Terell Creek Restoration
Terrell Creek once supported viable runs of chum and coho salmon, as well as, coastal cutthroat and steelhead. Over the last 50 years, these populations have drastically decreased. Growing community interest in the quality of the creek sparked the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association (NSEA) to begin an evaluation of current conditions and how it might be affecting the wild salmon and trout populations. In 2000, NSEA used smolt traps to count young salmon leaving the stream and completed fish habitat assessments, including water quality and flow measurements, to determine fish habitat conditions. The assessment suggested three major areas of concern. First, the riparian areas both upstream and downstream from the Jackson Road Bridge were in need of significant restoration to provide shade, as well as, instream habitat work, such as large woody debris placements. Secondly, a few fish passage barriers, such as road culverts, needed attention. Thirdly, a plan is needed to manage the flow levels in Terrell Creek during the dry periods of the year. Many organizations, agencies, and volunteers began to help implement a restoration plan developed by NSEA. Their goal is to repair Terrell Creek for the purpose of sustaining viable populations of salmon.
A number of projects to improve riparian and instream habitat have been initiated. One project concentrated on removing reed canary grass and planting native trees and shrubs along the banks of Terrell Creek. Reed canary grass was historically planted in the area as a water tolerant grass, but may also have spread into the area as a result of ideal ecological conditions. It rapidly invaded areas and took over native vegetation. The invasion prevented the re-establishment of trees and shrubs that historically shaded the creek, providing cover and cooler water temperatures. Rachel Vasak, NSEA’s Project Manager, also describes the affects of the reed canary grass as “choking the stream,” meaning damaging and clogging instream habitat. NSEA hired contractors to clear sections of reed canary grass along the stream and then crews and volunteers planted native plants along the stream. NSEA will spend several years maintaining this site until native plants reach the “free to grow” stage when efforts are no longer needed. In addition, large woody debris has been placed in 2500 feet of the channel to improve salmon habitat complexity and diversity. These placements create pools and riffles that are critical to properly functioning fish habitat, however, currently lacking in Terrell Creek. Pools are generally good adult holding and juvenile rearing habitat and riffles are good spawning habitat. These riparian and instream projects have already yielded dramatic habitat improvements.
Projects to restore passage at manmade fish barriers are just getting under way. The most common fish barrier is a culvert. A culvert is used to direct the creek beneath a road or driveway, but also may create an additional obstacle for fish passage if not installed and maintained properly. Installation of new culverts will allow salmonids to reach prime spawning gravel and rearing habitats. The first culvert, moving upstream from Birch Bay, on Terrell Creek is at Blaine Road. According to Vasak, this culvert can act as a passage barrier depending on flow levels, plus it is also rusting out and needs to be replaced. Washington Department of Transportation plans to replace the Blaine Road culvert by summer 2007. Another culvert, at Grandview Road (State Route 548), is perched. This culvert sits above the stream and acts as a complete fish passage barrier. NSEA is working on a solution. Vasak explains an option to use “…full spanning weirs downstream to step the creek up and through the culvert making it passable to fish.” The last major fish barrier on the creek is the dam at Lake Terrell. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is evaluating the possibility of retrofitting the dam to allow for fish passage into the lake for juvenile rearing and for access to the small streams which discharge into the lake.
The dam at Lake Terrell acts as a fish barrier, but its primary function is to regulate flow from the lake into Terrell Creek. Currently, minimal water is released through the dam and into the stream. Rainfall and related runoff represents a significant portion of the creek’s volume during wet months. Within the 17 square mile Terrell Creek watershed, rainwater runs off paved surfaces and collects in drainage and roadside ditches. It is then rapidly directed into the creek at various locations. These ditches were created to control flooding on roads, agricultural land and developed sites. Previously, water would have time and space to seep into the ground and travel to the creek at a slower pace. This natural process allowed sufficient flows in the creek during all seasons. Currently, during the summer months the ditches run dry and deliver little or no water to Terrell Creek. Low summer flows reduces available juvenile rearing habitats, increase competition for the remaining habitats, and reduces or eliminates connections to off channel rearing habitats, such as, beaver ponds or wetlands. Additionally, these conditions may eliminate spawning grounds or just may be inadequate for fish to spawn successfully. The low flows in the summer months also mean that the water quality deteriorates as temperatures increase and dissolved oxygen decreases. Vasak believes, “More water in the stream would go a long way to fixing these problems.” NSEA is working on a water quantity-management plan to increase water flow from the Lake Terrell dam during the summer. The goal is to moderate water quality impacts and to improve spawning conditions in the fall. Such a plan may be useful to begin restoring a flow regime that helps meet the ecological need in Terrell Creek during low flow periods.
NSEA plans to continue working on Terrell Creek until salmon return to the watershed in sustainable numbers. Currently, they have projects scheduled through 2007, and plan on scheduling more. Reaching this goal has and will rely on outside funding and volunteers. The partners that have contributed to restoration efforts along Terrell Creek include: BP Cherry Point Refinery, Chemco, National Fish Wildlife Foundation, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington Conservation Corps Crews, Washington Service Corps, Whatcom Community Foundation, Terrell Creek Stream Stewards, and the Chums of Terrell Creek, Blaine High School, Western Washington University LEAD Group, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Intalco employees, National Conservation Corps Crew, and many community volunteers. This coalition has already improved riparian and instream habitat, as well as, fish passage and strive to do more in the future.
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