VANCOUVER-Clark Public Utilities' environmental restoration and education efforts, which include the largest watershed enhancement program in southwest Washington and a learning center that offers salmon recovery and environmental education to thousands of youngsters, have prompted the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to award the agency its 2002 Outstanding Organization of the Year award.
The award, presented recently before the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, recognizes the utility's achievements in restoring miles of critical salmon habitat through the Salmon Creek watershed enhancement program and providing watershed education programs for students and adults.
In addition, the utility was recognized for its role in creating partnerships such as the Salmon Creek Management Team, which includes citizens, businesses and state and local agencies that together provide direction on improving stream conditions in the creek and its tributaries.
The creek once was teeming with coho and chinook salmon, steelhead and sea-run cutthroat trout. Rapid urbanization in the watershed has caused salmon stocks to dip to precariously low levels.
"Clark Public Utilities felt compelled to fill the void, and transformed from a resource consumer to a resource guardian, "said Lee Van Tussenbrook, WDFW Southwest Washington regional director.
"The utility took a progressive, non-regulatory approach to restore and enhance salmon and water quality conditions within the basin by working with area farmers, businesses and other private land owners."
The utility voluntarily spends about 10 percent of its annual water system budget on the Salmon Creek watershed enhancement program, which provides vegetation, livestock exclusion fencing, culverts to improve fish passage, trash removal and control of non-native plants. Labor for the project includes some 500 volunteers who contribute 3,000 hours of work annually.
"The utility's success in working with private landowners is unprecedented," Van Tussenbrook said, noting that more than 120 landowners have agreed to participate in the restoration effort.
"This program is producing tangible results," he added.
Since the utility began the restoration activities in 1992, some 510,000 native plants have been installed, stream bank has been stabilized, a half-dozen culverts have been replaced for better fish passage and 13 miles of fencing have been laid.
The utility also has sponsored the creation of the Columbia Springs Environmental Center on the site of the former Vancouver Fish Hatchery. The facility educates thousands of youth annually on key environmental issues and salmon recovery.