Restoration of the Padden Creek estuary is a top priority for the City of Bellingham and an important component of the overall Bellingham Bay and Puget Sound recovery strategies.
A public meeting was held Dec.11, 2013. City staff and design consultants, ESA and Coastal Geologic Services, presented the draft design. The City has funding for construction from the Department of Ecology. Construction will likely occur in late 2014. More information is available on the Padden Creek Estuary Enhancements capital project page.
The estuary, which is highly altered compared to its historical condition, provides important habitat for many fish and wildlife species. The City restored portions of the buffer on the west side of the estuary approximately 20 years ago and is currently designing additional enhancement actions that will enable the estuary to support a greater variety of ecosystem functions, species, and habitats, and serve as a more substantial amenity to the community.
Small estuaries, including the Padden Creek estuary, have become increasingly valuable as the amount of intertidal habitat in Bellingham Bay has decreased. It is estimated that 282 acres of aquatic land have been lost in inner Bellingham Bay, and most of that acreage is intertidal estuarine habitat associated with streams. The Padden Creek estuary is dominated by mudflat, which is typically a highly productive type of habitat supporting a large biomass. Padden estuary is the largest area of this habitat type within the City limits north of the Chuckanut Creek estuary. However, urban and industrial development in the surrounding area have impaired the ecological processes that properly functioning estuaries require including: tidal exchange, tidal channel formation and maintenance, sediment deposition, and detritus recruitment.
Estuaries provide a complex mosaic of shallow water habitats and distributary channels that serve as migration corridors for juvenile and adult salmon. Multiple species of salmonids migrate through the Padden Creek estuary before entering Padden Creek, including Chinook, Coho, and Chum salmon, steelhead trout, as well as both resident and sea-run cutthroat trout. Pacific groundfish including flatfish (e.g., Starry Flounder), rockfish (e.g., sculpin), as well as surfperch and stickleback species are also likely to use the estuary at high tides. Great Blue Herons, dabbling ducks, and various seabirds and shorebirds also use the mudflat for foraging. The mudflats also support multiple species of algae, phytoplankton, and invertebrates that serve as food sources for a variety of fish and wildlife species.
The Padden Creek Habitat Enhancement Project is intended to enhance ecosystem functions and habitat conditions of the estuary downstream of Harris Street. The project will create new salt marsh habitat, stabilize slopes along the estuary boundary, improve the structure and composition of the buffer, and remove creosote pilings and other debris to increase the overall habitat value and functionality of this important ecosystem.