Well, maybe the “sea lion” I recently saw in the Duwamish in Tukwila wasn’t actually one of the predatory pinnipeds chasing the coho I was trying to catch, maybe it was actually Mark Powell on some of the last flipper kicks of his long journey.
He’s the man who yesterday completed swimming the King County river with two names from top to bottom over the past year, and whose effort has attracted all sorts of media attention.
It’s the top story in today’s The Seattle Times, the headline for which calls the Duwamish “still alive.”
Reporter Lynda V. Mapes said Powell, a regional director for the Washington Environmental Council, set out from the headwaters last October “to find the river’s heart.”
No easy task.
The Duwamish is best known, perhaps, as a Superfund cleanup site, and above there it flows through the gray mass that is the overbuilt cities of Tukwila, Renton, Kent and Auburn, some of the places where Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer, dumped his victims.
Straightened, filled, diked and dumped in, we’ve tried our damndest to murder the Duwamish.
But the river also courses through a bucolic farmed valley, steep-walled state park and is one of the City of Seattle’s drinking water sources.
With big runs of pinks and now coho running upstream, I’ve been haunting the Duwamish a fair amount over the past month, and I’ve kinda been surprised by, yes, how alive it is.
I’m still not sure about my “sea lion” sighting — you be the judge in the image below — but I saw two different beavers one morning last week.
Coworkers have seen blue herons, and I’ve been watching belted kingfishers dive-bombing for young fish.
There are also the obligatory seagulls and ducks, as well as Canada geese.
But it’s the salmon that draw optimism about the health of the river from Powell.
On his Instagram feed, he notes, ““All you have to do is see that there are salmon to know that this river isn’t dead! We need to remember that we can’t restore Puget Sound with restoring the #Duwamish!”
Josh Baldi, the regional director for the state Department of Ecology, jumped into the river with Powell last month, and in a DOE blog he related, “Parts of the river are coming alive with restoration projects, and we saw several. The pinks were jumping on their spawning run, and one nearly hit me in the face!”
Indeed, several years before his untimely death, state fisheries biologist Steve Foley told me that there weren’t many pinks in the river before the early 2000s, but they’ve done pretty well since, including a couple million-fish runs.
That’s a lot of rich marine nutrients delivered to the basin for free.
However, at the same time, Chinook and steelhead, more complex salmonids that live longer in the river before heading to sea, aren’t doing as well, though how much of that is due to Puget Sound and the production of the North Pacific isn’t clear.
There’s a long way to go yet with repairing the Duwamish, but there are encouraging signs out there.
Now, if I could just get the coho to bite a little better this week.
To learn more about Powell’s Duwamish swim, go here.
To learn more about the watershed and restoration efforts, check out DOE’s webpage on it here.