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 marshand 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.

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