A major salmon habitat restoration project is planned for the Barnaby Reach of the Skagit River, with planners considering the impacts to the surrounding community.

The Skagit River System Cooperative (SRSC), the natural resources extension of the Swinomish and Sauk-Suiattle tribes, is managing the project on land owned by the state, Seattle City Light and The Nature Conservancy. Four alternatives are proposed, but nearby landowners are concerned about the potential flooding impacts caused by the alternative that would most benefit salmon.

“This project is likely to be one of the largest floodplain restorations in Puget Sound,” said Devin Smith, SRSC project manager.

Restoring spawning and rearing habitat is essential to recovering salmon populations in Puget Sound. So far, treaty tribes in western Washington have restored thousands of miles of habitat through partnerships such as this.

The Barnaby Reach extends from Illabot Creek downstream to the Sauk River near Rockport. The project area includes 300 acres of aquatic habitat, where 11 known barriers block fish access to nearly 80 acres, plus a mile of tributary streams. The work would restore floodplain access, improve fish and wildlife habitat, reduce flood and erosion risks if possible, and provide recreational opportunities.

All of the proposed alternatives will remove barriers to fish passage, including culverts as well as dams and fishways that were installed for a now-defunct hatchery. The alternatives have variations on whether to remove dikes and obsolete hatchery structures such as an unused salmon rearing pond. The most ambitious alternative would install engineered logjams in the main channel and fully restore the Skagit River’s connection to Barnaby Slough, Harrison Pond and Lucas Slough.

“This linkage would greatly improve fish habitat benefits; the estimated increase for chinook salmon is about 90,000 more juvenile fish each year,” Smith said. “This estimate increases to more than 170,000 new juvenile fish every year within 10 to 15 years as the more natural floodplain functions are restored.”

The increase in juvenile salmon usage with this alternative is significantly higher than the first three alternatives, which would likely increase chinook numbers by 10,000 to 13,000 juvenile fish per year.

Landowners in the Martin Road area have expressed concern about flooding. Modeling has not shown increased flooding in this area for any of the alternatives, although much of the surrounding area already is at risk of flooding under existing conditions.

“The project sponsors are taking landowner concerns seriously and are committed to working with them to develop a project they can support.” Smith said

A consulting firm is conducting interviews with residents and other stakeholders, which include the Wildcat Steelhead Club, state Department of Transportation and Sierra Pacific Industries. After these, a stakeholder advisory committee will be formed.

“The project team will continue close communication with the community and their input will be incorporated into the project design,” Smith said.

For more information, including a fact sheet describing the project status, visit barnabystudy.wordpress.com.