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2017 Rating Red
2016 Rating RedIndicator Key

About this indicator: King County's Aquatic Biota Index is derived from two main groupings of results regarding numbers of fish and stream insects. Chinook salmon are the only fish reflected in this category. Other fish species should be included in the assessment of aquatic biota health, but there is no consistently collected data regarding these animals in King County.

Status: Information gathered over the last 100 years indicates an overall decline in the health of native, naturally spawning salmon populations in Puget Sound watersheds.

Influencing factors: Development and deteriorating water quality impact wildlife habitat — particularly the amounts of hard or paved surfaces, loss of tree cover and other changes to natural environments.

What you can do:

  • Plant trees and reduce impervious surfaces by using pervious pavers in drive and walkways.
  • Encourage your local city or town to make tree protection regulations stronger.
  • Contact your elected officials and express how important wildlife protections are to you—including salmon restoration.

More information about King County's Fish and Stream Insects is available by continuing below for these measures:

Chinook Salmon

Graph showing percent of 2055 recovery goal acheived in WRIAs 7, 8 and 9

About this indicator: Salmonid fishs native to King County include Chinook, coho, sockeye/kokanee, pink and chum salmon, rainbow (including the anadromous form called "steelhead"), cutthroat, bull trout and Dolly Varden , and pygmy and mountain whitefish. Each of these species has a diverse life history and relies upon a range of habitats for spawning, rearing, feeding and migration. They also have major cultural, economic and political roles in the Pacific Northwest. Of these, Chinook, bull trout, and steelhead have been listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Throughout Washington the harvest and hatchery operation of these fish are co-managed by the State of Washington, through the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), and the treaty Indian tribes.

King County includes all or portions of four major watersheds, which are identified by Watershed Resource Inventory Area (WRIA): the Snohomish (WRIA 7), Lake Washington/Cedar/Sammamish (WRIA 8), Green/Duwamish (WRIA 9) and Puyallup/White (WRIA 10). Although King County does not manage fish populations directly, it does have jurisdictional responsibility for many activities, including land-use regulation, which greatly influences the quantity, quality and distribution of salmon habitats. (Learn about King County watersheds and salmon recovery.)

Chinook salmon long-term recovery goals (recovery goals) were established to be reflective of characteristics of a viable salmon population1: abundance, geographic distribution, genetic and phenotypic diversity and productivity. These recovery goals were established for watersheds through the cooperative Puget Sound Shared Strategy process.

Natural Chinook salmon spawning ground escapement is the number of adult Chinook salmon that escape sources of mortality (e.g., predators) and return to their stream of origin to spawn naturally. It is an indicator of the abundance of Chinook salmon and can be used, along with other population indicators, to evaluate the overall health of marine and freshwater ecosystems. The Chinook salmon recovery goals (NOAA 2006) for abundance are expressed as ranges: 5,500-25,000 for WRIA 7, 2,000-8,200 for WRIA 8 and 27,000 (no lower target) for WRIA 9. There are no specific recovery goal targets for this portion of WRIA 10.

Graph showing estimated natural chinook salmon escapement

This indicator is based on the percent of natural Chinook salmon escapement with respect to an adjusted annual recovery goal for each WRIA, where applicable. Our weighting system for this indicator is applied equally to WRIA 7, 8 and 9.

Status: The fish counts for King County WRIAs 7 and 9 have been on a decreasing trend since about the listing (1999), though both have seen recent increases in the previous four years. WRIAs 8 and 10 show fish counts having an increasing trend since the listing in 1999. The historic potential abundance of natural spawning Chinook salmon in WRIA 8 is very low compared to other WRIAs, which is reflected in the recovery goal. Natural variations are expected due to a wide variety of influencing factors. Overall, the natural Chinook salmon escapement results in 2017 for all WRIAs were far below the respective adjusted annual recovery goal and measured 28 percent of the total median recovery targets for WRIAs 7, 8 and 9. Chinook counts in WRIA 10 include the White River spring Chinook, which is largely driven by hatchery supplementation as a means of boosting the critically low returns in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Also included in this are lower White River adult fall Chinook, which are surveyed in the mainstem White, Boise Creek, and Salmon Creek. While the counts for the White River show a greatly increasing trend, it is important to know that the total counts generated also include jacks, which in recent years have been a major component of the run (2015 had a return of 4,607 jacks, 2016 had 6,107, and 2017 had 9,357).

