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Maxwelton Creek dries up

Long-term watershed recovery or providing water for cows to drink are just some of the concerns centered around the recent drying up parts of Maxwelton Creek.

Some landowners along the creek said it sits dry in places because regulations prevent them from doing practices that were once common to keep the creek water flowing.

And for long-time residents, that’s hard to take.

“I think its criminal that the creek’s in the shape it’s in,” Albert Luhn said. “That’s the biggest, nicest creek on Whidbey Island.”

But supporters of the regulation said the dried up creek is part of a long-term process of restoring the Maxwelton Creek watershed.

Maxwelton Salmon Adventure President John Hastings admits, however, that the dried up creek might not be the best scenario.

“We wish there was more water in the stream,” he said.

The dry-up stems from Island County regulations prohibiting the removal of plants and debris and destruction of beaver dams.

Roy Hagglund, who leases land along the creek, said when the plants die in the fall, they drop into the water.

He said the water then uses oxygen to rot the plants, which chokes off oxygen for the animals that use it and leaves the rotten plants laying in the water.

Hagglund said not allowing the destruction of the beaver dams has led to the water building up, causing water to build up in some parts and dry out in other parts.

It’s also killed trees around Miller’s Lake, where the water builds up and floods a couple nearby homes, Hagglund said.

And when water does make it through, cows either do not drink it or become sick drinking it, because it’s too warm, Hagglund said. He said he’s had to sell most of his cows as a result.

Regulations also prohibit dredging and cutting plants and debris from the water.

Hagglund said by not clearing out vegetation, plants die in the fall and drop into the water.

The water then uses oxygen to rot the plants, which chokes off oxygen for the animals that use it and leaves the rotten plants laying in the water

There are just too many rules, Hagglund said. A “guy” should be able to make a living, he said.

Those are some of the restrictions of the Department of Ecology’s Critical Areas Ordinance, which Island County Commissioners adopted as part of the Growth Management Act

Using creek water to irrigate lawns without a special permission is also prohibited.

As a result, George Mead said his yard, which used to be green, blows up a dust cloud every time wind comes through.

Despite the resistance to taking out dams and vegetation, however, Hagglund said he doesn’t have anything against the conservationists.

“I just want to find out who’s liable,” he said.

Hagglund said he’s surprised that the Maxwelton Salmon Adventure, who has been active in restoring salmon to the area in the last decade, has not been more vocal about the dried up creek.

Conversationists agree with landowners that leaving the dams intact have led to the clogging of water along the creek, but disagree about the need to remove them.

“We think the beavers are ultimately good for the fish,” said Hastings.

He said the dams keep the water on the land longer, rather than allowing it to naturally draining into Puget Sound.

Since the water for the creek comes from an underground aquifer, the creek continually receives more water.

When its clogged, the water spread out, which helps the plants and animals grow.

He said leaving debris in the water helped the fish, as well.

Before humans settled in the area approximately 150 years ago, the native streams were often filled with debris.

That gave the fish places to hide from against predators, Hastings said.

Fine particles were also scoured out, giving them a place to lay on.

“I think we have a need to see things look clean,” he said.

From a fish perspective, “mess is good,” Hastings said.

And the fish will adapt, he said. They will learn to lay eggs in areas with water, such as the tributaries near Miller Lake.

And the water will eventually work its way under the beaver dams and back down the creek, he said.

Hastings said he would compare the whole process to remodeling a kitchen. It looks worse than the old kitchen in the beginning, but gets better over time.

But he admits it will take a long time.

Farming has left the area in a perpetually disturbed state, he said.

With the changes, he said it would take between 25 to 100 years for the area become a fully forested wetland complex.

In the meantime, farmers should try to drill into the aquifer and set up wells for watering and irrigation.

Any wells should first be checked with the Dept. of Agriculture though, Hastings said.

He also pointed out that many creeks go dry in the summer throughout the Puget Sound area, including salmon creeks.

The plants and animals adapted to the change, Hastings said.

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