Turning on the pumps

Whatcom County’s Bertrand Creek will be a little wetter this fall. Last week, the Bertrand Watershed Improvement District turned on pumps that will put more water into the creek during the late summer/early fall low-flow season.

Photo of an aluminum ramp in the middle of a stream, water from the river cascading down it.

Large aluminum ramp, installed and functional at Bertrand Creek

The Bertrand Creek Augmentation project is a pilot project funded by a grant from Ecology to the Bertrand Watershed Improvement District. This portion of the grant is estimated at about $65,000.

Bertrand Creek winds through northern Whatcom County, west of Lynden, before eventually draining into the Nooksack River. The Bertrand drainage is an area Ecology and others have long focused on due to its low flows in the summer. Many farmers in the area hold legal water rights to use water from the creek for irrigation. Over the years, many farmers have switched to drawing irrigation water from groundwater sources, reducing the impact on the creek, but late-summer flows have remained lower than optimal. Increasing flows in Bertrand Creek is important because it provides cool, clean water for fish, including the endangered Chinook salmon and endangered bull trout.

“This is a great accomplishment between the state, farmers, tribes, state Fish and Wildlife, and the county,” said Kasey Cykler, water master for Ecology. “The work to get the permits done and make the project happen is a testament to the effort and collaboration of all those involved.”

An image from behind the aluminum ramp, showing how water is pumped up and onto the ramp from the river. River is surrounded by lush scenery

The system aerates the water and disperses the flow so it won't damage the creek.

To increase the flow in the creek, water from local wells is pumped down a special ramp, aerating it and also dispersing the flow so it doesn’t scour the stream. Two ramps were built by a local contractor at a cost of about $1500 each. The ramps are made from aluminum, making them lightweight and easy to move. The devices will move about 1.1 cubic feet/second of water to supplement the creek. Water quality is regularly tested before the additional flow goes into the creek to ensure it meets quality standards and fish needs. 

The project was made simpler by using already available resources. The wells supplying the water are existing irrigation wells that are finished irrigating for the season, and pumps and water lines were loaned by area farmers. This “reuse” concept also reduced project costs.

Ecology awarded the watershed improvement district a temporary water right permit for the project, which runs until Nov. 15, but if enough rain falls, the pumps could be turned off sooner. Besides the immediate benefit for fish, data from the project will help determine whether this type of project could be used in future years and in other places.

For more information on the Bertrand Creek Augmentation project, contact Ecology’s Kasey Cykler at kasey.cykler@ecy.wa.gov.