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Nooksack Stewardship (WA)

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The Nooksack has its origins on the slopes of Mt. Baker traveling down to Puget Sound at Bellingham Bay. Over its short distance the North Fork, Middle Fork, and South Fork all provide a diversity of paddling opportunities that can be enjoyed all year. Several hydropower projects have been proposed in the drainage over the years and one project is in operation on the North Fork Nooksack. Access issues continue to be a challenge along some sections of rivers in this drainage.

Wild and Scenic Designation

:projects:nf_nooksack.jpgAmerican Whitewater supports protection of rivers in the Nooksack drainage through Wild and Scenic designation. In their 1990 evaluation, the Forest Service determined that all three forks of the Nooksack, plus Wells Creek on the North Fork and Bell Creek on the South Fork were eligible for Wild and Scenic designation for their outstanding fisheries, wildlife, recreation, scenic and historical/cultural values. Although key tributaries that include Glacier Creek, Clearwater Creek, Warm Creek, and Wanlick Creek were not studied, we believe they are suitable candidates for Wild and Scenic designation.

Hydropower Development

For more than 3 decades hydro developers have had their eyes on the Nooksack and its tributaries for hydropower development. The following projects have all been explored or considered in the Nooksack basin. Those for which a formal application was filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission are indicated by project number below:

  • Smith Creek
  • Sygitowicz Creek
  • Mirror Lake
  • Diamond Creek
  • Warm Creek, P-10865, Dismissed March 7, 2003
  • Clearwater Creek, P-11495, Dismissed February 12, 2003
  • Skookum Creek, P-11850, Surrender of Preliminary Permit November 19, 2003
  • Nooksack Falls (on the NF Nooksack), P-11857, Project Determined to be Non-Jurisdictional March 25, 2004
  • Boulder Creek, P-4270, Dismissed November 10, 1999
  • Deadhorse Creek, P-4282, Dismissed February 10, 2000
  • Canyon Creek, P-4312, Dismissed February 10, 2000
  • Wells Creek, P-4628, Dismissed February 10, 2000
  • Heislers Creek (on the MF Nooksack), P-11389
  • Glacier Creek, P-4738, Dismissed February 10, 2000
  • Swamp Creek, P-13867
  • Ruth Creek, P-13866

American Whitewater has been a formal stakeholder on several of these projects dating back to 1992 given the potential direct impacts to whitewater boating opportunities. As one of the most undeveloped and intact river systems in Puget Sound, our goal is to keep the river and its major tributaries in their wild and free flowing condition.

City of Bellingham Diversion on Middle Fork Nooksack

The diversion weir on the Middle Fork Nooksack is a barrier to fish passage and navigation. American Whitewater supports removal of this structure. In the alternative, public access and safety must be considered with any modifications.

Public Access

Access to the North Fork Nooksack has presented challenges because the take-out for the run is downstream of the Forest Service boundary. We are exploring opportunities to provide access with the Forest Service and other stakeholders. Access to the South Fork has also been a challenge.

Salmon Restoration and Protection

American Whitewater has worked with the Forest Service to develop guidelines that protect salmon while providing opportunities for paddlers to enjoy the North Fork Nooksack River.

The Nooksack River is an important river for Chinook salmon which are protected under the Endangered Species Act. These fish are particularly vulnerable when spawning (August thru September). American Whitewater has developed the following guidelines with the US Forest Service for recreational activities on the North Fork Nooksack for the protection of these fish:

  • Avoid recreational activities that include contact access on the water (e.g. paddling, fishing, wading) from August 15th to October 15th. During this period of low water, which occurs during the Chinook spawning period, fish are particularly vulnerable to disturbance from boats that pass overhead or individuals wading in the river. An exception is allowed at higher flows above 1000 cfs (as measured by the USGS gauge).
  • An exception to the above guidelines is made for the short high gradient Horsehoe Bend section. Because this reach is of higher gradient than that typically used by spawning salmon it may be used by paddlers during the period August 15th to October 15th (paddlers are asked to carefully review the information on access points in the run description).
  • Following the completion of spawning in mid October, eggs in gravel are vulnerable through the end of March. Do not get out of your boat or wade in the river in areas where the substrate is smaller than the size of a grapefruit as you could crush eggs by walking in areas with gravel.

By following these voluntary guidelines we can protect fish and provide recreational opportunities. By demonstrating cooperation with these guidelines we can avoid mandatory river closures and retain this more flexible alternative.

The contacts below include staff and volunteers working on this project. Make sure you are logged in if you wish to join the group.

Title Name City
Thomas O'Keefe Seattle WA Details...
Hale Hanaway Bellingham WA Details...
Dirk Fabian Bellingham WA Details...
Devin Smith Bellingham WA Details...
Chris Tretwold bellingham wa Details...
Amy Brown Bellingham WA Details...
David Wilson Details...


  • In August 2006 USFS and AW worked together to develop boating guidelines for the North Fork Nooksack.

  • National Park Service cover letter for whitewater flow study.

  • Letter from the National Park Service documenting the need to consult with American Whitewater regarding impacts of hydropower development on the Middle Fork Nooksack River.

  • Boater survey used to evaluate whitewater recreation on the Middle Fork Nooksack.

  • Letter from the National Park Service regarding a site visit to evaluate whitewater kayaking opportunities on the Middle Fork Nooksack.

  • Letter from the Washington Department of Ecology regarding opportunities for kayaking on the Middle Fork Nooksack.

  • Letter from the National Park Service regarding opportunities for kayaking on the Middle Fork Nooksack.

  • Letter outlining AW's concerns with the closure on the NF Nooksack.

  • Inquiry regarding status of modifications to the Middle Fork Diversion Dam.

  • Letter inquiry regarding opportunity for input on modifications to the Middle Fork Nooksack Diversion.

  • Whitewater Paddling in the North Cascades [web version]

    American Whitewater's survey of 165 whitewater enthusiasts on whitewater rivers of the North Cascades.

  • Whitewater Paddling in the North Cascades [print version]

    American Whitewater's survey of 165 whitewater enthusiasts on whitewater rivers of the North Cascades.

  • Clearwater Creek Motion for Dismissal

    AW's motion for dismissal of the hydroelectric project proposed for the Clearwater in the Nooksack River drainage.

  • Mount Baker - Snoqualmie National Forest Wild and Scenic River Review

    Complete Appendix E of the Forest Plan that includes the Wild and Scenic River review.

  • The Upper Nooksack River Recreation Plan

    Complete Recreation Plan Document with Appendices.

  • Upper Nooksack Recreation Plan Summary

    Summary of Recreation Plan.

  • Concept of River Wilderness

    Essay by AW founder Wolf Bauer on the importance of conserving wild rivers.

  • Middle Fork Diversion Dam Letter 20JUN2018

    Letter of support for the Middle Fork Nooksack Fish Passage Project that would remove the dam on the river.

  • Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery and Task Force letter

    Overview of opportunities to address impacts of dams that impact salmon and navigation.

Related Groups

Sign up to join the Sultan River (WA) working group and stay informed on issues related to improving flows through hydropower relicensing.

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Associated Rivers

Canyon Creek (NF Nooksack) WA
Clearwater (MF Nooksack trib.) WA
Glacier Creek WA
Nooksack, Middle Fork WA
Nooksack, S. Fork WA
Racehorse Creek WA
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