Future of the Skagit

CreekScrambler

Active Member
I think it's worthwhile to consider the density of a settlement when buyouts enter the picture. Hamilton is mostly a tiny village of ~115 households living on a small grid of streets, generally in appalling backwoods poverty. If the same land was instead a pair or trio of flood-tolerant farms that weren't seeking compensation every season for flood damages, that would be a big nothing burger for the rest of the taxpaying state.

It wouldn't take much in buyouts to clear it out...there is land available nearby for people to relocate for a similar lifestyle and there are towns nearby where buyout sums will go a long ways in rent or new property. Stay behind, get nothing, expect nothing. The total dollar amount to clear out most of the town would be barely over FEMA has already spent on it in the last 25ish years....with zero FEMA going forward.

Yeah, the river takes, and at some point it takes more than a responsible community can bear. Pull up stakes in the case of Hamilton, and hang out in your safe home with nice views for many years to come, Gyrfalcon. That's a nice patch you've got there!
 

Salmo_g

WFF Supporter
Having witnessed both intense rural and urban poverty all over the country, Hamilton has some top-5 heebie-jeebie inducing bad vibes in my experience. I have no desire to explore water access to the Skagit from the only place I've ever seen single-wides on stilts.

Stacked on top of the flood situation, I'm think it should be left to the river. No good comes from keeping the town there, and at some point the local/state government has to be able to make the call to surrender it as uninhabitable. Maybe WA has to panhandle whatever GTFO funds necessary from the federal gov't, but I'd think that the ROI is surely better than what they're currently doing, throwing good money after bad.
I see your point, but I think a situation like Hamilton demonstrates that real life can be more complicated than the heebie-jeebies you get from the single wides on stilts. The gov't only permits new housing that meets building codes, and for logical reasons. Unfortunately, the reality of poverty is that some people can't afford housing that meets contemporary standards, even when it is subsidized. It seems weird to say it, in some ways, but there is an appalling lack of sub-standard housing in America. Because sub-standard is all that some people can realistically afford. It's always been this way, but with every passing year construction costs increase in part because of changing, and improved, building standards. Consequently, many poor folks are priced out of housing, due in part to the dwindling supply of sub-standard housing. And sub-standard still beats living under a bridge - in a flood plain. So living and staying in places like Hamilton makes sense for many people. But yes, I agree that it shouldn't be encouraged by FEMA repeatedly bailing out frequently flooded properties.
 

Gyrfalcon21

Honoring Vets
As well you should. Your place ain't Hamilton.
Yes, I assume they are not buying farms out for any reason.

Now, if we could find someone to sue the WPSS to reverse work on the river that shoots our smothering silt all over Chinook grounds from here on down the next bend or two that had many spawning Chinook on the gravels, we might have something good for some fish recovery. We started talking with Senator Warren Magnuson in the 80's for help. Once more in the 90's to no avail.

I think we tend to think of logged headwater recoveries for spawning habitat, rarely think of lower tidewater -beyond nurturing of the little ones as it turns esturine
 
Last edited:

Matt B

...
WFF Supporter
Yes, I assume they are not buying farms out for any reason.

Now, if we could find someone to sue the WPSS to reverse work on the river that shoots our smothering silt all over Chinook grounds from here on down the next bend or two that had many spawning Chinook on the gravels, we might have something good for some fish recovery. We started talking with Senator Warren Magnuson in the 80's for help. Once more in the 90's to no avail.

I think we tend to think of logged headwater recoveries for spawning habitat, rarely think of lower tidewater -beyond nurturing of the little ones as it turns esturine
Were you losing bank in the 1980s? Damn. Just thinking—that bank needs some roughness to protect it. If you had planted a 50, 100, 200 foot wide forested buffer, you could have 35-40 year old cottonwood and alder with some evergreen understory. Let the bank migrate into a forest and it doesn’t progress laterally so quickly. Beautiful farm. I bet those noncohesive alluvial soils really can produce, given proper drainage/soil moisture management, but they are also highly erodible!
 

Matt B

...
WFF Supporter
BTW, Smalma hit what should be a key point in the current relicensing effort. The next Skagit license needs to incorporate elements of a more normative hydrograph and extensive mitigation to the extent that essentially normative can't be reached.
So, for the sake of discussion, to you and @Smalma — what’s the ideal hydrograph? Would we even want a natural hydrograph? Given the expected effects of climate change, is it heresy to think that a few managed rivers with cold water dam discharges might actually be a little bit of a “bet hedge”? Since the Skagit dams probably won’t be removed, what is the best combination of channel-forming and habitat-forming flows, balanced with flood control and water storage for energy generation? Do we know? Is managing flow to enhance and maintain instream habitat something that can be adaptively managed? Does adaptive management of instream flows make any sense in the context of a 40 or 50 year FERC license, which is usually fairly prescriptive? Can I fit any more questions into this paragraph?
 

