Pierce County teams with McChord AFB on fish passage

Salmon and other fish species once again have access to six miles of fish habitat thanks to a recently completed habitat restoration project.

Pierce County Public Works and Utilities (PWU), in partnership with McChord Air Force Base and the state Salmon Recovery Funding Board, constructed 600 feet of new stream channel to bypass the Morey Creek Dam.

The 12-foot-high dam, located on the east side of the air force base, has been a barrier to fish migrating up Morey Creek since it was built in 1976. The dam created Morey Pond, a popular fishing pond for base personnel, their families and military retirees.

“This project is a great example of how cooperative efforts between federal, state and county agencies can benefit fish and wildlife,” said Harold Smelt, PWU’s Surface Water Management Division manager. “By working together, we created a way for fish to swim around the dam and gain access to an additional six miles of high-quality upstream habitat, and still maintain the pond for recreational fishing.

“In the face of limited funding for habitat restoration projects,” Smelt added, “it is vital that we work together to share funding and other resources needed for these important projects.”

The bypass channel provides for fish movement both for resident trout and migratory fish. Some of the best spawning and feeding grounds in the Chambers/Clover Creek watershed are located in Spanaway Lake and further upstream in wetland complexes on Fort Lewis, which are now accessible by fish.

This project will work in concert with a similar bypass channel constructed by Pierce County in 2007 on Spanaway Creek upstream of the Morey Creek project. In addition to construction of the new channel, more than 36,000 square feet of land adjacent to the Morey bypass channel was improved with native plants to provide overhanging vegetation and wildlife habitat.

The project, identified as a high priority in Pierce County’s salmon recovery plan, was designed and constructed with funds and other resources from the three agencies. In addition to surface water management funds from Pierce County, McChord Air Force Base provided $150,000 and the Salmon Recovery Funding Board provided $80,000. Pierce County engineers and fish biologists designed the project and supervised the construction phase. The project cost approximately $310,000.

McChord Air Force Base will oversee ongoing monitoring and maintenance of the project site. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned for early spring.

More information about the Morey Creek Dam Bypass Channel project is available at http://www.piercecountywa.org/morey .