Skokomish would give fish a place to go during high flows and flooding. In recent years, migrating salmon have been washed out of the river and into fields and ditches, where they struggle to survive. A side channel, about 4 miles upstream from where the Skokomish flows into Hood Canal, could provide refuge from the raging river.
  • Nine mile setback levee: A new levee is being proposed nine miles upstream to allow an existing levee to be breached, increasing the flood plain in that area. The new levee would be several hundred feet back from the old one and would allow for new pools and vegetation along the river.
  • Grange levee: Like the nine-mile setback levee, a new levee would be built about 8 miles upstream near the Skokomish Valley Grange Hall. The levee could be set back about 1,000 feet from the river, greatly expanding the flood plain in that area.
  • Large woody debris: Creating log jams in the river would increase the complexity of the channel, adding meanders, gravel bars and pools. Such structure is considered important for the survival of juvenile salmon. Several dozen log jams are proposed in the initial plan, but that could change in the final design.
  • Hunter Creek: Continual springs maintain summer flows in Hunter Creek, a tributary of the Skokomish considered excellent fish habitat. But with few side channels or complexity, the stream has limited spawning habitat and fish can be washed away during high flows. The project would alter the channel for better function.
  • Weaver Creek: Similar to Hunter Creek, Weaver Creek has great potential for increased spawning and rearing habitat along with refuge from high flows. The project would alter the channel to improve natural functions.
In 2009, members of the Skokomish Watershed Action Team observed how high flows in the Skokomish River had washed away vegetation and left huge deposits of gravel.
In 2009, members of the Skokomish Watershed Action Team observed how high flows in the Skokomish River had washed away vegetation and left huge deposits of gravel.
Kitsap Sun file photo

Learn about Skokomish watershed issues tomorrow

I’d like to take a moment to remind you about an open house tomorrow to discuss the Skokomish watershed restoration. You’ve been hearing about the problems in the Hood Canal watershed for years — from flooding in the valley to washed out culverts, from dikes along the estuary near Hood Canal to excessive logging roads in the mountains.

The Skokomish watershed is undergoing a massive restoration at all elevations, and the Army Corps of Engineers is putting together plan to restore the river ecosystem and address the flooding problem for the foreseeable future. Because the Skokomish River is the largest river in Hood Canal, the health of the watershed affects the overall health of Hood Canal.

If you’ve wondered about the various projects, you may want to attend this open house tomorrow at Hood Canal School, near the intersection of Highway 101 and Highway 106. The event, sponsored by the Skokomish Watershed Action Team, is from 1 to 4 p.m.

Learn about the Nalley Island dike-removal project, the Large Wood Enhancement Project in the South Fork Skokomish River, the Forest Service’s Legacy Roads Project and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ General Investigation.

Children are welcome to participate in activities before and during the open house. Olympic Mountain Ice Cream and cookies will be served.

A special discussion will focus on flooding and what may be done as an interim measure. Dredging, which sounds like a simple answer, is expensive, creates environmental concerns and doesn’t solve the problem for long, experts say.

For more information, visit the Skokomish Watershed Action Team’s website, which includes a collection of documents and news stories about the problems and restoration efforts.

Online technology means up-to-date weather info

The Kitsap Peninsula largely escaped the onslaught of rains on Wednesday, thank to the “rain shadow” effect of the Olympic Mountains. See Brynn Grimley’s story in yesterday’s Kitsap Sun.

The rain shield eventually broke down as the storm direction changed, and we got hit pretty good yesterday. But the scattered flooding and mudslides didn’t come close to what we saw in December of 2007.

The biggest problem in this area was Highway 166 between Port Orchard and Gorst, where perennial mudslides disrupt the normal traffic flow. See Travis Baker’s story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

As for other areas of the state, it’s worth noting that the Sun’s Web editor, Angela Dice, and other newspaper Web editors used some relatively new online tools — including Twitter and Publish2 — to keep people updated about the weather. If you logged onto the Sun’s weather coverage, you would have access to a growing list of links about weather events taking place all over the state.

This flood of information was made possible through a collaboration of online journalists and others who believe that getting information out to people is more important than old-fashioned competition, which used to dominate the news business. It’s actually one of the few bright spots in an shrinking industry where news coverage suffers amid the evaporation of advertising revenues.

The story of this week’s collaboration was featured today in the online publication “Publishing 2,” which reports on developments regarding an online system that helps connect journalists together. The author of the piece, Josh Korr, calls this week’s effort a “quiet revolution” in which “four journalists spontaneously launched one of the first experiments in collaborative (or networked) link journalism to cover a major local story.”

For the average reader, this new approach means that newspaper Web sites become richer with breaking news. You could use the Kitsap Sun, for example, to figure out which roads were blocked at any one time pretty much anywhere in the state.

Want to be even more current with events? Go to the search engine on Twitter and type in “#waflood.” You’ll see a twittering of reporters, highway engineers and other people tweeting about the latest developments on the roads and rivers.

Meanwhile, geologists for the Washington Department of Natural Resources have developed a network to share information about mudslides with the hope that knowledge will help reduce future problems. Check out the map of recent mudslides and learn about the hazards and what you can do about them.