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The Sammamish River used to flow across a wet valley that provided natural flood storage. In the early 1900s settlers drained wetlands and straightened the river for farming. In 1964, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expanded these efforts in the 14-mile-long Sammamish River Improvement Project (Flood Project) that connects Lake Sammamish to Lake Washington. The Flood Project widened the river channel and deepened it by up to six feet. It provides spring flood protection to the Sammamish River valley and Lake Sammamish.

The Transition Zone is a water way within the Flood Project that connects Lake Sammamish and the Sammamish River. Located at River Mile 13.0-13.5 of the Sammamish River in Marymoor Park, the Transition Zone provides some lake level control as well as downstream flood protection. During low lake levels, river flow is contained within a 30-foot-wide channel in the center of the Transition Zone. At high lake levels, river flow occupies the full 200-foot width of the Transition Zone. The area is important for Chinook salmon and other fish and wildlife. Willow trees planted along the Transition Zone in the late 1990's improved habitat for salmon.

At the upstream end of the Transition Zone, a weir (a small barrier built across a river) controls lake outflow, maintaining summer lake levels. A notch in the weir provides passage for Chinook salmon and other fish. At most flows, the notch in the weir also allows passage for small boats, such as canoes and kayaks. During high lake outflows, flow control shifts from the weir to the Transition Zone.


Figure 1 Willowmoor Floodplain Restoration Project Area

Over the years, more frequent high lake levels have occurred. King County crews began annual vegetation maintenance in the Transition Zone in 2011. This ongoing maintenance - trimming willows along the stream corridor and mowing native grasses in the high flow channel - allows the project to meet its performance standards. Unfortunately, it degrades habitat for fish. Additionally, warming water from Lake Sammamish outflow threatens salmon.

Did you know that the Sammamish River was once part of an ancient lake connecting Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish? For an interactive Sammamish River history experience visit

Sammamish River StoryMap

Project area

The Willowmoor Project proposes to reconfigure the Transition Zone. The project area includes the river channel and adjacent undeveloped land to the southwest (left bank) of the river channel. Some minor improvements are also planned for portions of the land northeast of the river channel in the current Marymoor off-leash dog park area. (Figure 1)


The Willowmoor Project will improve flood control and habitat in the Sammamish watershed. The project is in Marymoor Park near Lake Sammamish. This project is sponsored by the King County Flood Control District (District),

Outflow from the lake through the Transition Zone has decreased over time. Development, heavy rainfall, and vegetation management are all culprits. The County started a vegetation management program in 2011. But that, in turn, harmed salmon habitat. It also resulted in the District facing high mitigation costs.

The Willowmoor Project aims to reconcile these issues. The District selected a preferred alternative in 2016.

Sammamish River Transition Zone Oct 2022 looking upstream

Figure 2 Sammamish River Transition Zone during October 2022 facility inspection - looking upstream

Project Alternatives

In 2013, King County developed design alternatives to address the project goals. Public engagement was a significant element of the design process. Design alternatives were developed based on design objectives, technical studies, and public comment.

Links to design alternatives (for help with PDF files, visit our Acrobat Help page): 

Also available: Typical Cross-Section Views of Alternatives (PDF, 746KB) 

The Flood Control District selected the "Split Flow Channel + Pumped Groundwater" alternative for further consideration. This design creates a new side channel connected to the main channel up and down stream of the Transition Zone. The Tosh Creek tributary would tie into the new side channel. The project team has hired a consultant to bring the project to draft 30 percent design by the end of 2018.  


Community Engagement 

  • Jan. 27, 2013 - First public meeting was held in Marymoor Park to kick off the Willowmoor Project. View the presentation (PDF, 2MB). 

  • June 6, 2016 - The District held a special Executive Committee meeting in Bellevue to help inform the decision about which alternative will move forward for further design. 


Project timeline - Updated October 2022

Project Start May 2013
Stakeholder Advisory Committee Process Aug. 2013 – Apr. 2015 (est.)
Technical Studies
Jun. 2013 – Early 2016 (est.)
Design Objectives & Criteria Development
Oct. 2013 – May 2014
Draft Alternatives Development
Apr. 2014 – Apr. 2015
Preferred Alternative Selection and Approval
Oct. 2015 – Jul. 2016
Preliminary (30%) Design April 2018 - April 2023
Stakeholder/Community Engagement on 30% Design May - Dec. 2023
Final Design and Permitting To be determined
Construction To be determined


Project documents

(For help viewing PDF files, see Acrobat Help page.)

For more information about the Willowmoor Floodplain Restoration Project, please contact Kate Akyuz, King County River and Floodplain Management Section, Water and Land Resources Division, Department of Natural Resources and Parks.