Nonprofit wants city to take over creek monitoring
February 20, 2013
By Caleb Heeringa
A local environmental group is asking the city of Sammamish to take over water quality monitoring in a stream that has become the crown jewel of Lake Sammamish kokanee recovery efforts.
Friends of Pine Lake has paid for the monitoring of Ebright Creek for several years, collecting information on the amount of pollution in the creek as it flows through prime kokanee spawning grounds and into Lake Sammamish. The group has paid for the monitoring through fundraising but is now asking that the city take over the program as it continues its ongoing efforts to restore the creek and maintain the runs of native fish, which have dwindled to as few as 100 in recent years.
City Manager Ben Yazici is recommending against paying for the monitoring, since the city already monitors in the headwaters of the creek and two nearly completed housing developments near the creek (Crossings at Pine Lake and Chestnut Lane) will soon begin monitoring – a legal condition for their approval.
“We feel that we can get a bigger return (for the money) than by duplicating measurements … given that our resources are limited,” Yazici said at a Feb. 12 meeting.
Given the development in the watershed, the multiple small streams that drain into Ebright Creek and the tenuous health of the salmon runs, Friends of Pine Lake member Erica Tiliacos said there’s value in taking stock of conditions at the mouth of the creek. In recent years, large storm events coupled with poor drainage designs have led to large landslides that filled the creek with silt and nearly wiped out whole runs of kokanee.
“We shouldn’t lose that window and picture (of water quality) because we’re not willing to do that kind of monitoring,” Tiliacos said.
Friends of Pine Lake President Ilene Stahl said it costs the group about $3,000 a year for the monitoring.
Sammamish Senior Stormwater Project Engineer Eric LaFrance said it could be closer to $10,000 for the city to do it, since the city would have to pay someone to do field readings, whereas Friends of Pine Lake has volunteers do the work.
Mayor Tom Odell noted that the thousands of dollars and volunteer hours that have gone into restoring salmon habitat on the creek do not do much good if the salmon don’t have clean water.
“That’s a sizeable amount of cash out of the city’s pocket,” Odell said of the monitoring. “But all the conditions we’re talking about here are important to the success of the kokanee. If the water quality falls off, all the money we’re spending on everything else is for naught.”
The council asked city staff to find a better estimate of the cost of the monitoring.
The work continues
Local residents and nonprofits have stepped forward to contribute to the health of Ebright Creek in recent years, but there’s much work to be done if the creek is to remain prime breeding ground for Lake Sammamish kokanee.
Local resident Wally Pereyra recently spent approximately $175,000 on a new culvert on his property that allows the fish to get upstream. Regional conservation group Forterra provided a $74,000 grant that went toward surveying the lower reaches of the stream and removing invasive species from the banks.
Senior Stormwater Project Engineer Eric LaFrance estimated that it could cost in the neighborhood of $500,000 to maximize the spawning potential of the stream. The city has no immediate plans to fund that work, though it has earmarked $2.5 million in its long-term capital plans for salmon restoration.
In 2013, LaFrance said the city is hoping to partner with the King Conservation District to complete invasive species removal along the lower reaches of the creek. The district charges homeowners around the county $10 a year to fund water quality and environmental restoration projects. The city is seeking out additional grant funding for the rest of the work. Several culverts under the Lake Sammamish Trail could be widened to allow fish passage when the county paves it in the coming years.
Deputy Mayor John James said rather than investing all of its money and effort into Ebright Creek, advocates should consider looking at more cost-effective ways of improving other salmon-bearing creeks that feed Lake Sammamish, including nearby Zaccuse, Laughing Jacobs or Tibbets creeks.
“I’d suggest that we look at other low-hanging fruit,” James said. “This isn’t an infinite pile of money – we should spend it as wisely as we can before dipping into the city’s coffers.”