Influencing factors: Natural Chinook salmon escapement is related to the habitat condition and water quality of the County's rivers and streams, along with several other factors such as precipitation, salmon production from hatcheries, commercial and sport harvest, flow management and ocean conditions. A great deal of annual variation in salmon returns is to be expected and some of it is unrelated to local human influence. For example, natural cycles of ocean warming and cooling and longer term trends in climate can also greatly affect local salmonid productivity.

Existing King County response: Inter-jurisdictional, watershed-based salmon conservation plans have been completed for WRIAs 7, 8, 9 and 10. The plans were submitted to federal agencies for review in 2005, and accepted by the National Marine Fisheries Service in February 2006 with a few additions. The plans include actions for meeting long-term recovery goals. King County serves as the lead agency for two WRIAs and participates in the efforts and activities of all four. The county will continue its participation in the WRIA process and the larger, region wide Puget Sound Partnership process to secure funding for and implement the measures identified in these plans toward habitat improvement projects that should help to recover the species.

Priority new actions: King County is in the implementation phase for the WRIA 7, 8, 9 and 10 Salmon Conservation and Habitat Plans.

1 A viable salmon population is defined as one with a negligible risk of extinction in 100 years. Negligible has been taken to mean less than 5%.

Data source: The data source for this indicator comes from Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and KC DNRP WLRD.

Collection frequency: WDFW and co-managers collect Chinook escapement data from natural spawning grounds and hatcheries annually in WRIAs 7, 8, 9, and 10 in King County.

Methods for analysis: Estimates presented here of the number of Chinook returning to spawn naturally were obtained from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for in each major King County watershed. Chinook population targets derived from co-managers and Technical Review Team for WRIA 7, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Ecosystem Diagnosis and Treatment analysis for WRIA 8, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for WRIA 9. Explicit targets have not been identified for WRIA 10.

Data Reference: Ames, J. and D.E. Phinney. 1977 Puget Sound Summer-Fall Chinook Methodology: Escapement Estimates and Goals, Run Size Forecasts, and In-season Run Size Updates, State of Washington, Department of Fisheries, Technical Report No. 29, May 1977.

Berge, H. and M. Hammer, S. Foley, 2006. Timing, abundance, and population characteristics of spawning Chinook salmon in the Cedar/Sammamish Watershed. KC DNRP/WLRD and WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife.

NOAA. 2006. Final supplement to the Shared Strategy's Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Plan. Prepared by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Stream Insect Health

Benthic index of biotic intregrity results for stream stations

About this indicator: King County collects benthic macroinvertebrates, commonly referred to as "stream insects” or “stream bugs" from selected streams across King County to evaluate stream health. Stream bugs differ in their tolerance of various environmental stressors and can therefore be used as indicators of water quality, habitat conditions and overall stream health.

Scientists use a scoring system called the Puget Lowlands Benthic Index of Biotic Integrity (B-IBI) which is based on the type and number of bugs present in the stream. This scoring system allows comparison of different streams to each other and can also be used to classify general ecological stream health. The B-IBI scoring system classifies sites into five categories: Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor or Very Poor.

Status: Macroinvertebrate samples are collected annually from approximately 76 stream sites within the Lake Washington/Cedar/Sammamish watershed (Water Resource Inventory Area [WRIA] 8), 46 sites within the Green/Duwamish watershed (WRIA 9), and 35 sites within the Snoqualmie watershed (WRIA 7). Additionally three sites are sampled annually in Boise Creek, within the Puyallup/White watershed (WRIA 10). Most sites in WRIAs 8 and 9 were established in 2002, and sites in WRIA 7 and Boise Creek were added to the program gradually, starting in 2014.

Benthic index of biotic intregrity results for stream stations

In general, limited differences in stream health are observed when B-IBI scores from all sites sampled in both 2016 and 2017 are combined and compared. The percentage of all sites classified as "Very Poor/Poor/Fair” was slightly lower in 2016 (51%) compared to 2017 (55%). Similarly, the percentage of sites classified as "Good/Excellent” was slightly higher in 2016 (49%) compared to 2017 (45%; see map below).

