Our Work in Floodplains Gives Us Hope for Orca

By Heather Cole, Puget Sound Community Relations Manager

Over the last two weeks, my heart grieves with Tahlequah (J35) who lost her female calf just after birth. Seeing this grieving orca carry her dead baby around for more than two weeks is heart-wrenching. 

The loss of another orca is a stark reminder of how sick our Puget Sound really is and the importance of river health, salmon recovery, climate change and the impacts of a fast-growing Puget Sound region.

Orca breaching. Photo by Chase Dekker Wild-Life Images.

For the J pod of resident orcas, Chinook salmon are their primary food source. Chinook salmon along with the orcas are both on the endangered species list. Puget Sound has 20 major rivers all draining into Puget Sound. These rivers and floodplains are critical places for salmon to start and end their life cycle — where they grow fat and big in the brackish waters of Puget Sound in anticipation for their long journey in the ocean until they decide to come back, if the orcas don’t find them first.  

Our Floodplains by Design program is intended to accelerate salmon recovery and lower flood risk, improve livelihoods and boost other community values. Our floodplains are not just home to salmon, but to farmers who depend on the rich fertile soils to grow food — and homeowners are all too aware of the flooding impacts that roll in with winter rains.

Juvenile salmon count in the Skagit River. Photo by Julie Morse / TNC.

Our integrated floodplain management approach is a paradigm shift to change business-as-usual practices. Integrated floodplain management means using collaborative, integrated processes and practices that bring diverse interests together to come up with a path forward that can achieve multiple benefits. Those multiple benefits can include:

  • Reduced flood risks for communities and commerce
  • Healthy habitats for fish
  • Resilient communities and ecosystems
  • Minimized flood damage
  • Productive, viable agriculture lands
  • Sustainable development
  • Jobs and sustainable livelihoods
  • Sustainable supply of water
  • Recreation and other opportunities to connect people and nature

A levee setback project for Floodplains by Design. Photo by Julie Morse / The Nature Conservancy.

The good news is that integrated floodplain management is being implemented across the Puget Sound. For example, in the Puyallup River system, the Floodplains for the Future Group is allowing 44 integrated projects to move forward that collectively supports flood-risk reduction, farming and salmon recovery. In the Stillaguamish river system, Floodplains by Design funding allowed for the feasibility and design of a dairy omni processor, which would convert dairy waste into clean water and support agricultural viability in the local community.

If you are interested in learning more about integrated floodplain management and the lessons learned, check out our new report.

As I look out onto Puget Sound, integrated floodplain management gives me hope that together we can do better, and that we are changing the paradigm — for us, salmon and orcas.

Learn More About Floodplains by Design