Located just east of Snoqualmie Pass, Gold Creek is the headwaters of the upper Yakima River. Gold Creek originates in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and then flows into Lake Keechelus near Snoqualmie Pass. Here a small, genetically distinct population of threatened bull trout is on the brink of extinction. As a result, they are designated as a high-priority action population in the Yakima Bull Trout Action Plan.
The arrival of European settlers in Gold Creek Valley resulted in major human disturbances from logging, mining, water storage impoundments (dams), and residential, road and railway development. These historic disturbances altered the natural processes of this beautiful landscape. As a result, the creek seasonally dewaters and the habitat is poor.
While the valley may appear to be recovered, these impacts continue to persist in two ways.
1. The creek channel is over-widened. Logging removed trees from the banks of the creek and the following floods widened the creek. Today water spreads out and goes underground more quickly than it would otherwise. Because logging removed large wood on the banks, the creek lacks large wood, deep pools, and spawning gravels (otherwise known as habitat complexity) that bull trout need to thrive.
2. The groundwater table is lower than the creek. The construction of the Gold Creek Pond gravel pit and installation of a stormwater system lowered the water table, which siphons water away from the creek and worsens dewatering – a period of time when the stream goes dry.
Dewatering inhibits adult migration to spawn upstream in late summer/early fall and kills young bull trout rearing in the creek. Poor habitat and dewatering are critical factors for a population that is already struggling. As a result, we continue to see bull trout numbers decline.
Since 2013, KCT has worked on 3 projects:
- 12-1306 Gold Creek Habitat Assessment & Conceptual Design | Funding: $115,000 | Completion Date: 6/30/2015
- 15-1153 Gold Creek Instream Design | Funding: $185,705 | Completion Date: 6/09/2017
- 18-1426 Gold Creek Valley Design & Permitting | Funding: $365,557 | To be completed: 12/31/2019
We completed a detailed assessment of aquatic conditions in Gold Creek. Using this information we are identifying restoration strategies to restore critical creek functions. Actions may include narrowing and stabilizing stream banks, restoring adjacent floodplains, enhancing habitat with large wood structures, encouraging the return of healthy riparian forests, increasing the number of deep pools with cover, and decreasing the duration and extent of seasonal dewatering.
An additional piece of the puzzle is looking at ways to restore Gold Creek Pond. Prior to excavation, Gold Creek Pond was a large wetland area that filtered and returned cold, clean water to Gold Creek. The gravel pit that WSDOT dug is expansive – it takes up 90 percent of the floodplain and is 60 feet deep at its lowest part. It is one of the few gravel pits in the Gold Creek floodplain that was not restored back to its original state by WSDOT after excavation.
The shape of the pit and the elevation of its downstream outlet lower the groundwater table across Gold Creek valley. Because the pond is lower than the creek, it acts as a siphon, pulling water from the creek to the pond. This further exacerbates the dewatering effects on the creek. We are working with Natural Systems Design, an engineering firm that specializes in river restoration, to gather and analyze data and provide the Forest Service with alternatives that will restore the groundwater table.
Ultimately, the Forest Service will decide what restoration takes place in Gold Creek Valley. The alternatives for the creek and the pond will be analyzed through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. Through the NEPA process, the public will be able to weigh in on the various alternatives. Once the Forest Service makes a decision, we will work with them to implement the selected alternative.
Due to the proximity of Gold Creek to recreational cabins, KCT is partnering with local landowners to include their concerns, ideas, and thoughts into this restoration project. These landowners have first-hand observations and experiences to bring into the process. They provide valuable insight that helps design a better restoration project. Furthermore, their input can guide actions that address concerns like the flooding that these landowners encounter.
For detailed information on this project, including site maps, project designs, and additional photos, go to the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Offices website: