Squalicum Creek Re-route Phases 1-4

“Restoring Squalicum Creek”: A video created by the City of Bellingham to highlight restoration efforts in the Squalicum Creek watershed. Posted July 2021.

Squalicum Creek is a lowland stream that originates in the Cascade foothills east of Bellingham and flows west through the City limits before entering Bellingham Bay. The stream drains approximately 22 square miles and historically provided approximately 32 miles of accessible salmon habitat (Williams 1976).​ The stream currently provides habitat for coho, chum, pink, and Chinook and steelhead (both listed under the Endangered Species Act). It also supports populations of fish, birds, and mammals, as well as recreational opportunities for citizens. However, the health of this ecosystem is in jeopardy. Symptoms of ecosystem stress include exceedances of water quality standards and declining salmon populations.

The largest thermal-loading (i.e. heat) issues in Squalicum Creek were formerly caused by Sunset Pond and Bug Lake. These two water bodies are man-made borrow pits created during the construction of I-5. Because the ponds are both shallow and wide, they absorb large amounts of solar heat, causing peaks in water temperature that are harmful to salmon. 

Phases 3 and 4​​ – completed 2020

Phases 3 and 4 of the Squalicum Creek Re-route​ Project built upon two prior phases to address water quality and habitat issues associated with Bug Lake and the area immediately downstream of Bug Lake. The project restores approximately 2/3 of Bug Lake to a forested wetland. The creek channel now flows through a historic channel​ south of the restored forested wetland, crossing under Squ​alicum Parkway in a new fish-passable culvert, and follows two remnant channels northwest to rejoin the current creek channel. ​This graphic​ provides an aerial view of the project area. 

Bug Lake drained during construction
Bug Lake was drained in summer 2020 during construction of Phases 3 and 4. This project restores the man-made lake to a forested wetland.

This project will (1) reduce stream temperatures by reducing residence time, increasing riparian shade, and capturing cool groundwater inputs south of the former Bug Lake, (2) increase channel length, riparian cover, and riparian width west of Squalicum Parkway, (3) restore riverine wetland to improve water quality functions, and (4) bypass a partial fish passage barrier at Squalicum Parkway.​

Project construction took place between June and December 202​0, with planting of native plants into early 2021. The Squalicum Creek re-route project was closely coordinated with the Orchard Drive Extension, a project being constructed in the same general location. Learn more about the Squalicum Creek Re-route project and find the latest updates by visiting the project webpage

Phases 1 and 2 – completed 2015

During the summer of 2015, Phases 1 and 2 of the Squalicum Creek project re-routed nearly a mile of Squalicum Creek around Sunset Pond into a newly created channel, reactivating remnant channels and reconnecting the stream with its floodplain. This project also eliminated existing fish passage barriers at James Street and I-5, opening up over 22 miles of salmon habitat upstream of James Street. This project is anticipated to decrease water temperatures,  improve dissolved oxygen levels, enhance biotic integrity and benefit salmon habitat in Squalicum Creek by routing water flow away from Sunset Pond.

Reactivating remnant channels and reconnecting the stream with its floodplain will make self-sustaining improvements to habitat conditions of Squalicum Creek. The project phases were designed with a thorough understanding and consideration of the hydrology, climate patterns, geology, and ecology of the watershed.

Phase 1 runs from the northeast corner of Bug Lake eastward to James Street and is funded by a $1.7 million grant and loan package from the Department of Ecology (DOE). The City received an additional $2.1 million grant and loan package from the DOE for Phase 2, which runs from James Street eastward to Irongate. The City contracted with Interfluve, Inc. for the design and permitting of both phases and Washington Department of Transportation installed a culvert under I-5 to accommodate the re-route.

The first two phases of the Squalicum Re-route project have been the recipients of two national awards:

Reference Documents



Analiese Burns, Project Manager
Habitat and Restoration Manager
Public Works Department, Natural Resources
(360) 778-7968, acburns@cob.org ​

Craig Mueller, P.E.
Project Engineer
Public Works Department, Engineering
(360) 778-7922, camueller@cob.org ​

Public Works Contacts​​​