Commentary: Can the Edmonds Marsh be saved?

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To answer this question, the citizens of Edmonds need to ask — saved from what?

The primary threats affecting the Edmonds Marsh and the wildlife it support are:

1) Encroachment into the marsh and its buffer.

Most people think filling wetlands for development is past history, but it still exists today especially under the guise of building or paving in adjacent buffer areas. These adjacent buffer areas and protection from negative human activities are critical to the long-term health of the Marsh and its wildlife. Fortunately for the Edmonds Marsh, the Edmonds City Council recently used the “best available science” to set a 110-foot buffer (plus a 15-foot building setback) to protect the marsh. But that was not without a battle, especially with the Port of Edmonds who wanted to reduce the buffer down to 25 feet to allow buildings as close to the marsh as possible. Unfortunately, this “threat” hasn’t ended; it only takes uncaring elected officials to revive the threat.

2) Toxic contaminates.

We know that the Edmonds Marsh is contaminated, but the extent of contamination is unknown. Recent testing in the marsh revealed cancer-causing petroleum compounds at levels that exceed Washington State criteria for toxic substances. The source of contamination is pollutants in stormwater draining off parking lots, roads and highways, as well as contaminated soil and groundwater from past industrial activities adjacent to the marsh. Pollutants can impair wetland health and negatively impact aquatic organisms, wildlife, vegetation, and human health. Although the Port of Edmonds conducted a cleanup of contaminated soil at Harbor Square some years ago, the cleanup was incomplete and did not address the extent of petroleum contaminates in the marsh. Harbor Square is still listed by the State of Washington as a Hazardous Site.

3) Impaired circulation and tidal exchange.

Over the years, development in and near the marsh has disrupted natural flows. What had historically been open, natural connections to fresh and salt water inputs is now in pipes, culverts and ditches. Restricted flows have caused sediment buildup, altered channels, changes in vegetation, and anaerobic conditions (i.e., insufficient oxygen to sustain aquatic organisms). The marsh outlet to Puget Sound is a roughly 1,600-foot pipe that has all but eliminated salmon migration into the watershed. Tidal flow of saltwater into the marsh is prevented seasonally by a tidegate which impacts the natural ecology of the marsh. Fortunately, the city is in the feasibility/design phase of placing a tidal channel in Marina Beach Park to reopen a natural saltwater connection to Puget Sound.

4) Inadequate native vegetation.

The Edmonds Marsh was recently downgraded by the Department of Ecology from a Category I to a Category II estuarine wetland because it lacked 100 feet of vegetation on at least three of the four sides of the marsh. Further, much of the current vegetation is invasive plants that prevent the growth and natural succession of native plants, shrubs and trees that are essential to the health of the Marsh. Community volunteers have stepped up and helped remove invasive species and plant native shrubs in some areas, but much, much more is needed.

In order to save the Edmonds Marsh, all of these threats will need to be addressed. Addressing one threat at the expense of another will only harm overall marsh health. For example, there are suggestions to decrease the marsh buffer width to allow for more economic development with the new revenues thus available for marsh restoration projects such as daylighting Willow Creek. Ironically, such approaches would be counter-productive; it’s akin to cutting off circulation to your hand to restore your fingers.

Saving the Edmonds Marsh will require our elected officials to engage in informed discussions using the best available science to determine what actions are indeed feasible. The Edmonds City Council is taking the right approach in seeking to find an unbiased, well-qualified scientific consulting firm to conduct a site-specific study of the baseline ecological functions of the Marsh. When the results of the study are available, elected officials in the city, council, and port will need to work together with their staffs, the community, and adjacent property owners (WSDOT, Chevron, BNSF Railroad) to find solutions. We cannot have the port arguing with the council about who is responsible or avoiding or denying the existence of problems. Edmonds needs to have elected officials who are willing to work together with the community to address environmental issues such as protecting and enhancing the Edmonds Marsh.

So, what can the citizens of Edmonds do right now to save the marsh?

First, make sure you are informed about the marsh and what has actually transpired to date that is threatening the health of the Edmonds Marsh.

Then, make sure you vote on Nov. 7 for candidates who will be environmentally responsible and willing to work with their constituents on making preservation of our environment, especially the Edmonds Marsh, a priority.

— By Joe Scordino

Joe Scordino is a retired NOAA fishery biologist/administrator who lives in Edmonds.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Please answer. Why are the tide gates still closed. Can not someone open and close the tide gates as needed or does no one want to take on this responsibility. Come on city assign someone to this task.

  2. The current tide gate is a hand crank operation and would require a person to be assigned during high tides and storm surges.

  3. The tide gate is opened in the spring and closed in the fall. Closing the tide gate prevents the flow of salt water from Puget Sound into the marsh during high tide, but still allows the marsh to drain during low tide. The “Lake Edmonds” that is seen when the tide gate is closed is the marsh filling up with fresh water after heavy rains. This water will eventually drain out to the Sound, leaving the marsh with minimal standing water until the next heavy rain.

  4. The information provided by Joe Scordino is critical to understanding the issues in the Port Commissioner election. Edmonds is fortunate that he has shared his scientific expertise to shed light on the true status of the Edmonds Marsh and surrounding areas. If the incumbent commissioners actually believe what they say about how well they have cleaned up the area, they are misinformed.

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