The project tour highlights the efforts benefiting the flow restoration efforts in the Chehalis basin

By Eric Rosane / [email protected]

It’s no secret that the Chehalis basin has a water problem.

Sometimes there is not enough material in the streams and at other times, especially during the winter months, there is too much.

But Washington’s second-largest watershed is no stranger to creative solutions.

On Wednesday, members of the League of Women Voters of Thurston County and the Sierra Club visited a number of sites in the Scatter Creek and Skookumchuck sub-basins that address groundwater and backyard runoff issues. of water.

The tour, hosted by the Chehalis Basin Partnership, focused on projects funded in the basin through the Streamflow Restoration Act, a 2018 Washington state law passed to help restore flows to necessary levels. to support sustainable salmon populations while providing water for homes in rural Washington. . The law was the result of the Hirst decision of the Washington State Supreme Court.

Watersheds were also required by law to develop plans to offset the impacts of permanently exempt wells, many through community projects – 73 in the Chehalis, in particular – that will bring water back to their system. , resulting in a net ecological benefit.

“What we want to do with this tour is help build excitement for these types of projects that haven’t yet taken place on the ground in our basin,” said Kirsten Harma, watershed coordinator for Chehalis Basin Partnership.

One of the projects was located in the Scatter Creek Wildlife Recreation Area. Ned Pittman, program director for the Coast Salmon Partnership, said the Scatter Creek area is prime fish habitat with “some of the thickest coho habitat in the basin.”

The predominantly spring fed stream supplies cold, stable water to Scatter Creek and the Chehalis River. Although not currently flooding, in the decades to come the creek is expected to flood more in winter and dry up in summer. Work on the creek is expected to maintain the quality of the feed to the creek for decades to come.

“This is a cove that we expect to see fish in in 2080,” Pittman said.

Scatter Creek Wildlife Recreation and its basin have been closed to new water appropriation permits since 1953, although they are still open to unlicensed wells, said Kevin Hansen, Thurston County hydrologist.

In downtown Rochester, Thurston County built an amphitheater-like stormwater pond called the Albany Street Stormwater Pond in 2019 with a $ 1.2 million grant from the ministry of Ecology. The project is expected to compensate for severe flooding in nearby surface streets and use stormwater to recharge a local aquifer.

The pond during the summer months can also serve as an amphitheater for the neighboring neighborhood, and a walking path allows walkers and runners to circle the pond.

Thurston County Commissioner Tye Menser, whose district encompasses the western part of the county and who accompanied the tour, said he had heard from residents that this area had been a flood problem due to the failure storm water pipes.

“When I got on the board, I really felt like Rochester hadn’t been given the attention it needed,” he said, comparing the size of the unincorporated city to that de Yelm, without the “kind of planning and municipal attention that he probably needs.”

The Albany Street stormwater pond is expected to collect and soak in the same amount of water as a flooded 12-story football field in a year.

The county is working to make more improvements to public works in the area, Menser said, including paying attention to the city’s Main Street along US Highway 12.

Upstream from Scatter Creek in the Cozy Valley southeast of Tenino, the Creekside Conservancy has worked to conserve approximately 1,200 acres of land. Nearby streams see juvenile salmon which tend to spawn in headwaters all summer, said Chanele Holbrook, director of the Creekside Conservancy.

The runoff projects on the properties seek to slow the headwaters fed by precipitation that accumulate in the imposing valley, improve beaver habitat and reintroduce native shrub species to the wetland. , which for many decades before was used by farmers.

“It’s kind of what I call a teacup project. This is a very small project, on a larger scale in the Chehalis Basin, with the sole purpose of retaining and containing water, ”said Holbrook. “Scatter Creek is the largest contributor of fresh, clear, clean water to the Chehalis Basin. A lot of people don’t know it. We are small, but we are powerful.

Holbrook said there have been times during flooding in the valley where their neighbors can’t get out of their driveway and she will have to shovel salmon.

A plan is also being developed to preserve 12 miles of the Skookumchuck River’s flow in perpetuity, and by extension aquatic life and fish, through a major acquisition of water rights. The Quinault Nation of India is currently examining the feasibility of purchasing a large portion of TransAlta’s water rights through mitigation credits, a similar move that has been pursued by the towns of Centralia and Chehalis.

When TransAlta shuts down its last steam burner in 2025, its water requirements along the Skookumchuck will decrease. According to the Chehalis Basin Partnership, the tribe’s valuation will take into account the amount of water that might be ecologically allowed, the valuation of the benefits of the flow-through for the Skookumchuck and Chehalis rivers, and the price.

The Quinault feasibility study was paid for with an Ecology grant of $ 148,000.

“Quinault really liked the idea of ​​getting involved in the project. This relates directly to the Streamflow Restoration Act, “said Lauren Macfarland, head of the fish habitat section at Quinault, adding later,” We would like to buy as much as TransAlta gives us. “

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