The Sammamish Slough:
What were we thinking?
According to the Seattle Times, the Sammamish River was a meandering stream until
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers straightened it in 1964 to improve water flow during
floods. That project shortened the river from 20 miles to 13 and eliminated many
of the sloughs and side channels where fish can rest. The consequences or this may
not have been evident back then, but they certainly are now. Results of the creation
of the Sammamish River slough include:
- Disrupted salmon runs-- Trees and brush cleared away from the bank of the slough
used to shade the waters and protect it from the heat of the sun. Without the trees,
the waters get dangerously warm during salmon season, killing many of the fish so
precious to the Pacific Northwest Region, such as the chinook seen here. Salmon
also depend on side channels and pools as resting places during their long trek upstream,
which were also deleted from the river course because no one saw a cause for them.
- Other water life--Perhaps obviously, the water temperatures affect all life in
the river year round, not just the salmon in the fall. Even the tiniest change--the
death of one species of microorganism that can't stand the heat-- can cause the whole
web to fall apart. For instance, if you get rid of bacteria which help break down
dead matter in the water, not only does the river become saturated with dead material,
but the plants in the surrounding areas become starved for nutrients.
- Altered and damaged aquafirs, ground water--Changing the course of the river
changes more water systems than just the river itself. Underwater streams and aquafirs
which enrich natural soils and feed other rivers and streams can be damaged, rerouted,
even destroyed altogether by meddling with a river bed. By changing the general waterflow
patterns of the area, this can cause droughts and decrease the nutrient value of
But wait! There is hope, and it comes in the form of a program called Sammamish
ReLeaf. This Sammamish version of Global ReLeaf for Puget Sound was the source for
the planting of over 15,000 indigenous trees and shrubs to the banks of the Sammamish
River in October 1999 alone. Every October, hundreds of King County residents volunteer
a weekend or two to come and restore stretches of the Sammamish to their former beauty.
The goal organizers have set for Sammamish ReLeaf is to have covered the banks of
the entire river by 2010, and with luck and help from the King County community,
they just might make it. For more information on Sammamish ReLeaf, visit their website