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History of the Nooksack River

Updated: Feb 2



Figure 1 from Grah O., Beaulieu J. (2013)


This post is all about the Nooksack River and Hooligans. The headwaters of the Nooksack originate from the glaciers on Mount Baker, Mount Shuksan, and other nearby peaks of the North Cascades. There are at least 8 source glaciers within the Noosack River watershed on Mount Baker that include the Deming, Thunder, Coleman, Roosevelt, Mazama, Sholes, Heliotrope and Hadley glaciers (Figure 1; Grah and Beaulieu, 2013). The river is made up of three forks (North, Middle, and South) that converge near Deming, Washington.


There is an online series by Dr. Kleinknecht that emphasizes the importance of the Nooksack River for Salmon and Orca.


Part 1:http://whatcomwatch.org/index.php/article/middle-fork-diversion-dam/

Part 2: http://whatcomwatch.org/index.php/article/the-nooksack-river-the-history-and-current-state-of-the-river/

Part 3:http://whatcomwatch.org/index.php/article/the-nooksack-river-a-treasure-to-preserve-2/

Part 4: http://whatcomwatch.org/index.php/article-categories/salmon-streams-and-tributaries/



At the Salish Sea Research Center we pay close attention to the Longfin Smelt in the Nooksack. I am working on qPCR of eDNA of Longfin Smelt (Spirinchus thaleichthys) or in Indigenous language, the Tiokowe. They are also known as Hooligans, or Hoolies. These species are also endangered in the Nooksack River. Anadromous (a fish such that migrates up rivers from the sea to spawn) fish like the Tiokowe need places to spawn.


The Whatcom Watch articles discuss how the Nooksack River has been modified for the use of local prairies for farmland. Since European arrival the numbers of fish that return to spawn in the Nooksack has greatly diminished due to loss of habitat due to human-caused alteration o the watershed.


Since the river was their main mode of transportation, [the settlers] first cleared and built along [the Nooksack] banks. Because they wanted boats larger than dugout canoes to bring equipment and supplies up the river, they cleared out an enormous natural log jam just south of Ferndale that ran nearly a mile. Removal of this log jam allowed them to get a steamboat upriver to Ferndale and to Lynden. This modification of the river might have been the first significant blow to the Nooksack’s salmon spawning territory.

A USGS report by Anderson and others (2019) describe the physical location and the history of flooding and sediment load into the Nooksack River over the past 15 years. They reference Nugent's Corner, found close to convergence of the north fork to the south fork (see map above).


There is a quite a lot of sediment that washes into the Nooksack River. Based on estimates by Anderson et al., (2019), about 100, 000 cubic yards per year is distributed into the Nooksack upstream of Nugent’s Corner near Glacier Creek and likely represents a significant source of coarse sediment to the lower mainstem river. To gain some perspective, if you covered a football field with this sediment to the height of the goal post cross bar (10 feet) this would give you a volume of 21,333 cubic yards.


Anderson, S.W., Konrad, C.P., Grossman, E.E., and Curran, C.A., 2019, Sediment storage and transport in the Nooksack River basin, northwestern Washington, 2006–15: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2019-5008, 43 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20195008.


Grah O., Beaulieu J. (2013) The effect of climate change on glacier ablation and baseflow support in the Nooksack River basin and implications on Pacific salmonid species protection and recovery. In: Maldonado J.K., Colombi B., Pandya R. (eds) Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples in the United States. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-05266-3_12

This post is pulling together four post on the Whatcom Watch Online community forum by Ron Kleinknecht, professor emeritus of psychology and dean emeritus of Western Washington University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.


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