Diversion is created to improve fish habitat and lessen flooding

MARYSVILLE — For many years, as his children were growing up and playing soccer on the field at Grace Academy, Don Voges worried whenever nearby Allen Creek crept closer and closer to the action.

"It was a regular occurrence," said Voges, who has been a science teacher at Grace Academy for 18 years. "Every fall and winter we watched the water cross the road (84th Street Northeast) and come closer and closer to the field.

"It would creep 20 or 30 yards onto the field and then, eventually, we couldn't use the field at all."

But soon that will be history as a plan to move Allen Creek into a new channel, about 100 feet east of the old one, takes hold. It's a collaborative effort among the city of Marysville, Grace Academy, the Adopt-A-Stream Foundation and several other environmental groups.

"The new channel will not only alleviate the history of flooding problems, but also it will create a new, safer habitat for the fish in the creek and other species as well," said Tom Murdoch, director of the Adopt-A-Stream Foundation.

The move has been in the making for more than four years, said Murdoch and city project engineer David Zull. Because the creek is salmon-bearing, tedious environmental studies and permits had to be completed first.

Zull, who designed the new 1,200-foot stream channel, said the designs, permits, work to lay a larger culvert under 84th and excavation of the channel cost the city about $250,000.

For some time, Allen Creek has run across the Cedarcrest Municipal Golf Course into a roadside ditch along 84th. Through a small culvert, the creek then ran into another ditch next to the soccer field at Grace Academy.

"This was probably not the original route the creek took," Murdoch said. "It appears that through a number of land-use (construction) projects in the area, the creek was altered and diverted into a roadside ditch which wasn't the best and, naturally, couldn't handle heavy flows in fall and winter."

To reroute the creek, a larger culvert was placed below 84th to carry the creek underneath the road to the Grace Academy property on the north side. In the past few months, a new channel was excavated north of 84th. Log structures were installed along the streambed.

Part of the creek has unofficially been named Grace Creek because it flows across the property of the private, Christian school, which has about 300 students. It still is called Allen Creek to the south of the school.

Earlier this week, technicians from the Adopt-A-Stream Foundation trapped silver salmon and cutthroat trout from the old roadside ditch and moved them downstream. The BankSavers, members of the Stillaguamish Tribe, began planting as many as 4,000 willow, cottonwood and dogwood cuttings along the new stream bank.

Tomorrow, one-third of the flow from the creek is scheduled to be diverted to the new channel. Volunteers will use seines to catch any fish that were not moved earlier.

Beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, the creek will be completely diverted to the new channel. Then science students from Grace Academy and local Boy Scouts will walk the dry streambed to hunt for creatures such as crayfish, clams, mussels and underwater insects, which will be moved to the new streambed.

"There are so many side benefits to this project," Murdoch said. "The fish will have a better habitat and the newly planted banks will provide needed shade to keep the water temperature cool. We're anticipating that will mean new forms of vegetation in the stream supporting the fish, and even new wildlife (from hawks to raccoons) in the area, increasing the diversity."

Several groups have participated. Recycled wood chips from downed trees were saved for use in the new creek bed. Driftwood and timber pieces were recycled from Spada Lake by the Snohomish County Public Utility District and were used to stabilize the new channel.

"This is an example of how something can work when there are a number of government and private partners," said Phil Noppe of the Adopt-A-Stream Foundation.

Most of the funding to create the new channel and secure its environmental safety came from grants that the Adopt-A-Stream Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation secured for creek restoration. Twelve similar projects are happening in the lower Snohomish and Sammamish rivers.

More than $17,000 worth of plants will be placed in and along the new creek bed. And more than 300 cubic yards of new dirt, at a cost of $60,000, is being used for the project.

When it's completed, flooding on 84th is expected to decrease. The fish will have a better habitat and the creek will have a better flow. Plus, the project will have benefits for the school: Not only will the soccer field be drier but students will also have an outside science laboratory next door.

Leslie Moriarty: 425-745-7800 or snohomishcounty@seattletimes.com