MARYSVILLE — Josh Meidav, restoration ecologist for the Tulalip Tribes, summed up the progress of the Qwuloolt Estuary Restoration Project to a packed house in the Evergreen Unitarian Universalist Church library on Sunday, Oct. 13.
"Part of our work with the Tribes is to try and improve our natural and cultural resources, but those aren't just on the reservation," Meidav said. "We're looking to restore 400 acres of estuary, to mix fresh and salt water, by breaching the levees that European-American settlers put into place to make this area more palatable for ranching and farming."
Meidav attributed the encroachment of reed canary grass in the area to the drainage of the estuary and the diminishment of tidal influence. By contrast, he cited a number of benefits to restoring the estuary, not only in bringing back the salmon and their wetlands habitat, but also in improving water quality for humans, providing a flood storage area and serving as a quality-of-life natural attraction.
Among the partner agencies that Meidav listed in this project were the Tulalip Tribes, the city of Marysville, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Department of Ecology, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Army Corps of Engineers.
"We're building a setback levee at the north end of the estuary, before we breach the levee at the south end," Meidav said. "At the south end, we're lowering the levee to meet the base of the outlet channel. It's going to be gradual, and not just a straight cut."
The relatively straight channelizing of Allen Creek will likewise be undone, as it's moved east to reconnect with Jones Creek. Displaced soil from the project's earth-moving will form the basis of wave attenuation berms, along with native plants.
"The setback will protect the property to the west, and the berms will protect the properties to the north and east," Meidav said. "The vegetation will hold the berms together, so they're not just sediment, and even with wind waves, the berms will only be one foot below the water's surface."
Although the project's goal is to breach the levee by late 2014, Meidav acknowledged that it might occur in 2015 instead.
"This project has been scoped since the late 1990s," Meidav said. "The problem is, even with all the consultants and technical folks we've had scoping it out, you still have to deal with the actual field conditions."
Another source of complications has been the "checkerboard" of private land owners whose properties have had to be made into acquisitions or easements. Perhaps counterintuitively, Meidav described the process of mapping out the terrain's historic highs and lows to be relatively simple, with the use of lidar.
"We'll be doing salt-tolerant planting, but much of the area is intended to self-regulate," Meidav said. "The increased brackishness of the saltwater will kill off the reed canary grass, but we'll continue to monitor the turbidity of the water, even as we make allowances for the immediate wake of construction."
Since 2011, the Qwuloolt Estuary Restoration Project has recruited volunteers to plant native trees and shrubs at Harborview Park, at the southeast end of the estuary, where Meidav suggested that the existing trail could be extended into a boardwalk.
"It's insurance against high tides, and it's done with the labor of folks like you," said Meidav, who invited the community to take part in the next planting at Harborview Park, at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 19. "Bring your own boots and gloves, and we'll bring the red cedar and shore pine."
For more information, call 425-299-0009 or log onto www.qwuloolt.org.