After four weeks of construction and $2 million spent, the City of Sammamish has finished refurbishing Ebright Creek by installing a fish passage to better accommodate migrating kokanee salmon.
The road closure on the south end of East Lake Sammamish Parkway — which had commenced on August 16 — has now concluded. Sammamish residents can rejoice: The road is now fully operational at all hours, and there is a new and improved fish passage along Ebright Creek that will play a key role in reviving the diminishing population of the iconic cherry red kokanee.
Although Sammamish and Issaquah residents sadly missed out on their scenic commute for a month, it was not in vain. The closure and construction were the final step of the ongoing Ebright Creek Enhancement Project which had been in the works since December 2012. Sammamish City Council adopted the Six-Year Stormwater Capital Improvement Plan, which had identified the Ebright Creek Fish Passage project as one of the most crucial stormwater infrastructure changes, given the kokanee’s near extinction every year. The project was awarded a collective $437,785 in grants from the Brian Abbott Fish Barrier Removal Board and the King County Cooperative Watershed Management Grant.
According to the King County website, kokanee are native to both Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish, but are now found only in a sparse number of streams such as Ebright Creek. Climate change and the consequent warming of water bodies have almost completely diminished the kokanee population.
They are a non-anadromous form of sockeye salmon, meaning they do not travel to the ocean and remain in freshwater bodies like Lake Sammamish for their entire lives.
The previous bridges on the creek did not have enough clearance and restricted water during high flows.
Throughout the past month, the city removed and replaced four stream-crossing bridges, reinforced Ebright Creek, and enhanced the creek lining to increase the magnitude of water flowing into Lake Sammamish. These improvements increase and accommodate for higher water flow and allow fish, like the native kokanee salmon, to swim upstream to spawn.
As the kokanee salmon population bounces back, Sammamish residents may be able to catch a sighting of the bright red salmon on their morning and evening walks along the East Lake Sammamish Trail, usually between September and November.
“We only have a small window of opportunity — we want to have the box culvert ready on time for the kokanee salmon spawning season,” wrote Stephanie Sullivan, the project manager, in a recent city newsletter.
In 2020, there were 82 adult kokanee that returned to Sammamish tributaries to spawn, according to Trout Unlimited, a local kokanee advocacy group. This represents some growth from the meager 20 kokanee that were counted in 2018.
Sammamish still has a long way to go for kokanee recovery.