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Private Water Holders Aid Coho Salmon Returning to Cascade Creek

For the second time in several years, voluntary donations of critical flow into Cascade Creek helped enable spawning by the last known wild salmon run in the San Juan Islands. On October 17th a temporary donation of flow from Rosario Resort was added to a recent donation from Olga Water Users, Inc, bringing total donated stream flow to 1.50 cubic feet per second.

Photo courtesy of Jenny De Groot

This effort was led by Orcas-based biologist Jenny De Groot who, on behalf of the Conservation Land Bank, has monitored native fish populations in lower Cascade Creek at Coho Preserve since 2016. During that time, both Coastal Cutthroat trout and the small Coho Salmon run have faced human-caused spawning disruptions including extreme low flow and in-stream disturbance.

Adult Coho salmon typically enter island streams in the fall to spawn and most juveniles remain in freshwater for a year or more before going to sea for one to two years. Whether for trout or salmon, year-round flow in the creek is essential. But like many rivers and streams in the West, Cascade Creek’s flow is legally overallocated. While not typically an issue during rainy periods, diversions of flow during dry periods can leave little or no water for fish. Fortunately, Washington’s Trust Water Rights Program offers water right holders the opportunity to donate all or part of their water rights temporarily and then to reclaim those rights without penalty. Water right holders may also elect to donate or sell water rights to the Trust Program.

In 2020 the Conservation Land Bank secured $500,000 in grant funds from the Department of Ecology and the Recreation and Conservation Office to support permanent flow restoration in Cascade Creek. These grant funds remain available, and the Land Bank welcomes opportunities for collaboration with willing water rights holders and private landowners to help ensure the long-term viability of native fish populations in San Juan County.

Thanks in large part to donations of flow from both Olga Water Users and Rosario Resort, we are thrilled to report that the first salmon of the year were able to make it into lower Cascade Creek yesterday. 

Coho salmon jumping logs: https://www.youtube.com/shorts/I-3s2h9WFJY

Video courtesy of Sandy Taylor


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