Five years after a proposal to restore fish habitat along Barnaby Slough in the upper Skagit River watershed shocked nearby residents, the project managers have released a study detailing current waterflow conditions in the area and a preliminary design for a portion of the project.
“The project reached a significant milestone early this year,” consultant Cynthia Carlstad said in an email. “This includes technical analyses done over the last two years.”
The Barnaby Reach is an area where migration of the Skagit River left side channels including Barnaby Slough, which lies near Rockport between where Illabot Creek and the Sauk River enter the Skagit.
Development, however, including a former state fish hatchery, has blocked fish passage to an estimated 78.5 acres of those side channels.
That hatchery was built in the 1960s and operated through 2007, according to project documents. Since then, the facility has fallen into disrepair and has created barriers to fish passage.
Through the proposed Barnaby Reach Habitat Project, the state Department of Fish & Wildlife, Seattle City Light and The Nature Conservancy envision restoring access to that habitat for fish including salmon and steelhead.
The Skagit River System Cooperative is managing the project for the three organizations, which together own about 1,200 acres where the project is proposed.
Within the property, 11 fish barriers have been identified, according to project documents.
“Most of the land in the Barnaby reach is in conservation or public ownership, which creates a unique opportunity for management and restoration of habitat conditions across a large floodplain reach,” project documents state. “These types of floodplain habitats provide important spawning and rearing for a variety of salmon species and for this reason were identified as a high priority for protection and restoration in the Skagit Chinook Recovery Plan.”
Chinook in the Skagit River are part of the threatened Puget Sound population. The recovery plan that was written in 2005 has the goal of restoring that population, particularly as the number of endangered Southern Resident orcas that eat those fish continues to decline.
Restoring access to all of the about 300 acres of floodplain habitat in the Barnaby Reach could make a big difference for chinook and other fish in the Skagit River.
The plan is to start by removing hatchery rearing ponds, outbuildings, power poles and a culvert in the area.
That potential first phase of work has support from the Stakeholder Advisory Committee that includes local residents and the broader south Rockport community.
While the project partners are set to move forward with removing infrastructure, they are still weighing additional work.
The consultant group Natural Systems Design, which completed the recent documents, will look at additional options for habitat restoration work in the area.
More information, including the completed studies, is available at barnabystudy.wordpress.com.