The Port has given three creek systems an extreme makeover and the fish are pretty stoked about their new digs.
Hylebos Creek, Place of Circling Waters (recent past)
A former gravel mine and inert waste landfill was transformed into over 30 acres of estuary, tidal channels, freshwater wetlands, and upland riparian forest. Construction was completed in 2011 and the site met all of its Year 10 performance standards in 2021.
The restored estuary provides essential habitat for migrating juvenile salmon as they transition from breathing freshwater to saltwater (the fancy term for this is osmoregulation). Place of Circling Waters is now home to several species of birds, including at least one pair of very vocal, territorial kingfishers that are not afraid to speak their mind to anyone willing to listen.
Clear Creek, Upper Clear Creek Mitigation Site (present)
A fallow pasture of reed canarygrass (a non-native, invasive weed) was transformed into approximately 41 acres of reconnected floodplain wetland and almost a mile of realigned creek channel. Construction was completed in 2016 and the site has met or exceeded almost all of the Year 7 and Year 10 performance standards by Year 5. Now in its 6th growing season, Upper Clear Creek is so densely vegetated that we affectionately refer to it as the Degobah System (or Jurassic Park, depending on your nerd genre preference). Upper Clear Creek has helped to produce some of the largest returning adult Chinook salmon runs in over 40 years. The coho literally jump for joy (okay, they literally jump; they haven’t told me if it is for joy or for bugs).
Wapato Creek, Lower Wapato Creek Advance Mitigation Site (near future)
A former dredge spoil deposit area from the development of the Port’s industrial waterways was transformed into approximately 18.5 acres of, well… we really don’t know yet. We do know it will be a combination of estuary, tidal channels, freshwater wetlands, and realigned creek channel because the site is already doing all of these things! Wapato Creek finally stopped being such a ditch.
Construction was completed earlier in 2022 and is just starting its first growing season after being seeded with several dozen species of grasses and wildflowers over the winter. Tens of thousands of native shrubs and trees will be planted in the fall of 2022.
During periods of high flow, these culverts produced velocities so high, it was impossible for fish to pass through, and during periods of low flow, the culverts dried up altogether, stranding fish on either side. Now the fish have unimpeded access to upstream and downstream habitat year-round without the culverts getting in the way. As word spreads among our fish friends that Wapato Creek has gotten a major facelift, I have a feeling this is going to be quite the popular pit stop to rest, eat up, and get fat and sassy (the fancy term for this is rearing and foraging) before heading out into the open ocean.
I have been lucky enough to witness all the hard work that went into making these three habitat sites a fish-home-makeover reality – and to watch all of the Port’s habitat sites flourish and thrive – for the past 10 years. It has been my absolute pleasure to be your Port of Tacoma biologist and I can’t wait to see what comes next.