After 50 years of partially blocking a significant salmon stream in central Kitsap County, two large box culverts and nearly 400 feet of roadway were removed from the Chico Creek estuary in August 2014.
Removing the road and demolishing the 8-foot by 8-foot cement structures under Kittyhawk Drive improved fish passage and restored parts of the estuarine marsh, which is known to the Suquamish Tribe as the “Place of Chum Salmon.”
The removal of the culverts will allow native chum salmon, the watershed’s predominant salmon species, to take advantage of a widened estuary. Chico is one of the largest native salmon-producing creeks in Puget Sound with an average of 30,000 fish spawning in the watershed each year.
The culverts were installed in the 1960s, during the construction of nearby State Route 3, said Tom Ostrom, the tribe’s salmon recovery coordinator. Upstream, there are two similar, but much longer, culverts under the highway, which will be removed eventually, he said.
With the culverts in place, when the tide was low, salmon had a hard time reaching the culvert to continue their spawning journey upstream. In the fall, when the creek runs high and fast, the volume and speed of the creek water made it difficult for salmon to access the culvert.
There have been many temporary fixes to mouth of the creek the past 20 years, such as installing large rock weirs to maintain fish passage through the culverts, but most of these fixes came at the expense of stream and estuary habitat, Ostrom said.
“Removing the culvert completely will take away these manmade fixes and allow the stream to adjust more naturally while providing the habitat that salmon need,” he said.
Funding for the project included grants from Environmental Protection Agency’s National Estuary Program, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, the state’s Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program, Kitsap County and the state Department of Transportation.