Chico Creek: Salmon face upstream battle after storm damage -
A fish ladder break creates a question of priorities - Biologists
are at odds with a local committee over the order of funding for area
Bremerton, WA - Emergency crews rushed to repair damage to a fish ladder vital to West Sound's largest salmon run Wednesday, as increasing water flows threatened to destroy the aging structure.
Wednesday's emergency illustrates the need to replace the fish ladder on Chico Creek, according to salmon biologists who expressed frustration with local funding priorities.
Rains early Wednesday stimulated the migration of chum salmon, which use the ladder to reach the upper watershed.
All day, thousands of splashing chum blackened the waters below the fish ladder, which had become an impassible barrier.
Before the repairs, water was gushing through a sizable hole that appeared behind the first step in the ladder — a massive log imbedded in the stream. Water was flowing under, rather than over, the log. Salmon had no place to go.
It is unknown how the hole developed in the first place, said Jeff Davis, a biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. It could have been vandalism, or maybe somebody thought they were helping the fish go upstream.
The location is a popular salmon-viewing site near Kitsap Golf and Country Club on Chico Way.
Repairs to the fish ladder were completed by early afternoon, and another "step" was added, using a row of sandbags below the first log. The ladder may be good for another year, but the fish will remain bunched up unnaturally until more rain raises the stream level.
What is really needed, according to Davis, is a new bridge for Golf Club Road. An old concrete culvert creates the need for the fish ladder by blocking the movement of gravel.
The stream drops steeply after it passes through the culvert, and heavy flows scour out a deep pool behind the first step. During low flows, salmon cannot move upstream.
Fixing that culvert and fish ladder could cost more than $1.6 million, which could eat up a good portion of the annual funding provided by the state's Salmon Recovery Funding Board.
Whether that one project is worth the cost depends on who you talk to.
The state program requires local projects to be recommended by the East Kitsap Salmon Habitat Restoration Committee, a citizens' group.
Local biologists who advise the committee said the Chico project should rank second, behind a proposal to buy habitat near Curley Creek in South Kitsap.
But the committee chose to rank the project fourth — behind a Carpenter Creek estuary restoration in North Kitsap, a Barker Creek culvert replacement in South Kitsap and the Curley Creek project.
Doris Small, a state biologist who heads the technical advisory group, or TAG, said she and the other biologists were disappointed. Chico Creek produces more salmon than all the other streams combined.
"I do think this was an opportunity to address something that needs to be addressed right away," Small said.
Paul Nelson, a Kitsap County biologist who heads a study of the Chico watershed, said the county is under pressure from state and tribal agencies to do something about the fish ladder. Simply building additional steps could cost $50,000 to $60,000 — and it would do nothing to solve the long-term problem.
Steven Jonn, a member of the citizens' committee, said he understands why the technical group ranked Chico so high, but his committee also considers other factors — including how many citizens are involved in a project.
Carpenter Creek and Barker Creek both have strong citizen groups behind them.
Jonn said the ranking system gives final say to the citizens' committee.
"I rank the project where I think it falls," he said. "The fact that our ranking came out different from the TAG's shouldn't make any difference."
Monica Daniels, a county biologist who oversees the process, said all the top projects are worthy of funding. Before the next round of funding, Daniels said she wants to examine how the priorities are made.
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