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News / Clark County News

Why are Salmon Creek trail ponds drying up?

Residents skeptical of Clark County Public Works’ answers; water levels and quality to be monitored

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 30, 2024, 6:15am
2 Photos
Residents living along the west edge of the Salmon Creek trail say the ponds have been drying out, but no one seems to know why. According to Clark County Public Works, the ponds began drying up about a year ago. Rocky Houston, director of the parks division, said it may be from a beaver dam.
Residents living along the west edge of the Salmon Creek trail say the ponds have been drying out, but no one seems to know why. According to Clark County Public Works, the ponds began drying up about a year ago. Rocky Houston, director of the parks division, said it may be from a beaver dam. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

What is causing ponds along the western edge of Salmon Creek trail to dry up? That’s the question many residents living along the trail are asking.

According to Clark County Public Works, the ponds began drying up about a year ago. Rocky Houston, director of the parks division, said the reason is clear.

“Our on-site assessment identified that there may have been a beaver dam connecting the pond with Salmon Creek,” Houston said Monday. “The beaver activities have ceased, or high-water flow has broken the impoundment, resulting in free-flowing water.”

Houston said the building of beaver dams and their subsequent destruction during high water events is a natural process for the Salmon Creek floodplains. He said the parks division plans to continue monitoring water levels and water quality in the area.

For residents like Peggy McCarthy, the county’s answers don’t add up. McCarthy, who has lived in her home for more than 30 years, said there have been beaver dams in the area for years, but the water has never dropped this low.

“I walk the trail almost every day, from one end to the other. There are lots of us who walk that trail daily, and we keep a really good eye on what’s going on,” McCarthy said. “I could watch the beavers bringing their babies out every June and watch the herons sitting on top of the dam. It was just amazing to see all this wildlife.”

Instead of beavers, McCarthy said she thinks the lack of water in the ponds is more likely due to the growth in housing along the trail and the installation of related stormwater and sewer lines.

“The county has also been working on the sewage issue because of all the houses built on the other side, the south side of Salmon Creek, are really overloading the water treatment plant,” she said.

McCarthy said another resident spotted someone putting a pipe and water pump into the pond. Houston said the county was also notified of a pipe in the pond in April. He said the county’s geographic information services department couldn’t identify any pipes belonging in the area.

“Once weather conditions improve, we plan to investigate the pipe. It is important to note that it is illegal to block or impound water in this area unless a rigorous permitting process is adhered to,” Houston said.

There’s another possible reason for the low water levels: drought. Washington’s Department of Ecology declared a statewide drought emergency, including Clark County, on April 16. Only the Seattle, Everett and Tacoma metro areas were excluded.

A drought emergency is declared when water supply conditions are expected to fall below 75 percent of average, and there is potential for undue hardships due to low water supply.

Ecology last week warned that another low snowpack means the state’s water resources and reserves are severely depleted.

While no hardships have been reported in Clark County, the county was listed as “abnormally dry” by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s drought information center. The federal agency said a combination of a colder than average winter, rapid spring snowmelt, and dry summer caused lower than normal hydropower production in Washington and meant some reservoirs did not refill.

McCarthy said she and her neighbors plan to organize and pressure the county to further investigate what’s happening at the ponds.

“There’s always been water. That’s why I bought my property, because there was a big lake in front of it,” McCarthy said. “It was such a beautiful view.”

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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