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Tides Return to Crucial Salmon Habitat in Washington


Last week, a project 20 years in the making finally came to fruition in Washington. Bulldozers removed about 1,500 linear feet of levee in the Snohomish River Estuary, reopening 350 acres of historic wetlands. These efforts are part of the Qwuloolt Estuary restoration project, the largest restoration project so far in the Snohomish watershed.

The word “Qwoloolt” means “large marsh” in Lushootseed, the language spoken by local Indian tribes. The Qwuloolt Estuary was cleared and drained in the early 20th century to create farmland. Levees and dikes were built, cutting off the area from tidal flow. This meant that most of the wetlands in the area—crucial habitat for growing salmon and other wildlife—were lost.

NOAA worked with federal, state, Tribal, and local partners to acquire the land. We have invested $5 million to the $20 million project cost, as well as many years of dedication to seeing the project through.

The breach last week allowed the Qwuloolt marsh to be reconnected to Ebey Slough. Water began flowing back in, which will restore the marsh—creating habitat critical for the recovery of threatened salmon species. It will also provide unrestricted access to 16 miles of upstream habitat for fish like Chinook salmon, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The setback levee that was built as part of the project protects vital infrastructure for the city of Marysville. It includes storm water ponds that will reduce the chance of flooding nearby.

Scientists from NOAA, the Tulalip Tribes, and Snohomish County have been studying the Snohomish River system for years, determining which restoration actions would be most effective. We will continue to monitor the site—both to document ecological improvements, and to apply what we learn to other projects in the region.

Posted August 31, 2015