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The Tide Turns for Willapa Wetland

Highlights in Conservation icon

The Tide Turns for Willapa Wetland

Elk watch as excavators remove the Willapa river dike. Photo by Anitra Gorham

Elk watch as excavators remove the Willapa River dike. Photo by Anitra Gorham

Location icon
Pacific County, near South Bend

Project Summary icon
An estuary that has been diked for almost 100 years has now been restored to its natural condition.

Conservation Partners icon
Washington Department of Wildlife (WDFW), Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT), Ducks Unlimited  (DU), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Conservation Commission, and Clark Conservation District (CCD) 

Resource Challenges icon
An estimated 80% of the estuarine wetlands along the Willapa River have been lost during the last century due to diking and draining. In 1912 a river dike was constructed along the Willapa River, isolating several hundred acres of former estuary from the tides. The Willapa Estuary Restoration project provided an opportunity to restore the hydrology to almost 300 acres that had been converted to pasture.

Conservation Program Used icon
Six adjacent private landowners applied for the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) and were granted conservation easements. The landowners sold the fee title on the property to WDFW. The WRP funded studies and designs, and then construction activities to restore the estuary and freshwater wetlands. The highway raising portion of the project, vital to the estuary restoration, was funded through WSDOT.

Innovations and Highlights icon
Because this project was intended to flood with the tides, prior to the final phase of restoration in 2008, a cross dike had to be constructed at the north end of the project. The cross dike was built to protect neighboring properties from flooding. In addition, Highway 101 was raised so that it would not be overtopped during high tides. The construction contractor for the final dike removal and channel reconnection was faced with deep mud, constant dewatering, variable tides, and an untimely rain in August, which halted construction for almost two weeks. Working on mats, excavating at low tide, and keeping the interior remnant channels as dewatered as possible, allowed the final dike removal to be completed during low tides in September. Material removed from the dike and channels was used to fill some of the on-site drainage ditches and the borrow ditch left from construction of the original river dike. 

Results and Accomplishments icon
This project restored hydrology to almost 300 acres of estuary. Native plant communities will establish naturally over time, providing more of this diminished habitat type. The readily accessible nature of the site near highway 101 will allow it to be an invaluable learning tool as restoration progresses. 

Contact icon
Anitra Gorham, Resource Conservationist, 360-425-1880

NRCS, Summer 2008