Ecology grants $35m to streamflow projects

Money goes to projects across Washington, one in Grays Harbor

The Washington State Department of Ecology announced Oct. 5 a round of grants totalling $35 million awarded to different projects aimed at streamflow restoration, including one project in Grays Harbor County.

In 2018, the Washington Legislature passed the Streamflow Restoration law, which will award $300 million in competitive streamflow restoration grants over the next 15 years, with the ultimate goal of rehabilitating suffering salmon populations and providing water for homes in Washington. This is the third round of grants stemming from the 2018 law, which issues $40 million to projects every two years.

According to Ecology’s announcement, this year’s grant applicants featured projects involving altered water management, water right acquisitions, water storage, feasibility studies, and floodplain, riparian, and wetland restoration.

The lone grant recipient for projects in the Grays Harbor area looks to improve streamflow in the Chehalis Basin using beaver dam analogs.

Jamie Glasgow, the director of science for the Wild Fish Conservancy, said beaver ponds that form as a result of dams provide water storage benefits for watersheds. The Wild Fish Conservancy, a non-profit based in Duvall, received $328,000 to construct beaver dam analogs, or mock-dams, to encourage more of the large rodents to return to the Chehalis Basin, an area they previously graced with their dam-building services.

The project is a collaboration between the Wild Fish Conservancy and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

“We don’t want to get into the business of constructing habitat that needs to be maintained over time, (we) should try to restore a natural process,” Glasgow said. “We know that throughout the Northwest, and especially in watersheds like the Chehalis, beavers used to be really prevalent there, there were beavers, beaver dams and ponds all over the place.”

Glasgow said this project builds on an ongoing effort by the Wild Fish Conservancy to construct beaver dam analogs in the Chehalis Basin. That effort has been funded by the Aquatic Species Restoration Plan, a part of the Chehalis Basin Strategy.

Glasgow said the analogs will mimic beaver dams and provide water storage benefits, ultimately allowing beavers to recolonize the area and take over the job themselves. But beavers will only recolonize certain habitats — streams can’t be too large or too steep, otherwise breaking dams. Glasgow said the Wild Fish Conservancy hasn’t decided on exact locations for the project but is using modeling to identify areas where beavers lived historically.

The nonprofit is also working with landowners to minimize potential effects of flooding on their land. All analogs will be constructed in the Chehalis Basin, Glasgow said. He said construction could begin next year.

“Beavers serve a really important function in our watersheds,” Glasgow said. “It’s really good fish habitat, but it’s also water storage, which I think we’re all going to come to respect in the coming years as our summers get dryer.”

Other applicants

In total, 57 applicants tried for this year’s grant streamflow money, a request totalling $95 million. Three organizations on Grays Harbor or in the Chehalis Basin applied but did not receive funding.

The City of Hoquiam requested just over $1 million to fund the removal of a dam on the West Fork Hoquiam River that supplies drinking water to the city. The city found a new groundwater source in 2010 and determined the dam unnecessary. Its removal would fully restore streamflow in the West Fork, according to information from the city’s application.

Additionally, WDFW requested roughly $160,000 to assess the impact of diminished surface water in the Chehalis Basin on threatened frogs and fish, like the Oregon Spotted Frog and the Olympic Mudminnow, while the Grays Harbor County Public Services Department requested $100,000 for a streamflow restoration project associated with the Chehalis Basin Partnership but did not receive the funding.

This year’s streamflow grant total is larger than the previous two years. Ecology awarded $20 million to 16 projects in 2019 and $22 million to 21 projects in 2020.