Tribe, local organizations collaborate on a cost-effective channel restoration

STANWOOD (Sept. 2, 2003) – A one-of-a-kind cooperative project backed by the Stillaguamish Tribe and the Stillaguamish Flood Control District is protecting wild salmon, and has already saved taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

By installing a flow-control device in the Old Stillaguamish Channel, a remnant channel that was once the main channel of the Stillaguamish River, the tribe and the district will prevent a two-mile “dead zone” for fish from developing during summer months. The project was five years in the making and made its first test run on Thursday.

“This is a perfect example of tribes, community organizations and individuals working together for a worthy cause,” said Pat Stevenson, environmental director with the Stillaguamish Tribe. “Through cooperation, we improved important fish habitat in an efficient and cost-effective manner.”

The channel is filled by each tide with an average of 5.6 million gallons of both fresh and brackish water. In the dry season, though, almost all of that water recedes as the tide changes. The shallow water left lacks oxygen and overheats, becoming inhospitable to fish. Chinook and coho rely on the channel, while chum and pink salmon are also found there; char and sea-run cutthroat use the area as well.

Originally, local agencies were working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but the remedy the corps proposed was costly and overkill from the local perspective.

“They were trying to build the Ballard Locks, and we didn’t need that,” said Chuck Hazleton, chair of the Stillaguamish Flood Control District.

The corps’ proposal carried a $436,000 price tag, which would have also required local agencies to supply substantial matching funds. Instead, the flood control district did the design and construction themselves, working with local retired engineer Max Albert, one of the project’s most vocal advocates.

Since only minor contract work was required, the tribe and the district were able to keep the effort to a shoestring budget. Building the device cost around $95,000, and most of the project’s total cost came in the form of donated staff time, equipment and materials.

A state Salmon Recovery Funding Board grant of $250,000 secured by the tribe and the district, originally intended to help provide matching funds for the Army Corps project, instead ended up funding the entire effort.

The result: an innovative device that works like a traditional tide gate, but in reverse, keeping salt water in instead of keeping it out. When the tide comes in, flap-like gates made of plastic and plywood become buoyant and push open. When the water tries to flow back out, the flaps close, trapping the water. At slack tide, they re-open, allowing water to move in and out, flushing stagnant water from the channel. The device will be in place from June through September, the months when the “dead zone” is created.

Because of the unconventional design and function of the device, the tribe and the district shy away from referring to it as a “tide gate”. The proper terminology, though, is still under discussion. Is it a “flow-maintenance structure”? A “flow enhancement structure”? A “tide control valve”? Or, perhaps most descriptive, a “reverse tide gate”?

“I’ll tell you what it is: it’s a one-lung pump run by the moon,” said Hazleton.

“That’s an uncommon name for an uncommon device,” said Stevenson, “And it fits, because the project was brought about by uncommon cooperation.”

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For more information, contact: Jeff Shaw, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, 360.424.8226. Pat Stevenson, Stillaguamish Tribe, 360.435.2755, x 27.