The massive Washington mudslide last month has caused untold damage to one of the most storied fishing rivers in the US.
The once pristine waters of the Stillaguamish River are now a dark grey-green color from millions of cubic yards of debris carried down the mountain by the mudslide.
In addition to the debris, a pumping system that’s being used to aid search efforts is gushing sewage and toxic chemicals from wrecked houses and sunken cars back into the river.
The massive quantity of debris and chemicals has caused significant damage to the river’s legendary salmon and steelhead trout spawning beds. Wildlife officials believe the river could take decades to return to normal.
Oso residents are now grieving both their neighbors and loved ones who were lost in the mudslide and the destruction of the vibrant river that was vital to their home.
“The river’s extremely important to us,” 73-year-old fisherman and Oso resident Bill Best told Reuters. “We just thoroughly love this relatively natural, unspoiled river environment. It’s why we are here. Hopefully in 20 to 30 years, it will be back to what it sort of used to be.”
Search efforts for missing persons have not yet concluded, so the full scope of the ecological damage to the river remains unclear. Although, wildlife officials believe any migrating salmon and their eggs have been killed.
“It’s going to have an effect on both the adults trying to swim upstream and small smolt salmon trying to swim downstream,” said Department of Ecology spill responder Dick Walker.
Between 1,200 to 1,600 Chinoook salmon migrate to the river every year, along with hundreds of steelhead. They’ll make their annual run from the Puget Sound up to the river when summer starts. But search and rescue operations are still underway, so wildlife officials will have only a short window of time to revitalize the river before the salmon arrive.