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Bill would likely approve dredging and flood-prevention project on Satsop River

The Satsop River is the likely target of a dredging and floodplain management project in a fish habitat bill making its way through the state Legislature.
The Satsop River is the likely target of a dredging and floodplain management project in a fish habitat bill making its way through the state Legislature. Grays Harbor News Group

An amendment to a bill designed to build up salmon runs to provide more prey for orca whales might also help farmers who have lost land to the Satsop River.

The main purpose of House Bill 1579 is to increase Chinook salmon abundance as encouraged by the state’s killer whale task force, which wants to improve the salmon populations to help provide more food for the killer whales, a population under great stress.

The amendment to HB 1579 proposes three river dredging projects, one each in Grays Harbor, Snohomish and Whatcom counties, intended to reduce the threat of flooding and study whether that improves salmon habitat.

Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, chair of the Senate Water, Agriculture, Natural Resources and Parks Committee who proposed the amendment, said it’s not certain but the Satsop is likely to be the river chosen in Grays Harbor County.

“It’s by far the worst river as far as this issue is concerned,” said Van De Wege. “It’s going over its banks often, gravel built up is forcing the river to go in other directions, wiping out farmland, impacting county roads – I think a PUD road is close to being impacted.”

The project would mainly consist of dredging in the main channel of the river, downstream from where salmon are spawning. The idea would be by removing gravel from the river, it would be less likely to flood and it would test whether conditions improve for salmon, Van De Wege said.

“The Satsop had a long history of dredging but, since the dredging stopped, the buildup of sediment has clogged the river’s main channel,” said Van De Wege. “As a result, flooding has become an increasing threat to area homes, farms and businesses.”

The amendment would allow for the three demonstration projects to examine “setting back levees, providing fish habitat, removing excess sediment and gravel, protecting treed riparian zones, and providing stable river banks.”

It instructs the state departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources, Ecology and Fish and Wildlife to jointly carry out the projects.

Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, said his idea would be to create a second “braid” in the stream, diverting it to split and go to nearby ponds that could improve fish habitat by increasing the number of river miles.

Blake said he has heard from many in the 19th Legislative District about the negative effects of the Satsop’s flooding and erosion. He believes the proposed projects can benefit fish habitat, farmland, private property and public infrastructure.

“If done right, I think there’s an opportunity for this to be a big win,” Blake said.

Van De Wege said it looks likely the bill will pass as amended with the floodplain projects.

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