This is the second of a two-part series. Go here for the part I.
Salmon runs have steadily declined in Lake Washington for nearly 40 years, a phenomenon which has not escaped researchers, ecologists and environmentalists.
The Cedar River-Lake Washington watershed runs from Snoqualmie Pass all the way to Puget Sound in an expanding cone-shaped perimeter, with tributaries from Lynnwood to Renton pouring into Lake Washington.
The Cedar River is the main tributary for the watershed, providing access to fertile spawning ground for Chinook salmon and other fish in south Lake Washington.
Elizabeth Mooney is a Kenmore biologist involved with the grassroots environmental group People for an Environmentally Responsible Kenmore.
She is concerned with waterfront development the city of Kenmore is proposing, namely developing the Swamp Creek area, which also houses Squire’s Landing park. What worries her most is the plan to develop a gravel or sand beach at Log Boom Park, and how all these developments will affect already fledgling salmon populations in the Sammamish River and north Lake Washington.
“My worry is that if we mess up the shallow area, and push (salmon) out into deeper water, the larger fish like bass will eat them,” she said.
Log Boom Park has a large expanse of wetland shoreline, an area which is critically protected, and one which, outside a few other areas along Lake Washington, including Saint Edward State Park, is one of the last remaining undeveloped stretches of land of its kind on the lake’s bank.
Kenmore City Manager Rob Karlinsey said the beach they may construct wouldn’t interfere with the natural wetlands, and that any impacts on shoreline wetland must be greatly offset.
“We definitely can’t go and start impacting wetlands with impunity,” he said. “We actually have to make up for the impacts on a six-to-one ratio.”
The city also partnered with volunteers to remove invasive vegetation along the shoreline and replace it with natural plants, Karlinsey said.
According to a 2001 study by the Greater Lake Washington Technical Committee, more than 70 percent of the lake’s shoreline was developed with hardened shores.
Putting a developed beach at Log Boom Park could create an environment where small salmon could be eaten, or dissuaded from migrating through, Mooney said.
The future for salmon in Lake Washington?
For all the odds stacked against Lake Washington salmon, they do have a few allies in their pocket.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife operates 83 fish hatcheries statewide, largely focusing on salmon and steelhead.
According to their data, 75 percent of salmon caught in Puget Sound originated from hatcheries.
“You can argue that in heavily urbanized watersheds like the Sammamish, a hatchery population would be necessary to keep it going,” Aaron Bosworth, with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife said.
With all the pressures salmon face, Bosworth said, without hatcheries there may not be enough naturally-spawning salmon to keep up any sort of Lake Washington run.
For Tom Murdock, director of Adopt-A-Stream, keeping the existing salmon runs in the lake relies on developers, landowners and local governments to work to restore wetlands and shoreline fish habitat.
These can include new developments in watershed areas being required to use porous pavements, rain water basins, managing storm water runoff, restoring shorelines and controlling water pollution.
He suggested homeowners could plant natural vegetation in their yards, shoreline owners could plant overhanging plants near streams and rivers, developers could undertake restoration of waterfront projects and governments could work to implement better storm water management systems and control for salmon-friendly developments both along the shoreline and inland.
“I know that we can do better,” he said. “We can turn things around and certainly by protecting the little remaining habitat that exists along the shore of Lake Washington is one way of keeping things from getting worse.”
The city of Bothell has begun a project to connect a side channel and a floodplain area to the Sammamish River to lower water temperatures. The city of Kenmore is repairing stream-side environments at Swamp Creek Park, as well as various other shoreline restorations along their stretch of the Sammamish River.
The city of Shoreline offers a rebate program for property owners who implement water management systems like rain gardens and native vegetation, and the city of Lake Forest Park has a mini-grant program, Mulvihill-Kuntz said.
However, he said Bothell, Kenmore and Woodinville do not have similar programs, though Bothell has implemented greener storm water technology on two recent downtown construction projects.
Redmond has been particularly responsive to salmon habitat and restoration, embarking on 45 stream restoration projects, including a multi-phase restoration of Bear Creek. The city also works to control invasive weeds, litter, shoreline vegetation among other activities.
Additionally, the University of Washington Bothell restored more than 60 acres of wetland on their campus, which North Creek runs through.
Despite these efforts, Murdock remains unsure if they are enough to return large salmon runs to the Sammamish River area.
“Are we ever gonna turn them back into great salmon runs? I doubt it. Can we keep it from getting worse? Absolutely,” he said. “Is the political will there to do it? That’s an outstanding question that I don’t have the answer for.”