Nisqually Tribe helps develop town’s new stormater plan to help salmon

The town of Eatonville recently approved a new stormwater plan that will reduce pollution and protect salmon around the city.

The Nisqually Indian Tribe funded the update as part of a broader project to protect salmon habitat by better managing the water that flows out of the town. “Eatonville is perched between two vital salmon tributaries to the Nisqually River,” said David Troutt, natural resources director for the Nisqually Indian Tribe.

The city of Eatonville is bordered by Ohop Creek and the Mashel River, two priority salmon streams in the watershed. “Much of how salmon succeed or fail in this part of the watershed will be determined by how well we manage growth in Eatonville,” said Doug Beagle, town administrator for Eatonville.

The plan identifies potential areas of flooding around the city and water quality problems caused by stormwater runoff. The plan also lists possible improvements to the city’s stormwater system and ranks them by importance.

“In addition to hurting salmon, flooding has harmed homeowners around the city,” Beagle said. “Hopefully, this plan will show us how to not only prevent property damage, but clean up local streams and protect salmon.”

The tribe hopes to foster creative solutions like rain gardens that allow water to move more naturally as it makes its way to the river. Rain gardens replace impervious hard surfaces such as blacktop, letting water slowly seep into the ground. “The plan focuses attention on utilizing low impact development techniques for stormwater management such as bio-retention areas and pervious concrete.” Beagle said.

“Growth is going to happen in the rural Nisqually watershed just like it’s happened all over Puget Sound,” Troutt said. “That growth has usually meant less habitat and lower water quality for salmon, but it doesn’t have to.”

Poor stormwater management leads to high flows in the winter and low flows in the summer. The Mashel River already is too low and too warm for fish as it passes through Eatonville. “We’d like to change the way water flows, so it seeps slowly into the ground instead of quickly running off into the stream,” Troutt said.

Low flows in the Mashel typically occur just as adult chinook salmon are making their way back to spawn. “Adult salmon need cool, deep pools to rest as they swim up-river,” Troutt said.

Juvenile chinook, coho and steelhead also depend on ample water during the summer because they over-winter for an extra year in freshwater before migrating out to sea. Both Nisqually River chinook and steelhead are listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The tribe and other local organizations have restored salmon habitat in both the Mashel River and Ohop Creek. Follow up monitoring has revealed young salmon are using newly restored habitat. “We know salmon use the habitat we’ve worked so hard to restore,” Troutt said. “By working closely with the local community, we hopefully can add to the gains we have made through restoration.”