Gyrfalcon21

Honoring Vets
Were you losing bank in the 1980s? Damn. Just thinking—that bank needs some roughness to protect it. If you had planted a 50, 100, 200 foot wide forested buffer, you could have 35-40 year old cottonwood and alder with some evergreen understory. Let the bank migrate into a forest and it doesn’t progress laterally so quickly. Beautiful farm. I bet those noncohesive alluvial soils really can produce, given proper drainage/soil moisture management, but they are also highly erodible!
The darn river cuts very low down. The river at floodstage from bottom to top is upwards of 30 feet deep-with massive power. It drains a huge watershed at 2660 sq miles (minus a couple smaller rivers closer to harbor) so it is pushing with incredible volume. The worst damage is water that stays up and churns for weeks. Unless you could get roots down deep the soils and trees just topple over with the undercut.

The nuclear plant work set the river to bounce directly off our land after a riprap gave have way years ago.

Another issue is there is a slough at the head of the property where the river gets in and starts it's peeling of the bank off that cannot be plugged, so it hits it from two sides in a way.

I do have another branch of conservation folks coming out for a look to see if we can indeed get something started to hopefully keep some of the land intact. A map of the valley shows the many oxbows that show it can swing wildly and full up big chunks of land at will.

riverviewww2018222.jpg

Same window about 15 years apart, the house I took this photo from is now gone. Those guys in the boat are fishing in a spot that used to be our land and about 25 feet of topsoil/soil deep (we still technically own so we pay taxes on the land).
 
Last edited:

Matt B

...
WFF Supporter
The darn river cuts very low down. The river at floodstage from bottom to top is upwards of 30 feet deep-with massive power. It drains a huge watershed at 2660 sq miles (minus a couple smaller rivers closer to harbor) so it is pushing with incredible volume. The worst damage is water that stays up and churns for weeks. Unless you could get roots down deep the soils and trees just topple over with the undercut.
I know what you mean, and I don’t know your exact situation so I may be way off base, but what I’ve seen is that the trees can topple, but if it’s a dense enough and mature enough stand they can kind of line the bank, forming a sort of natural woody revetment.

I can see you must have a unique perspective on the power of large rivers!
 

Gyrfalcon21

Honoring Vets
Here you can see the historical oxbows. Pretty active. Some of the oxbows are a mile from the current river now. Indeed, upclose and personal farm2121111qqqqq.jpg
 

Gyrfalcon21

Honoring Vets
I know what you mean, and I don’t know your exact situation so I may be way off base, but what I’ve seen is that the trees can topple, but if it’s a dense enough and mature enough stand they can kind of line the bank, forming a sort of natural woody revetment.

I can see you must have a unique perspective on the power of large rivers!
Over the years it has cut through some big old Cottonwood stands in just a couple of floods.
Sure wish we had some bedrock appear and deflect, pipedream.

One thing about rivers, just when you think it is predictable, it goes the other way. Hoping this slows here.

This was the road to school as a kid often-about 2 or 3 feet short of a big flood.
Floods are not all bad : )

Apologies for thread drift!
flood555.jpg
 
Last edited:

Smalma

Active Member
Matt -
Regarding restoring a more natural hydrograph on the upper Skagit. My concerns is that the current modifications to that hydrograph is affecting the salmonid production in the name of cheaper power. I feel strongly that given those concerns it is on City of Seattle light as part of the re-licensing evaluating the impacts of those changes and what actions could be taken to minimize those impacts.

My concerns fall into 3 broad hydrograph alternations. Fortunately the Skagit at the power house and the Sauk have similar average daily discharges (Upper Skagit average flow 4,822 cfs and the Sauk at Sauk 4,699 cfs). Given the similarity of the the headwaters of those two portions of the basin comparing hydrographs of the two provide some insight of those modifications.

First concern is prolonging the peak run-off period in the upper Skagit. The projects capture run-off and release that water over a long period. On the Sauk the peak run off period typically the peak run-off lasts approximately 5 months, on the upper Skagit the period last 8 months. My concerns is that extend run-off puts additional stress and need for complex habitats to provide refuge for fish like juvenile steelhead from those higher flows - over-winter habitats if you will. The licensing process needs to answer the question of what the over survival impacts of steelhead parr (and other juvenile salmonids) of those extended periods of elevated flows. Skagit basin run-offs are much longer than say that on the OP where that period typically 3 months or so - the difference between hydrographs driven by snow melt versus rain fall.

