SEATTLE – Puget Sound’s ecosystem health took a leap forward with the recent signing of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report, which recommends large-scale restoration projects on three northwest Washington estuaries.
The Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project (PSNERP) received Corps approval Sept. 16, 2016, when Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite signed the Chief of Engineers Report, making it eligible for congressional authorization. If the project receives authorization and funding for construction, it will restore natural functions of the Duckabush River Estuary, Nooksack River Delta and North Fork Skagit River Delta.
Led by the Corps’ Seattle District and non-federal sponsor Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), PSNERP is a collaborative effort between government agencies, tribes, universities and environmental organizations to restore Puget Sound nearshore areas. PSNERP’s General Investigation study began in 2001, analyzing over 500 sites along 2,500 miles of Puget Sound’s shoreline.
The study was designed to evaluate nearshore ecosystem changes, identify which changes were most problematic to Puget Sound’s health and recommend potential solutions. The resulting PSNERP feasibility study proposes a $452 million budget for the three large-scale estuary projects.
“Puget Sound’s beaches, embayments and delta shorelines were heavily impacted by urban development over the last 150 years,” said Seattle District Commander Col. John Buck. “The recommended plan will restore over 2,100 acres of this degraded habitat.”
The Chief’s Report identifies a comprehensive strategy for Puget Sound restoration, developed through a multi-agency collaborative effort. This strategy recommends an additional nine sites for further study as well as 24 sites to be moved forward under a variety of existing Corps and other authorities. Eventually, if authorized and funded, the 36 sites could restore over 8,000 acres of ecosystem functions and processes, supporting 13 Endangered Species Act listed species.
“We are extremely pleased that the Corps’ recent report recommends these three important projects for authorization,” said Jeff Davis, assistant director for WDFW’s Habitat Program. “The next phases of work will allow us to collect additional data to refine the project designs and work with landowners and communities to continue to build support for these projects.”
Following authorization, the Corps and WDFW will engage in a detailed design phase which includes coordination with resource agencies, tribes, agricultural interests and other local stakeholders.
The Duckabush River Estuary project reconnects Hood Canal with intertidal wetlands, improving tidal exchange, sediment transport and estuary development. It will remove existing roads associated fill within the estuary and construct a new bridge spanning the estuarine delta. The project will restore tidal inundation and hydrology, and reconnect distributary channels to promote greater delta wetland habitat diversity.
Nooksack River Delta restoration is critical to some of Puget Sound’s largest salmon runs. The project will help restore scarce tidal freshwater wetlands and support productive estuarine mixing and tidal freshwater marshes. Tidal marshes provide habitat for birds and waterfowl, and are used by five species of Pacific salmon during critical life cycle portions. Restoration here provides 25 percent of the Puget Sound Action Agenda’s 2020 estuarine habitat recovery target.
The North Fork Skagit River Delta project restores estuarine emergent marsh, shrub and forested floodplain along the North Fork. It improves connectivity and reduces fragmentation along the channel. Restoration actions will lower the levee along the north and south banks and construct a levee along the current road. Breaches in lowered levees and excavated channels will allow restored floodplain inundation.
“These three sites are excellent projects to help with Puget Sound’s recovery efforts,” said Buck. “They are a great investment for the nation and Puget Sound.”
Requests for additional information should be directed to Nearshore@usace.army.mil