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A new Waterkeeper to care for the Twin Harbors

Part of the work of the present is to prepare for a viable future—and so the Friends of Grays Harbor (FOGH) are passing on a task that has long occupied them—the fight to preserve the waters around Grays Harbor. In 2017 FOGH was the recipient of a Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) legal settlement under the Clean Water Act. SEP’s are fines that pollution violators must pay in addition to fixing the problem.

The dollars must go to an environmental organization within the watershed. This was the impetus to develop a water quality program that includes the Chehalis River watershed, Grays Harbor Estuary, and Willapa Bay. This work will now be carried into the future by Twin Harbors Waterkeeper—part of the international Waterkeeper Alliance (www.waterkeeper.org). The role of Twin Harbors Waterkeeper will be to act as a leader in the effort to prevent pollution, restore habitats that have been harmed, and to protect what remains.

The Chehalis River Basin is approximately 115 miles long, the largest watershed whose boundaries are completely within Washington state, second in total size only to the Columbia River watershed. Seven rivers empty into the Chehalis on its way to the Pacific Ocean—the Newaukam, Skookumchuck, Satsop, Wynoochee, Wishkah, Hoquiam and Humptulips.

The Willapa River is approximately 20 miles long and drains low hills and a coastal plain into Willapa Bay on its way to the Pacific Ocean. It is located entirely in Pacific County and drains six rivers. Collectively, these are the largest coastal estuaries in Washington state.

These water bodies have been home to native people for thousands of years and is still home to the Quinault Indian Nation, the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis and the Shoalwater Bay Indian Reservation. Salmon is central to their lives.

Tourism has become an important economic engine because of the beautiful beaches and forests in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties and the abundance of wildlife they support. The Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge is of hemispheric importance as it hosts millions of migratory shorebirds every year, on their long perilous journey to their nesting grounds in the Arctic. Willapa Bay is known for its biodiversity and much of it, including the entirety of Long Island, has been set aside as part of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge.

The oyster beds of Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor assist ecosystem services by providing habitat and filtering water, improving the water quality of each watershed. Approximately one in four oysters sold in the United States are from these two oyster-growing areas. The Pacific razor clam is one of the most sought after shellfish in the state of Washington, bringing thousands of visitors to the Twin Harbors.

Twin Harbors Waterkeeper will join its efforts to those of other regional Waterkeepers including Columbia Riverkeeper, Puget Soundkeeper, North Baykeeper and Spokane Riverkeeper as this corner of the world moves into the murky waters of the future.

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