DUNGENESS (Dec. 27, 2004) – In the 1800s, the lower reach of the Dungeness River flowed through a 100-acre floodplain before emptying into Dungeness Bay. The river was connected to a large estuary that provided essential spawning and rearing habitat for salmon.

Nowadays, the floodplain is the site of several homes and agricultural land. Dikes – built in the 1960s – on both sides of the river restrict the river’s course, protecting development and eliminating critical salmon habitat. The west-bank dike, known as the Rivers End levee, is privately maintained and hasn’t always worked, causing flooding problems for property owners and the environment.

To eliminate continual property damage and protect and restore the environment, the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and Clallam County are purchasing land along the Rivers End levee and in the floodplain from willing property owners and removing some of the homes. Known as the Rivers End Project, the goal is to purchase the land and remove the homes, allowing the river to connect with the floodplain. The project also will improve habitat for fish and decrease flood hazards upstream.

Two homes in the area already have been demolished and their septic systems have been removed. Another home will be removed soon, and a fourth house will be moved to another location next spring.

“Year after year, flooding has been a major problem for many of the property owners at Rivers End,” said Hansi Hals, restoration planner for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe. “One homeowner was flooded nine times in eight years. That’s a problem for the property owner and the environment. Our hope is to eliminate those problems and improve salmon habitat by purchasing property in that floodplain and letting the river slow down and choose its path.”

So far, seven landowners have sold nine parcels and an additional seven property owners are in negotiations. Property owners are given fair market value for their land and are offered relocation assistance. Also, the North Olympic Land Trust, which owns about 50 acres of pasture in the floodplain, is exploring restoration options.

After property has been purchased, structures on each parcel will be removed. Septic systems, which often fail during floods and release pollutants into Dungeness Bay, also will be cleaned and removed. In recent years, more and more areas within the bay are being closed to shellfishing due to high levels of fecal coliform bacteria. “Removing the septic systems won’t solve the pollution problem in Dungeness Bay, but it will be one step toward helping remedy the situation,” Hals said.

Aside from improving water quality, the project will reestablish important salmon spawning and rearing habitat at the mouth of the river. The Dungeness supports chinook, pink, chum, and coho salmon; and steelhead, cutthroat and bull trout. The chinook, summer chum and bull trout populations are all listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Allowing the lower reach of the Dungeness River to spread out over the floodplain also will lessen the likelihood of salmon redds – or gravel nests – being scoured during heavy rains. Dikes and reinforced banks constrict the river and increase the velocity of the river’s water flow. That wipes out salmon spawning beds, and eliminates off-channel rearing habitat important to the fish. As part of the project, the tribe also plans to plant native vegetation in the floodplain.

Along with the tribe and the county, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service are involved in the Rivers End project.

“We are trying to restore river processes in the lowest reach of the Dungeness River and in this critical estuarine area,” said Hals. “Restoring this area will go along way toward our goal of recovering and preserving these fragile salmon stocks.”

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For more information, contact: Hansi Hals, restoration planner for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, 360-681-4601, hhals@jamestowntribe.org. Darren Friedel, information officer for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, (360) 297-6546, dfriedel@nwifc.org.