Qwuloolt Estuary, Washington

Purpose of the project:
The Qwuloolt (Qwuloolt means “marsh” in the Lushootseed language) Estuary is located within the Snohomish River floodplain about three miles upstream from its outlet to Puget Sound. Historically, the area was tidal marsh and forest scrub-shrub habitat, interlaced by tidal channels, mudflats and streams. The project area was cut off from the natural influence of the Snohomish River and Salish Sea tides by levees, and drained by ditches instead of stream channels. Prior to the breach the area was characterized mostly by a monoculture of invasive reed canary grass instead of native estuarine vegetation, and warm water invasive fishes and amphibians. Through the cooperation of its many partners, this project has returned some of the historic and natural influences of the river and tides to the Qwuloolt area.

Human Interest/Community Benefit:
Today, only 17% of intact estuary area remains in the Snohomish River delta due to extensive diking and tide gates, which have cut off the main channel and its distributary network from its historical floodplain. As was the case with much of the Euro-American agricultural and economic development in estuaries throughout North America, levees were constructed along Ebey Slough, linear drainage channels were constructed, and tide gates were installed at the mouth of Allen and Jones creeks to create grazing and crop land. The levees and tide gates prevented tidal flows from reaching the floodplain, which drastically altered hydrology (such as water quantity and quality) and brackish water-dependent vegetation within this ecosystem, thereby changing the wildlife and fish assemblages within this area. Most notably, these built elements have restricted anadromous fish species from using critical rearing areas in the project site, as well as spawning habitat upstream in Jones and Allen Creeks.

This project has returned some natural hydrologic processes to the ecosystem, thereby initiating the restoration of estuarine habitat at Qwuloolt, as manifested by the re-establishment of native salmon, wildlife, and plant communities. The estuary acts as a biotic refuge and natural buffer between marine and upland environments that is valued for its beauty and ecosystem functions. Today people benefit from the clean water and air the estuary supports, recreational opportunities, flood storage and protection, carbon sequestration, and its use for commercial, industrial, agricultural purposes. The Qwuloolt Estuary
Restoration Project represents a significant rejuvenation of a critical natural and cultural resource for all peoples within northern Puget Sound. In addition, Qwuloolt is the first of several large restoration projects that could collectively result in approximately 50% of historical tidal wetland area returned to tidal influence.

Project Timeline:
Project scoping occurred from 1994–2006,
property acquisition occurred from 1994-2013,
property easements occurred from 2008–2015,
design and permitting occurred from 2008–2012,
interior habitat work (i.e., structure demolition, garbage removal, channel work, ditch fill, berm building, and native planting) occurred from 2008–2015,
stormwater pond construction and stormwater retrofitting occurred from 2013–2015,
setback and levee construction occurred from 2013–2015,
levee breach occurred in 2015, and
tidegate sealing occurred in 2015.

US Army Corps of Engineers,
Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office,
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,
Washington Department of Ecology,
US Fish and Wildlife Service,
Natural Resources Conservation Service,
Tulalip-Tribal Fund,
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife,
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and
Environmental Protection Agency



2016 Waters to Watch