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Project to move Squalicum Creek will help water quality

A project set to begin July 6 would re-route Squalicum Creek so that it bypasses Sunset Pond, shown June 19, 2015. The $1.8 million project will improve water quality in the creek in Bellingham and open up 22 miles of salmon habitat upstream.
A project set to begin July 6 would re-route Squalicum Creek so that it bypasses Sunset Pond, shown June 19, 2015. The $1.8 million project will improve water quality in the creek in Bellingham and open up 22 miles of salmon habitat upstream. The Bellingham Herald

A $1.8 million project will re-route Squalicum Creek around Sunset Pond to improve water quality and otherwise make the creek more habitable for salmon and other wildlife.

The project is expected to start July 6. It will put the creek into 5,100 feet of new stream channel to bypass Sunset Pond.

Squalicum Creek doesn’t meet state standards for water quality and is listed as impaired by the Washington state Department of Ecology. Problems include fecal coliform bacteria, too-warm temperatures and dissolved oxygen levels that are inadequate. Declining salmon stocks also are a concern.

Despite the challenges, Bellingham officials said Squalicum Creek has the greatest potential for high water quality and fish habitat within city limits in part because it is the least hindered by development, and it offers the greatest habitat variety for salmon thanks to its tributaries.

The creek now flows into and out of Sunset Pond, where water temperatures can be warmer than 65 degrees in summer.

“That’s quite high,” said Renee LaCroix, ecology and restoration manager for the city of Bellingham.

Man-made Sunset Pond is shallow and wide. It absorbs a great deal of heat from the sun, causing peaks in water temperatures that aren’t good for salmon.

The re-route will go a long way in helping to prevent the creek from heating up, said Steve Hood, environmental engineer for Ecology.

Colder water holds more dissolved oxygen for organisms to uptake through their gills, so higher temperatures are a problem.

“Just like people, they need a certain amount of oxygen to survive,” LaCroix said.

The project has two parts that will be done at the same time.

Phase 1 construction will stretch from the corner of Birchwood Avenue and Squalicum Parkway under Interstate 5 to James Street. The second phase is from James Street east to Irongate Road.

The Department of Ecology has awarded $1.7 million for the first and $2.1 million for the second in a combination of loans and grants for the project.

The project also will eliminate a culvert under Interstate 5 that hinders fish from passing, opening up more than 22 miles of salmon habitat upstream of I-5.

It should help decrease levels of fecal coliform bacteria in the creek because the re-route will pull the stream away from an off-leash dog area that it now travels past.

Trees and vegetation along the new channels also will help provide shade to the stream, which would improve habitat in Squalicum Creek.

Trimaxx Construction of Sedro-Woolley was awarded the contract for the work.

Construction will continue until Oct. 15.

People will need to look out for more truck traffic on James Street Road during the project, but the road will remain open. People still will be able to access the pond.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com.

Learn more

Additional information about the $1.8 million project to move Squalicum Creek around Sunset Pond in Bellingham to improve water quality and salmon habitat is online at cob.org.

The project is expected to start July 6.

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