The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe is starting to see the effects of this year’s predicted low water flow in the Dungeness River Valley much sooner than anticipated.
Tribal natural resources staff discovered this week that the mouth of Siebert Creek had been cut off by a sandbar – a typical problem with the creek during a low water year.
But this year’s low flows are more severe than usual due to the record-low snowpack in the Olympic Mountains.
“We never consider low flows in the spring because we typically have more water coming down the creeks,” said Chris Burns, Jamestown natural resources technician. “But when McDonald Creek started looking really skinny, I started getting really worried and checked Siebert.
“That’s when I found the pool of water behind the sandbar holding steelhead, coho and cutthroat smolts, plus an adult steelhead, with no access to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.”
The flow was too low to just push the gravel out of the way to reconnect the creek to the Strait, so a ditch had to be dug – about 3 feet wide, 2 feet deep and 20 feet long.
“Within a minute of opening up the flow, we had smolts leaving the pond in waves and making their way into the saltwater,” said Aaron Brooks, Jamestown’s fisheries biologist. “We even had a fresh adult female steelhead come from the Strait and make her way into Siebert right in front of us.
“It’s as if she was just waiting there to get in and couldn’t do it until we made a channel. It was pretty cool to see instantaneous results.”
The tribe doesn’t typically worry about low flow in Siebert and McDonald creeks until late summer and early fall, when adult coho start making their way back to fresh water, Burns said.
There’s only a few more weeks of smolt outmigration in these creeks and then staff won’t have to worry too much about it until the fall, he said.
“But if it stays like this until October, we’re going to have to help the adults get upstream. That’s going to be a much tougher job.”