Within WRIA 9, 48% of the sites sampled in 2017 and 50% of the sites sampled in 2016 were classified as "Very Poor/Poor/Fair”. More volatility was seen in WRIA 8, where sites classified as "Very Poor/Poor/Fair” comprised 56% of the total in 2016 and 68% in 2017. In WRIA 7, only 20% of sites scored "Very Poor/Poor/Fair” in both years. This trend suggests that the overall quality of habitats sampled in WRIA 7 is higher than WRIA’s 8 and 9. In WRIA 10, only three sites were sampled in both 2016 and 2017. In 2016, two of the three sites scored "Very Poor/Poor/Fair”, and in 2017 all sites scored “Good/Excellent”.

Influencing factors: Development, pollutants in stormwater runoff, loss of forest cover, increases in impervious surface, elevated stream temperatures, increased siltation, increased frequency of peak flows, and invasive and non-native plants and animals can influence stream macroinvertebrate communities. Many of these stressors are associated with urban development in general, and teasing apart the relative importance of individual stressors can be difficult.

Benthic index of biotic intregrity results for stream stations

Existing DNRP response: WLRD continues to implement programs that focus on minimizing degradation of stream health associated with development and pollutant runoff, maintaining forest cover and its numerous stormwater benefits, or implementing watershed improvement projects. King County's Stormwater Program focuses on flow control to minimize adverse effects from development. The Stormwater Program also provides surface water design standards for new development and inspection and maintenance of stormwater control facilities.

King County continues to work with landowners to restore streamside parcels that have important benefits to aquatic resources. In addition, WLRD's capital projects program builds small and large stream and wetland enhancement projects. Basin stewards work with the local community to respond to resident inquiries for watershed protection, coordinate efforts among diverse public agencies and facilitate watershed project implementation. The Agriculture Program works with farmers and livestock owners to prevent agricultural pollutants from draining to streams and the Forestry Program works with landowners to help them effectively manage their property in a manner that protects stream health.

Priority new actions: Implementation of the county's Critical Areas Ordinance and federal total maximum daily load (TMDL) requirements for impaired water bodies are regulations that support water quality improvements in both incorporated and unincorporated areas. For example, WA Department of Ecology recently completed a stressor identification analysis in support of a TMDL for the Soos Creek watershed which identified stressors likely affecting macroinvertebrate communities and B-IBI scores at some sites.

King County also has two Ecology funded projects that address regional priorities related to stream macroinvertebrates. These include a project that is identifying stressors and developing plans for restoring and protecting 14 stream basins in Puget Sound. A second project will be started in 2018 to seeding macroinvertebrates in several streams that are scoring lower than expected and may be lagging in recovery.

Additional stream insect health data and monitoring program details can be found on the Puget Sound Stream Benthos website. This site includes the data summarized above, in addition to data for other benthic macroinvertebrate monitoring programs throughout the region.

Map showing stream insect health
Stream Insect Health
2016 Findings
Download the PDF version.

Map showing stream insect health
Stream Insect Health
2017 Findings
Download the PDF version.

Data source: The data for this indicator are available from Puget Sound Stream Benthos website.

Collection frequency: Benthic macroinvertebrate samples have been collected annually since 2002 (although no samples were collected in 2004). The latest available data collected in 2016 and 2017 are presented here.

Methods for analysis: The B-IBI is composed of ten metrics that measure different aspects of stream biology, including taxonomic richness and composition, tolerance and intolerance, habit, feeding ecology, and population structure. Each metric describes some aspect of the benthic community that responds to degradation. The raw value of each metric is calculated, and from the raw value, a score is assigned to the metric. The ten scores are then added to produce the overall B-IBI score. In 2012 a number of changes were made to both the way that stream insect samples are collected and how the data are analyzed. Previously, the B-IBI was based on a scoring range of 10 to 50 and metrics that were established in the late 1980s. In 2012, the metrics were updated and the B-IBI was recalibrated so that it now ranges from 0-100. Similar to the original B-IBI, the scores are subsequently categorized as Very Poor, Poor, Fair, Good or Excellent. Though the scoring categories are the same as the 10-50 scale, a site may not necessarily score in the same category for both scales. Due to the metrics used and category ranges for each scoring system, the individual results are not interchangeable between the two. Results presented in this summary reflect B-IBI scores on the 0-100 scale. Details outlining the process to rescore and recalibrate the B IBI can be found at the B-IBI Recalibration website. Prior to 2012, samples were collected from a 3 ft2 area. However, to meet data requirements for the WA Department of Ecology, samples were collected from an 8 ft2 area and were identified to a finer level of taxa resolution starting in 2012.

Data Reference:
Puget Sound Stream Benthos web page

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