Seattle’s only river, the Duwamish, has been straightened, dredged, dammed, developed, polluted, and reduced in size by the re-direction of major tributaries.
The river has lost 70% of its flow, 97% of its estuary, and 90% of its floodplain.Most of its banks are covered in concrete or riprap and most of its shorelines have been developed. One major tributary, the Black River, no longer exists. The thriving industrial corridor created by these changes produces billions of dollars per year in income, but not without a cost.
Anyone can see the industrial development and pollution that plagues the river, but few people know the full story of what’s been lost. The Duwamish was once home to rich salmon runs, shellfish, and other food sources found in the productive estuary and floodplains. The river, and its waterfowl and fish, has sustained the Duwamish Tribe (Dkhw’Duw’Absh”) that lived around the watershed and along Elliott Bay for over 1,000 years. Today, the Duwamish Tribe continues to celebrate their culture along the river and in their local traditional longhouse.
More than the river is at stake. The Duwamish River is an important tributary to Puget Sound, as well as one of the biggest sources of pollution into the Sound. We will never see a truly healthy Puget Sound until we clean up the Duwamish and the other rivers that sustain the Sound. The lower Duwamish contains a Superfund site, an indicator of hazardous pollution but also an opportunity for restoration and transformation. More than ever, local governments and community groups are working together to restore and protect the Duwamish.