SHELTON, Wash. — It happens every year on a stretch of road along the Skokomish River in Mason County. Salmon swim across the asphalt as the nearby river rises and floods the area.
"This is the community that is known for the salmon that cross the road and for us that live here, after the flood event is over with, the salmon are left rotting in the field. We would prefer the salmon have an opportunity to stay in the channel," said neighbor Jason Ragan.
Ragan's family has lived in Mason County since the 1880s but he says the quality of life is hurt by the Skokomish River's sediment build up. Decades of human activity have created sandbars that choke off the river's natural flow.
"In the winter, we have all seen these fish swimming across the road. Also during the summer, flows are low and it goes subterranean so extensive, thousands of feet of habitat and river are completely dry — riverbed which is not conducive to fish health," explained Skokomish Natural Resources Director Joseph Pavel.
They're partnering with the county and the Mason Conservation District to restore the river, and with it, both fish habitat and human habitat. The groups have secured $15.2 million in federal funds but still need $13.5 million from the state.
Without it, a spring Chinook program that's already underway will result in little progress, Pavel says. They can produce salmon in hatcheries, but those fish face serious challenges for survival.
"Our heritage, it is founded upon that. It is part of our life. That is our goal, to sustain and maintain our history, our tradition, our culture. This is vital to that," Pavel said.
The projects would include: more than one mile of failing levee removed; almost 1.5 miles of new setback levee built; over 300 acres of floodplain and wetland reconnected to river processes; over 2 miles of river channel will be treated with large wood; 1.5 miles of side channel reconnected; and three-quarters of a mile of roadway will be improved.
"And frankly, it's been a problem for generations. Now we have an opportunity to solve the problem," said Mason County Commissioner Kevin Shutty.
It's not just a fish habitat issue, Shutty says, the neighbors are even cut off from emergency services during floods.
"We have put these off for a long time because of financial and cost issues. Now we have a strong commitment from the federal government and we are confident that we can get a project going soon," he said.