By Pat Jenkins
The town of Eatonville, with financial backing from the Nisqually Indian Tribe, has a new and improved stormwater management plan that officials say will reduce pollution and protect salmon in nearby rivers.
The plan, in its updated form, was formally approved March 10 by the Town Council.
The Nisqually Tribe funded the update as part of a broader project to protect salmon habitat by managing the stormwater that flows out of the town and finds its way into salmon-bearing streams. David Troutt, the tribe’s director of natural resources, noted Eatonville is between the Mashel River and Ohop Creek, which are considered vital salmon tributaries to the Nisqually River.
Tribe and town officials said the ability of salmon to thrive in the surrounding watershed will depend largely on how Eatonville grows and the way runoff from the municipality is managed.
The stormwater plan, updated by consulting firm AHBL from the original document that was prepared in 2003, identifies potential areas of flooding around the town and water-quality problems related to stormwater. The plan also lists possible improvements to the stormwater system and ranks
them by importance.
“In addition to hurting salmon, flooding has harmed homeowners around
the city,” said town administrator Doug Beagle. “Hopefully, this plan will show us how to not only prevent property damage, but clean up local streams and protect salmon.”
The plan also can protect town residents and property owners from increases in runoff and damage such as erosion.
The tribe hopes to foster what it calls creative solutions such as rain gardens, which have already been installed in several locations allow water to move more naturally as it makes its way to the river. The landscaping and vegetation of rain gardens replace impervious hard surfaces such as blacktop, letting water slowly seep into the ground.
Beagle said the plan also focuses on the use of bio-retention areas and pervious concrete in new development.
“Growth is going to happen in the rural Nisqually watershed” in the same way it has mushroomed throughout the Puget Sound region, Troutt said. The key, he added, is to manage growth so it doesn’t reduce salmon habitat and harm water quality.
Poor stormwater management leads to high flows in the winter and low
flows in the summer. Officials said the Mashel River already is too low and too warm for fish as it passes through Eatonville.
“We’d like to change the way water flows, so it seeps slowly into the ground instead of quickly running off into the stream,” Troutt said.
He said low flows in the Mashel occur during spawning times for adult chinook salmon, which “need cool, deep pools to rest in as they swim upriver.”
Younger chinook, coho and steelhead also depend on ample water during
the summer because they over-winter for an extra year in freshwater
before migrating out to sea. Nisqually River chinook and steelhead are listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The tribe and other local organizations have restored salmon habitat in the Mashel and Ohop Creek, where monitoring has revealed that salmon “use the habitat we’ve worked so hard to restore,” Troutt said. “By working closely with the local community, we hopefully can add to the gains we have made through restoration.”
Awareness of salmon and the Eatonville community was the interest of another tribe-funded project, the first Eatonville Salmon Fest last October. Exhibits and tours along the Mashel River focused logjam structures installed by the tribe and government agencies in recent years to help make the stream more hospitable for salmon.