Fisher Slough finished

Nov 15, 2011

Stanwood/Camano News

By Jerimiah Hagan

November 15, 2011

Rep. Rick Larsen (D – Wash.) tucked his collar around his chin and headed into the wind last Monday, on a tour of the Fisher Slough project for which he helped secure funding.

Bob Carey and Jenny Baker, with The Nature Conservancy, walked him through the rerouting of Big Ditch and the new siphon, where it passes under Fisher Slough near Pioneer Highway.

Larsen also saw the “back” of the project, where the confluence of Little Fisher and Big Fisher creeks, and Hill Ditch, creates Fisher Slough. The three waterways were restored as close as possible to their original, wending paths, and new levees were built to protect the fields that border the slough. When Larsen was there, workers were finishing replanting the area with native trees and shrubs

The end product is 60 acres of flood storage — wetland that can flood and hold water.

“We dug some starter channels,” Carey said, “but as time passes nature will take over.”

Flood storage — along with the creation of salmon habitat and updated floodgates where Fisher Slough enters the Skagit River — was the goal of the project, which brought a diverse contingent of organizations into concert.

Aside from The Nature Conservancy, Baker said, Skagit County, Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland, Dike District 3, Drainage District 17, various tribes, landowners and environmental groups all took part in the process.

“We took a collaborative and in- clusive approach all along,” Baker said. “Everyone put their heads together to make this a strong project.”

The Nature Conservancy hosted an end-of-the-project celebration earlier this month, and the general consensus was that everyone was pleased with the outcome, she added.

The project was funded in majority by a $5.2 million grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The remained funds came from the Environmental Protection Agency, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the dike and drainage districts, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington Salmon Recovery Board and private donors.

At final count, Baker said, 39,000 hours had been logged, and 225 jobs had been touched.

“What do you mean, ‘touched?’” Larsen asked.

Baker explained that some people put in more time on the project than others, so measuring by full time equivalents (FTEs) wasn’t accurate. However, at some point during the twoyear endeavor, 225 positions from 16 organizations were in contact with it.

The project was designed to move Big Ditch under Fisher Slough with a siphon: two 240-foot lengths of pipe, each 54 inches in diameter, through which Big Ditch ducks under the slough, coming up again on the south side. It works because the northern elevation of the ditch is higher than the southern outlet.

Baker said there was some question of whether this was necessary, or if Big Ditch could simply flow into Fisher Slough.

Because of the elevation difference, and the levee, that would have required pumping Big Ditch up to the slough, Baker said. Also, the water quality in Big Ditch, which is used for irrigation, is lower than that in Fisher Slough, which then empties into the river, so contamination would have been a concern.

Keith Morrison, an area farmer, said, “Landowners in the area, especially Maplewood Farm on the north side, are going to be happy with the improvement.”

“If people are saying they don’t like it,” he added, “it’s probably just because they don’t understand what we’ve done. It’s going to be a real benefit to drainage.”

Morrison said the quality of the fields should improve because of it, in addition to benefiting wildlife — everyone comes out ahead.

“It’s a real model for the things that can happen when a lot of people work together on a project, rather than going at each other’s throat,” he said.