Young salmon and steelhead now have more access to wetlands in the Columbia River estuary where they can rest, eat and grow before heading out to the ocean.
Through the Lower Columbia River Estuary Partnership, the Bonneville Power Administration provided more than $650,000 to help the Columbia Land Trust reopen 50 acres of historic tidal wetlands on the Grays River in Wahkiakum County, Wash.
The Washington State Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation also provided support.
A dike built 100 years ago for agriculture blocked the wetlands from the river's tidal influences.
Over the past two years, the Columbia Land Trust worked with neighbors, county leadership and the flood control district to design the project approximately three miles upstream from the river's confluence with the Columbia.
This summer construction crews built a new dike that allowed workers to breach the old levee. The project was completed earlier this month. For the first time in a century, tidal water from the Grays River overflowed into part of the old floodplain roughly the size of 40 football fields.
Ian Sinks, stewardship program manager with the Columbia Land Trust, says tidal wetlands are very productive ecologically. They offer fish refuge from predators while transitioning from fresh to salt water. "It gives them a chance to grow and to feed. We know the bigger the fish is when it hits the ocean the better chance for survival it has," said Sinks.
BPA ratepayer funding supports such restoration projects to mitigate for the environmental impacts of the Federal Columbia River Power System. BPA and other federal agencies have committed to habitat improvements that will boost estuary survival of salmon and steelhead protected under the Endangered Species Act, helping more fish reach the ocean and return to Northwest streams as adults.
The Grays River restoration effort has also brought jobs to the area. For the past two months, the local construction company on the project employed four full-time and several part-time workers.
To date, the project is the fifth wetland restoration effort by Columbia Land Trust to help young salmon and steelhead in the Grays Bay watershed.
BPA also funded part of the Fort Columbia Restoration Project near Chinook, Wash.