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Squalicum Creek

Squalicum Creek by Shelby Hunter

Squalicum Creek drains approximately 22 square miles, originating in the Cascade foothills east of Bellingham and north of Lake Whatcom. The stream flows southeast for approximately 10 miles before discharging into Bellingham Bay. Major tributaries include Spring Creek, Baker Creek, Toad Creek and McCormick Creek.

Squalicum Creek historically provided approximately 32 miles of accessible salmon habitat (Williams 1976). It currently supports pink, chum and coho salmon. Spawning surveys and smolt traps in Squalicum Creek and its tributaries have also documented a population of resident and sea-run cutthroat trout, as well as occasional use by steelhead trout. Adult Chinook and sockeye are sometimes sighted during spawning surveys, although these fish are believed to be strays from nearby rivers (e.g. Nooksack / Fraser) that support large populations of these species.

Current Restoration Projects

The City is finalizing plans to begin construction for the Squalicum Creek Re-route, which involves re-routing large sections of Squalicum Creek around two man-made ponds, through a new channel, reactivating remnant channels, and reconnecting the stream with its floodplain. The project also eliminates an existing fish passage blockage under I-5, opening up over 22 miles of salmon habitat upstream of I-5.

The City of Bellingham was awarded Centennial Clean Water Fund Grants by the Department of Ecology in 2004 and 2005 to improve riparian areas along urban streams, including the Lower Squalicum Creek Restoration Project. In 2005, the City completed an extensive project to protect Squalicum Parkway from erosion, while improving fish habitat and restoring native vegetation. City-sponsored Washington Conservation Corps crews continue to clear exotic plants and weeds to ensure native vegetation becomes well established throughout the riparian area.

Pre-culvert preparation New culvert preparation

Under I-5 before (left) and after (right) new stream culvert construction by DOT in 2014, awaiting part of the soon-to-be re-routed Squalicum Creek.

Restoration work upstream includes multiple sites on Squalicum Creek and its tributaries, Baker and Spring Creeks. WCC crews have replaced invasive vegetation with native plants, installed barriers to prevent hikers from damaging sensitive riparian areas, and continue to maintain the sites by removing invasive vegetation to help native plantings become established.

Willow Spring Before Reroute Willow Spring After Reroute

Before (left) and after (right) day-lighting of Willow Spring, a tributary of Squalicum Creek, helps expand habitat availability in the Squalicum Creek Watershed.

The City collects data on water quality in Squalicum Creek each month as part of the Urban Streams Monitoring Program. Squalicum Creek was listed as impaired (Category 5) for dissolved oxygen (DO), fecal coliform, temperature, and a number of other constituents on the Department of Ecology's 2004 303(d) list. For detailed information on 303(d) listings see the Department of Ecology's web site

Past Restoration Projects

The City of Bellingham was awarded Centennial Clean Water Fund Grants by the Department of Ecology in 2004 and 2005 to improve riparian areas along urban streams, including the Lower Squalicum Creek Restoration Project. In 2005, the City completed an extensive project to protect Squalicum Parkway from erosion, while improving fish habitat and restoring native vegetation. City-sponsored Washington Conservation Corps crews continue to clear invasive plants to ensure native vegetation becomes well established throughout the riparian area.

Lower Squalicum instream construction

Construction of in-stream structures on lower Squalicum Creek, prior to re-vegetation of the site.

 Pre project construction  Post instream construciton

Before restoration (left) the riparian habitat of lower Squalicum Creek is degraded by extensive non-native vegetation and bank erosion. After restoration (right), large woody debris structures stabilize the bank and provide fish habitat. The area is cleared of invasive plants in preparation for native plant re-vegetation.

Invasives removal Native Plants installed

(Left) Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) Crews work to clear invasive species from the Lower Squalicum Creek restoration site. (Right) Native plants installed at the Baker Creek restoration site.

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