Historic Indianola Estuary Open to Tidal Flow Once Again

A small estuary at the Indianola Waterfront Preserve in Kitsap County, blocked from tidal flow for more than 40 years, has been reopened to juvenile fish this fall—part of a broader effort to restore natural resources damaged by a 2003 oil spill at Point Wells in Snohomish County.

This 16-foot-wide bridge replaced an 18-inch pipe that restricted flow to this historic estuary in Indianola.

Kitsap County Public Works has replaced a fish-blocking 18-inch pipe under Chief Sealth Drive with a 16-foot-wide by 8-foot-tall culvert. County public works also has removed fill material at the site to widen the estuary from 30 to 150 feet. The project is supported by the Suquamish Tribe and several state and federal natural resource agencies.

Restoring the small or “pocket” estuary at the Indianola Waterfront Preserve will provide juvenile Puget Sound chinook, coho and chum salmon a refuge area for resting, eating and hiding from predators. Puget Sound chinook salmon are listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The Indianola Waterfront Preserve is owned by Kitsap County and protected with a conservation easement held by Great Peninsula Conservancy.

The estuary preserve was filled with dredge spoils and the small culvert was installed in the 1970s, when the adjacent Indianola spit was developed for housing and the inner bay was dredged for moorage. Historic photos prior to the development show the estuary functioning properly with tidal flows.

“When the road was built to what was then a new development, the original estuary was largely cut off from Miller Bay,” said Tom Ostrom, environmental biologist for the Suquamish Tribe.

The pipe placed under the road was too small and at an elevation that only allowed for water exchange at very high tides, he said, “making it difficult for fish to move in and out of the estuary.”

Sometime later, the estuary was used to dispose of unwanted spoils from the dredging of Miller Bay, destroying wetland habitat.

“Removing the spoils and installing what is essentially a bridge will allow salmon and other fish to take advantage of the improved habitat,” Ostrom said.

The Indianola Waterfront Preserve restoration project is a collaborative effort by the tribe, Kitsap County, Great Peninsula Conservancy, and the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office’s Salmon Recovery Funding Board.

In December 2003, about 4,800 gallons of heavy bunker marine fuel spilled to Puget Sound from a Foss Maritime tank barge. The spill contaminated nearby beaches on the Port Madison Indian Reservation.

Kitsap County worked closely with the Suquamish Tribe, the state departments of Ecology, Fish and Wildlife and Natural Resources, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to leverage some of the $577,000 in state fines to Kitsap County and $338,000 in natural resource compensation funding from Foss under federal Oil Pollution Act to help restore resources in the area harmed by the spill.