Smith Island Estuary Restoration

By Julia Luna, Communications Specialist

On a chilly, wet October morning early last week, Snohomish County convened a gathering of dedicated recovery partners to celebrate the completion of the Smith Island Estuary Restoration. The project itself has been over a decade in the making and restores more than 300 acres of tidal wetland habitat. These 300 acres are only one example of the work being done in the Snohomish watershed — to date the Snohomish watershed has restored more than 1,000 acres of habitat.

LEFT: David Somers, Snohomish County Executive welcomes the large group. RIGHT: The sun peeks through the clouds over the Smith Island estuary.
LEFT: Marie Zackuse, Chairwoman of Tulalip Tribes offers an opening prayer. MIDDLE: Sheida Sahandy, Puget Sound Partnership Executive Director, talks about the multiple benefits of PSAR projects. RIGHT: David Troutt, Salmon Recovery Council chair, speaks about seeing the project through the eyes of the salmon.

Estuaries are unique ecosystems where fresh water meets salt water, and nutrients abound. The tidal ebb and flow mixes and swirls to create rich wetlands, floodplains, and stream channels that provide ideal habitat for young salmon. As the waters converge into a productive estuary, so too do the partnerships that have made this restoration possible. More than 10 entities pooled in-kind and monetary resources to get the Smith Island estuary back on its way to recovery. Of the total project funding, greater than $6 million came from the Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration (PSAR) fund, which the Partnership co-manages with the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office.

LEFT: The levee was breached August 10, 2018, and the tide returned to the estuary. RIGHT: The same place as the breach, October 2, 2018.
LEFT: On August 10, the tide was just beginning to inundate the estuary. RIGHT: This is what the estuary looked like October 2, 2018.

Restoring this habitat and giving salmon food, space, and shelter to grow results in multiple benefits — a safe place to feed and grow means more salmon. Chinook salmon populations in Puget Sound are a fraction of what they once were and are either failing to increase or continuing to decline. These endangered salmon are embedded into the cultural identity of our region and are also a key piece on the Puget Sound food web. As many people know, Chinook salmon are the meal of choice for the southern resident orca whale, of which only 74 remain.

Healthy salmon runs and healthy Puget Sound communities go hand-in-hand. The Smith Island estuary recovery project demonstrates how restoration can contribute to the identity of Puget Sound communities like Everett as beautiful places to live that support thriving ecosystems, economies, and people.

The Smith Island estuary is a place for young salmon to eat and grown before making their journey to Puget Sound.

Many more projects to recover Puget Sound salmon habitat await PSAR funding, which is allocated every two years by the Washington State Legislature. Find out what the PSAR program can do to advance salmon and orca recovery by visiting our website.