Your Turn: Creek restoration must continue

By GENE B. FOSTER, Northeast Tacoma resident

On March 12, the Wild Fish Conservancy conducted a survey of the lower reach of Joe’s Creek in Federal Way.

This survey was commissioned by the SaveNETacoma coalition and reprised one authorized by the City of Federal Way in 2003. The objectives were to evaluate the stream for the presence of adult steelhead or their redds (spawning sites) and to characterize the salmonid species composition.

Although no steelhead were found, the results were very encouraging. The survey team was surprised by the good condition of the stream waters. A few coho salmon have returned to spawn as evidenced by the fry (juveniles) of non-hatchery origin found. In addition, a thriving population of cutthroat trout was observed. This is great news for environmentalists and sports fishermen. Each surviving fry will make its way to the ocean with a pre-programed GPS system. It will be directed back to Joe’s Creek to spawn several years hence. This bears a promise for restoration of a strong coho run in future years.

Over the years, the upper reaches of Joe’s Creek have received just about every environmental insult modern society can bestow. The creek has been buried, forced through culverts, redirected by long tunnels, loaded with silt from construction projects and polluted. No salmonids have been observed in the upper reaches for many years.

Recently, the surface water management staff of Federal Way has intervened and initiated restoration efforts in the lower reaches of the creek running from the Twin Lakes Golf Course to Dumas Bay of Puget Sound. These efforts, plus the inherent ability of the creek to heal its wounds if left undisturbed, has tipped the ecological balance back in favor of the salmonid population.

The restoration efforts must continue. There are several stretches that need to be deepened and widened to allow the passage of larger salmonids. Upstream flow controls for regulating the depth of the creek during the spawning season would be very helpful. Given these improvements, recovery (or establishment) of a steelhead run is a good possibility.

Jamie Glasgow, the director of science and research at the conservancy concluded: “Our recent survey documented that Joe’s Creek supports coho salmon and cutthroat trout. The watershed appears to have habitat characteristics suitable for supporting a steelhead run, so long as the water quality and the stream’s hydrology (the timing and quantity of stream flows) are not further compromised by land use actions in the watershed.”

We enjoy a unique heritage — a miracle mile containing the last vestige of a meandering stream with riparian forests — preserved in an urban setting. It must be preserved for posterity.

We count on the Federal Way administrators to exert every effort to ensure that developments such as the proposed conversion of the North Shore Golf Course to high-density housing are not allowed to upset the delicate environmental balance existing in Joe’s Creek.

Gene B. Foster is a resident of Northeast Tacoma.

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