July 10, 2000
Ray Heller, Bear Creek Basin steward, shows fresh water mussels killed by siltation.
Photo by Wendy Walsh.
by Wendy Walsh, special to the Weekly
Five Woodinville Water District hydrants were opened by vandals during the night on June 28 in the Cottage Lake area, causing extensive damage to local salmon bearing streams.
"If those kids had realized the implications of their pranks, I don't think they would have done it," remarked Ray Heller, King County Basin Steward for Bear Creek. "There is no reasonable fix for this kind of thing. There is zero tolerance for sediment going into the streams, and once it gets into the water, nothing can be done about it. It just kills everything."
According to Fire District spokesman Bud Backer, the first call was received around midnight, reporting an open hydrant on 133rd Place NE. After that, there were three more calls throughout the night regarding hydrants at NE 154th St and NE 201st, and at 4:56 a.m., two open hydrants on NE 137th were reported.
These last two hydrants, which were on a steep hill, had been running for about five hours and caused a two-foot deep ditch of erosion soils to run directly into Cottage Lake Creek. The siltation traveled into Bear Creek and continued down into the Sammamish River at Redmond.
Backer says that calling 911 is the right thing to do when there is a water-related emergency like this, because the fire department has to make sure there are workable hydrants for fire protection. However, in the case of vandalism, it is an unfortunate diversion of units which have to be taken out of service when there may be a fire emergency. The cost to taxpayers is between $350-$500 per hour for each response.
Citizens who lived along the creek systems immediately notified the fisheries officials in the morning. First to the scene of the destruction was officer Kim Chandler of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, who expressed shock at the siltation of the stream systems. One of the great concerns, besides the silt, was that the District water is chlorinated, which can kill microorganisms essential for the health of the ecosystem.
Ray Heller, biologist, said they had received at least six calls from the Bear Creek neighborhoods and responded immediately. His job as Stream Steward involves education and protection, as well as coordinating scientific assesments of the fish populations and other important species. In his constant monitoring of the system, he has become a well-known resource to the community. Each fall he provides streamside talks about the salmon returns for families.
Cottage Lake Creek had a good run of Chinook salmon last fall. Bear Creek Valley is home to many streams which are spawning grounds for indigenous runs of sockeye, coho, cutthroat trout, and many other important fisheries. Lesser known, but also endangered, is the fresh water mussel, an indicator species for the health of the stream. Siltation destroys the mussels.
Water Tenders is a citizens' group working with Heller to form a community interest in salmon and stream protection. President Heather Poe said of the spill, "It is tragic when citizens are trying to restore the creek and the County spends millions protecting it, that some people can come along and destroy it all in one senseless act."
Water District manager Bob Bandarra said approximately one quarter of a million gallons of water were lost, which brought the Brookside reservoir down about 6-7 feet, and had to be replaced.
"It cost the taxpayers several thousand dollars in cost of water, gravel, and repairs to the road, and response of the many government personnel involved," Bandarra said. "It was a prank which had serious consequences, and I hope people learn from it so that it won't happen again."