Streamkeeper calls for building up instead of out to save fish

Tom Murdoch - Editorial frrom
The Daily Herald of Everett, WA

Posted 5/18/02

Do you live or work in the 10-mile long by 3-mile wide corridor running from south Everett near Silver Lake to Mill Creek, Bothell and the Sammamish River? If so, you are in the 30-square mile area of land that drains into North Creek and its many branches including: Sitka, Mill, Penney, Nickel, Tambark, Silver, Thompson, Sulphur Springs, Filbert and Palm creeks.

According to Snohomish County's demographers, there are 87,000 people who currently share the North Creek watershed, and 30,000 more are projected by 2012. North Creek also provides habitat for chinook, silver and sockeye salmon, steelhead, and resident and sea-run cutthroat trout. Unfortunately, the numbers of fish surviving in North Creek are rapidly dwindling.

As the human population grows, and people are rapidly paving over the watershed with rooftops, parking lots and driveways. Winter rains that used to soak up in forest and wetlands now flow rapidly to North Creek, causing erosion and destruction of fish habitat during the winter months. In many places, North Creek goes dry in the summer. We have created more than 50 barriers to salmon migration. Pollutants from lawns, pavement, and failing septic tanks flushing to the creek have rendered it no longer suitable for primary or secondary contact recreation, according to "The State of the Waters: Water Quality in Snohomish County's Rivers, Streams and Lakes," published in 1996 by the Snohomish Public Works Surface Water Management, 1996. If you drink the water, you will get sick. That's the bad news.

Now, are you ready for some good news? It is possible to accommodate all of the newcomers into the North Creek watershed and still protect and enhance its salmon and trout populations. Every North Creek watershed resident can play a role. For example, you can "encourage" planners and your elected representatives to get creative and establish policies requiring new development to "build up instead of out," with a focus on urban villages surrounded by open space. Gardeners can landscape for wildlife and stop using chemicals that wash off into the creek.

Low-rise commercial development can become high- or mid-rise mixed use development with housing on top, eliminating the need to pave over more of the watershed. Everyone can stop pouring anything down a storm drain that you would not drink; all 10,000 storm drains in the watershed lead to North Creek or its tributaries.

You can become a North Creek streamkeeper who monitors the stream and get your feet wet doing stream restoration projects. We can all get together and have barriers to salmon migration removed -- a very rewarding experience.

Some other positive thoughts to report are that the city of Everett has purchased a few acres next to North Creek north of 128th Street where it will be creating a wetland to catch and filter some of the "upstream" runoff from developed areas. The Adopt-A-Stream Foundation and North Creek Streamkeepers have resurrected three acres of wetlands from a parking lot downstream from the Everett project, restored a few miles of stream banks and improved fish habitat. Snohomish County Parks and Recreation and the city of Mill Creek purchased large wetland areas and created North Creek Regional Park. And the city of Bothell purchased another large wetland area near Thrashers Corner that will become a park. Also, the Washington state Department of Ecology has drafted a new plan to improve North Creek's water quality.

Want to find out more? North Creek's many problems and solutions to those problems will be the focus of a North Creek Watershed Forum. It will take place on Wednesday, between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. at the Northwest Stream Center in McCollum Park (1/2 mile east of I-5 off the 128th Street exit between Everett and Mill Creek). DOE will unveil its new Water Cleanup Plan. Everett, Mill Creek, Bothell, and Snohomish County stream experts will be there to share information. And the Adopt-A-Stream Foundation will be recruiting North Creek streamkeepers. You will even get a chance to talk to a six-foot long salmon!

Tom Murdoch is director of the Adopt-A-Stream Foundation, based in Everett, and co-author of the "Streamkeeper's Field Guide." More information is available at 425-316-8592.

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