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Study looks at Snoqualmie River habitat conditions
SNOQUALMIE Members of the Snoqualmie Watershed
Forum last week got their first look at a habitat conditions study
conducted last summer along the lower Snoqualmie River
that yielded a mixed bag of results.
During a two-month field season, King County employees
and members of Washington Trout surveyed the river from
the Snohomish-King County line to the Falls, as well as the lower
six miles of the Tolt River and the lower eight to nine miles of
the Raging River, cataloging what they found.
More work will be completed this year, and the forum will
use the data as it labors to establish local guidelines for
preserving fish habitat.
Melissa Boles, an ecologist with the King County Water
and Land Resources Division of the Department of Natural
Resources, told forum members at their Jan. 3 meeting that prior to last
year, no one had collected habitat conditions data in the
"This should give us an idea where the good habitat is that
we can protect," she said.
In creating an inventory of the river, the county and
Washington Trout studied the types of river banks found along the river,
riparian vegetation, any large, woody debris found in the
river, channel features, erosion, any garbage dumping in the river
and access points to the river created by humans, cattle or vehicles.
Boles said at first, the survey team didn't expect to find
much woody debris in the Snoqualmie River, which she said makes
for good fish habitat. And the study backed up anecdotal
evidence that the river lacked mature trees along its banks, which
provide shade and helps to stabilize the banks.
"But we actually saw wood lots of places, although there
aren't many mature trees downstream of Fall City," she said.
The study also pointed out several problem areas, such as
erosion near cattle access areas, a car that had been dumped in the
river and non-native plants invading stretches of the bank. Boles
added that the lower 20 miles of the Snoqualmie River were more
degraded than upstream.
This year, King County will assess other elements of fish
habitat, including spawning gravel, holding pools for adult
salmon, summer and winter rearing areas for juvenile salmon and
resident fish, as well as passage to off-channel habitat and tributaries.
Once the data is collected, the county will use geographic
information systems equipment to overlay the study's findings on aerial
photos of the Snoqualmie River.
Boles said the county would also compare the data to a
historical habitat reconstruction study on which the University of
Washington is working to complete.
Once done, the Snoqualmie River habitat conditions
information would provide specific restoration or protection
opportunities along the river, and it would be incorporated into the
larger Snohomish Basin plan, Boles said.
Snoqualmie Watershed Forum member Mark Sollitto, a
city councilman from North Bend, said he hoped the forum can begin
actively protecting or restoring fish habitat, instead of simply
generating more data to be studied.
"In the meantime, Rome is burning," he said. "This is
the most important basin in the county. This is all we have left."
Megan Smith, Snoqualmie watershed coordinator, said
the forum members have the opportunity to act quickly.
"We can use some of this data right away," she said. In the
coming months, the forum will review a "near-term action agenda"
and create a list of restoration and protection projects.
"We really, again, want to stress that we're doing
on-the-ground projects," said Olivia Rugo of the Water and Land
Those projects will have to follow new regulations from
the National Marine Fisheries Service for preserving salmon and
protecting habitat, which went into affect Monday. Known as the
4(d) rule, it expands current laws regarding salmon preservation
to include individuals, private businesses and local
governments. Those found to violate the 4(d) rule are subject to fines.
"This is what we are trying to respond to," Rugo said of the
4(d) rule, "and to craft our response around those requirements."
Also at last week's meeting, the forum celebrated the
signing of interlocal agreements between it and local jurisdictions,
including the cities of North Bend, Snoqualmie, Carnation
and Duvall. In a statement, King County Executive Ron Sims
said the agreements for three county watersheds the
Green/Duwamish, the Cedar/Lake Washington/Sammamish and
the Snoqualmie portion of the Snohomish Basin
"Salmon do not recognize political boundaries, so we
need a cooperative governance structure that mirrors the
geography that fish pass through," he said. "Together, we can accomplish
so much more than if we all worked on independent, yet