Squalicum Creek is a tributary of Bellingham Bay located 2.5 miles east of the Nooksack River delta. The creek drains approximately 22 square miles, (originating in the Cascade foothills east of Bellingham and north of Lake Whatcom), and 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 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 salmon runs of nearby rivers (e.g. Nooksack / Fraser), which support large populations of these species.
Squalicum Creek has the greatest potential for high water quality and productive fish habitat within the Bellingham city limits. However, the health of the ecosystem is in jeopardy. Symptoms of ecosystem stress include fish passage blockages, exceedances of water quality standards, and declining salmon stocks. Squalicum Creek water quality has been found to exceed Washington State standards for temperature, dissolved oxygen, and fecal coliform bacteria. The City collects data on water quality in Squalicum Creek each month as part of the Urban Streams Monitoring Program. Squalicum Creek is listed as impaired (category 5) for dissolved oxygen and fecal coliform bacteria on the Department of Ecology 303(d) list for years 2004, 2008, and 2012. For more information on 303(d) listings, see the dissolved oxygen and bacteria category resultson the Department of Ecology's website.
The City begins construction for the Squalicum Creek Re-route in the summer of 2015, which involves re-routing large sections of Squalicum Creek around Bug Lake and Sunset Pond to improve water quality. The project will re-route large sections of the creek into 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.
Under I-5 before (left) and after (right) new stream culvert construction by Department of Transportation in 2014, awaiting part of the soon-to-be re-routed Squalicum Creek.
Restoration work includes multiple sites on Squalicum Creek and two of its tributaries, Baker and Spring creeks. Much of this work was completed with funding from the Centennial Clean Water Fund Grants awarded to the City 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 have replaced invasive vegetation with native plants and installed barriers to prevent hikers from damaging sensitive riparian areas. Crews continue to maintain the sites by removing invasive vegetation to ensure native vegetation becomes well established throughout the riparian area.
Before (left) and after (right) day-lighting of Willow Spring, a tributary of Squalicum Creek, helps expand habitat availability in the Squalicum Creek Watershed.
Construction of in-stream structures on lower Squalicum Creek, prior to re-vegetation of the site.
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.
(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.