Lee Boulet and Georga Prossick stand in Prossick’s backyard, which is flooded by water from Clarks Creek. Flooding from Clarks Creek is causing trees to die in yards along the banks of the creek. Joshua Bessex jbessex@gateline.com
Lee Boulet and Georga Prossick stand in Prossick’s backyard, which is flooded by water from Clarks Creek. Flooding from Clarks Creek is causing trees to die in yards along the banks of the creek. Joshua Bessex jbessex@gateline.com

Puyallup: News

Clarks Creek elodea overgrowth only getting worse, say Puyallup residents

By Allison Needles

aneedles@puyallupherald.com

July 05, 2017 10:03 AM

The trees lining Clarks Creek in the backyard of Georga Prossick’s Puyallup home should be in full bloom in the season’s warm weather.

Instead, their branches are nearly bare.

“They’re all dying,” Prossick said.

Prossick has lived along Clarks Creek for 18 years and first planted the tree lining in 2001. Every April, displaced water from Clarks Creek causes water levels to rise. That water is killing her trees, Prossick said.

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“You used to be able to jump across the creek — now it’s enormous. The water has no place to go,” she said.

You used to be able to jump across the creek — now it’s enormous. The water has no place to go.

Georga Prossick, Puyallup resident

One of the main causes of the water displacement? An abundant growth of elodea.

Elodea is a native waterweed that thrives in sunlight and heat. The city of Puyallup has dealt with the issue of its overgrowth in the 3.2 miles of Clarks Creek for about three decades.

“It’s native — it’s not an invasive plant — but it does grow in excess in volume,” said city stormwater engineer Joy Rodriguez. “For that reason, (the Washington Department of) Fish and Wildlife allow us to go in and pull it and remove it every year.”

Elodea is pulled from the creek every summer using diver-assisted suction harvesting, or DASH, where divers hand-pull the elodea and feed it to a suction hose, which transports the plant into bags. After, the elodea is often given to farmers to use as fertilizer. As of June 28, the Aqua Dive crew has cleared 6,770 linear feet of the creek, filling 14,204 bags of elodea this year so far. Elodea removal began June 1 and will continue through Aug. 4. Puyallup splits the costs of the removal with Pierce County.

12,229 bags of elodea removed from Clarks Creek this year so far

Originally, the elodea was cut from the creek, where it would flow downstream and be caught by a screen. Crews would haul it out.

But the elodea roots were so entrenched into the sediment, it would just grow back.

So the city changed its approach, and in 2012 assembled an Elodea Task Force to find a better solution to elodea removal. Washington State University’s Research and Extension Center in Puyallup, the Puyallup Tribe and the WDFW were all represented.

They decided on DASH and contracted with Aqua Dive Services, LLC.

Prossick, founder of the Puyallup Historical Hatchery Foundation, was on the Elodea Task Force and said she wasn’t a fan of the method. Instead, she thought that removing the sediment from the creek down to the rock bed would heed immediate results, lowering water levels and removing elodea roots, preventing them from growing back completely.

A Clarks Creek Sediment Removal Demonstration was identified as a short-term project by the Elodea Task Force with a major goal to improve salmon habitats, with a benefit of reduced environment for elodea.

But the demonstration never happened, due to difficulties with securing a bid.

“The demonstration project was so large,” Rodriguez said. “The cost to do it was unreasonable.”

The demonstration project was so large. The cost to do it was unreasonable.

Joy Rodriguez, stormwater engineer for the city of Puyallup

Since elodea is a native plant, Rodriguez said there was no reason to completely remove it. Crews also couldn’t find how deep the creek’s rock bed went.

“In our case there was no rocky bottom we could get to,” Rodriguez said. “... Results came out that (Clarks Creek) is not an appropriate location to do a sediment removal.”

Instead, the city pushed ahead with the DASH method, with an 2013-2018 Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA).

But now her patio is beginning to crack, according to Prossick. Her next door neighbor’s patio is sliding.

Rodriguez said there’s been no reported flooding due to the elodea. The city defines flooding as damage to a structure.

Rodriguez added that the city has hope that elodea removal will heed results, and are working on a new HPA application for another five-year cycle of DASH.

We hoped that it would reduce the volume enough. We’re waiting for the year we don’t have to go in and remove the elodea.

Joy Rodriguez, stormwater engineer for the city of Puyallup

“We hoped that it would reduce the volume enough,” Rodriguez said. “We’re waiting for the year we don’t have to go in and remove the elodea.”

Local development, rainfall and outflow of other water sources also affect Clarks Creek, bringing both water and sediment to the creek. The city has worked to plant trees and other vegetation in an effort to prevent elodea from growing in direct sunlight.

This summer, Prossick plans to remove her dying trees, which she said will be an expensive and time-consuming process.

“It makes me sick to my stomach,” she said.

And while she’s not sure what the future holds for her yard, Prossick’s confident on one thing.

“It’s been a problem and it’s only going to get worse,” she said.

Allison Needles: 253-256-7043, @herald_allison