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Helping hands = swimming success

County employees and jail inmates worked together Monday afternoon to build sand bag walls in Chico Creek to help raise the dangerously low water levels. - Photo by Jesse Beals
County employees and jail inmates worked together Monday afternoon to build sand bag walls in Chico Creek to help raise the dangerously low water levels.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

The salmon of Chico Creek were on borrowed time Monday afternoon trying to struggle upstream, but their path was blocked.

Nearly a thousand fish were touching gill to gill, causing the water to appear as though it was boiling. With a recent lack of rain, the water levels were not high enough for the salmon to fly over the first weir.

All it took was one citizen complaint early Monday morning to change the future for the scaly soldiers heading into upstream combat.

“There was a 100 percent blockage getting up the creek,” said Chuck Smiley, Kitsap County surface and storm water management inspector. “This has been a problem for a long time.”

After determining the salmon could not make it over the first weir, Smiley and a few other volunteers with Public Works and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife carried sandbags down to raise the water levels. Watching the hundreds of salmon struggle to move, Smiley said he and a few others began trying to lift the salmon up over the weir, something that did not work out quite as planned.

“There were so many fish, we thought we could toss a few over, but that didn’t work,” said Kitsap County Department of Community Development Code Enforcement Officer Stephen Mount. “That first weir was a real struggle ... There were so many salmon, they couldn’t move.”

Not long after, an extended flatbed semi-truck from Kitsap County Public Works arrived carrying more than a thousand sandbags to help raise the water levels of the first weir, allowing fish to make their way upstream. Workers from the Kitsap County Facilities, Parks and Recreation, KC Public Works as well as Kitsap County Jail inmates came to help.

“We raised the water line about a foot-and-a-half,” Mount added. “We figured raising the water level was the best option.”

Forming a line from Chico Way down to the creek, sandbags were passed down a line from person to person until the water levels were high enough for the fish to pass through the first weir. Not long after the sandbags were in the water, scores of salmon began flying through the air over the first weir like stunt pilots, flipping over rocks like trapeze artists.

Although a watchful eye will have to be kept on that area of Chico creek, the salmon have surpassed one roadblock in their fight to upstream waters.

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