A second concern is the daily flow changes associated with peak power generation. The water is released to met peak power needs (more valuable) by releasing water quickly to a higher level and then dropping those flows equally quickly. Over the course of a year on the upper Skagit those kinds of flow fluctuations occur on nearly half of the days of the year. Typically it takes about 1.5 hours to rise the flow and an equal time to lower those flows with those flow changes often a 1,000 cfs or more. There are similar daily flow changes on the Sauk associated with the snow melt during the day. These changes are confined to the late spring/summer period with roughly 12 hours needed for the flows to go from the daily low to the high and about the same for the drop- a much gradual process. Questions to be answered fall into two main areas. 1) are those abrupt flow changes increasing the risk of stranding or trapping juvenile salmonids. Are the salmon using complex habitats at increased risk? or our those habitats less available? And 2) what is the impacts on the aquatic insect population due to the sudden flow changes. There are several studies that have shown that sudden flow increased associated with peak power generation can dislodge the smaller insects limiting the over-all availability of the biomass of insects that form the primary food base for those juvenile salmonids. Across the west there are a number of examples where changing the hydrograph from peak power generation to a more of run of the river hydrograph leading to dramatic increases in the biomass (both numbers and size) of trout populations.

The third area of concern is the lack of larger flow events on the upper Skagit . Since 1954 at the power house there has been only 4 flow events larger than 30,000 cfs with the largest being 36,800. On the Sauk in the same period the largest has been 106,000 cfs with more than 40 events of more than 40,000 cfs in just the 20 years between 1997 and 2016 there were 28 events over 30,000. I believe that those higher flows are key to forming and refreshing the complex habitats key to salomid production. While I'm not advocating for some of those large floods for the Skagit there is no reason that on occasion there moderate flood waters could be released at times other than peaks of basin wide flooding so to not amplify the down year floods. As part of the licensing process some modeling/experimentation is needed to determine what flows are need for channel changing flows. I'm guessing that once or twice a decade flow events in the range of 40,000 to 60,000 might be needed but again it should be on the City to make the case as to why those changes are not needed.

Obviously these are complex issues and I just touched the surface but I feel strongly ignoring the potential importance of those issues will continue limit the salmonid production in the entire main stem Skagit.

Curt
 

Salmo_g

WFF Supporter
Fish passage is great and all, but what's the point if we can't even fill the existing habitat?
Fish passage is far down the list of things needed to benefit fish on the Skagit. However, fish passage is one thing that USFWS and NMFS can impose as a mandatory license condition under the FPA, section 18. The agencies can "recommend" habitat improvements like more normative stream flows that Smalma mentions in his above post, but those recommendations are not mandatory, and FERC can and does often modify them for the licensee's benefit. Maybe holding the very expensive fish passage mandate over SCL will influence them to agree to other project operation modifications that are more beneficial to fish. Trade offs are made all the time in project re-licensing.
 

Salmo_g

WFF Supporter
what’s the ideal hydrograph? Would we even want a natural hydrograph? Given the expected effects of climate change, is it heresy to think that a few managed rivers with cold water dam discharges might actually be a little bit of a “bet hedge”? Since the Skagit dams probably won’t be removed, what is the best combination of channel-forming and habitat-forming flows, balanced with flood control and water storage for energy generation? Do we know? Is managing flow to enhance and maintain instream habitat something that can be adaptively managed? Does adaptive management of instream flows make any sense in the context of a 40 or 50 year FERC license, which is usually fairly prescriptive?
There is no one "ideal" hydrograph. We know that fish are adapted to something resembling "normative" hydrographs. We also know that extremely high and extremely low flows cause deleterious effects. Some some kind of normative between the extremes and a steady state spring creek flow best meets the environmental needs of salmon and trout. Something along the likes of the one to two-year flood is typically required to produce stream channel forming and maintenance effects. And seasonal low flows need to be high enough to maintain access to critical juvenile rearing habitats and keep them functional.

Yes, cold water releases from dams can be beneficial to salmonids, but generally that isn't required in the Skagit basin. It's possible that it will be in the future however. Adaptive management is certainly possible, but it only happens in FERC licenses as a product of multi-stakeholder agreement, and usually with sideboards because uncertainty is one of a licensee's worst enemies. And FERC dislikes adaptive management because it makes enforcement a potentially moving target.
 

Matt B

...
WFF Supporter
It’s interesting that on the Sauk side of the basin, annual peak flows show expanding variance which is viewed as detrimental to fish populations, but on the Upper Skagit side, there is a belief that the managed, dampened hydrograph is also detrimental at the same time. I think it is probably true, but it is an interesting contrast that might seem odd or inconsistent to lay people. D1A7D883-6AC4-4FEA-9F4E-86C03BF37D18.png
It seems the Skagit basin is projected to see warming trends like the rest of the PNW, but stream temperatures may not increase to the same degree as some other watersheds. Hydrologic patterns will change a lot though, seasonally, with higher fall and winter annual peaks and increasingly lower summer annual minima over the next decades. https://www.skagitcounty.net/EnvisionSkagit/Documents/ClimateChange/Complete.pdf
How much of the river is negatively affected by the altered flow management’s effects on river morphology and habitat creation? Gorge Dam to Cascade? To Sauk? Further? What about starving the river of sediment and wood?
 

Support WFF | Remove the Ads

Support WFF by upgrading your account. Site supporters benefits include no ads and access to some additional features, few now, more in the works. Info

Latest posts

Top