Padden Creek's daylighting a big win for fish

water near a tunnel, with a large number of salmon swimming around the area.

Before: salmon won’t swim into the Padden Creek tunnel

This week, when returning salmon are expected to swim back into Bellingham’s Padden Creek, the migrating fish will find it much easier to make it upstream to spawn.

That’s because the city of Bellingham is finishing up the Padden Creek Daylighting project, a $2.8 million effort that re-routed 2,300 feet of the creek from a brick tunnel into a natural stream channel. Ecology’s Water Quality Grants and Loans Program funded a large portion of this work.

For more than 120 years, nearly half a mile of the creek was forced through the tunnel. Fish will not enter the dark passage.

“In essence, spawning fish couldn’t get through the long, dark tunnel,” said Craig Mueller, project engineer.
In the past, nearby residents and other volunteers would hand carry fish past the tunnel when they couldn’t get through.
The tunnel also made homes in part of the city’s Happy Valley neighborhood vulnerable to flooding when creek flows exceeded the tube’s capacity.
Water quality was also a driving factor of this project. Padden Creek, like all streams in Bellingham, is listed for high fecal coliform and low dissolved oxygen. In January, crews will plant native vegetation along the creek which will help reduce temperature and fecal coliform levels. The new channel will also create more turbulence in the flow, which will add dissolved oxygen.
The tunnel will remain in place for a more productive use. It will continue to convey stormwater runoff and provide emergency capacity to help protect more Happy Valley homes from flooding during extreme weather events.
construction workers at completed cofferdam site, standing in a dirt canal.

Community members gather to see water flow into the new channel

Thirty years in the making, the project had its celebratory day in the limelight last Friday when over 100 community members gathered to witness the removal of the cofferdam, which let water flow into the new channel. Fish barriers come out today, giving salmon access to over a half mile of new habitat and spawning area.