Nisqually River GRP

  • Interim update: 2015
  • Last full updated: 2015
  • Public Comment:

Table of Contents


Site Description

This section provides a description of the physical features, hydrology, climate and winds that characterize the Nisqually River area. It also includes an overview of the area’s oil spill risks. The planning area includes the Nisqually River riparian habitat, extending from the mouth of the river delta upstream to the LaGrande Dam. Upstream to downstream, the Nisqually River passes through or by the towns and communities of La Grande, Yelm, Roy, McKenna, and the Nisqually Reservation. The Pierce County side of the Nisqually Reservation is managed by the U.S. Army and Air Force Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM) as a military training and operations area. The planning area is divided by Pierce and Thurston counties, of which the river serves as the boundary. This GRP consists of Water Resource Inventory Area 11 (WRIA-11, Nisqually).

Physical Features

The Nisqually River covers a distance of 78 miles from its headwaters on Mt. Rainier’s Nisqually Glacier to its terminus at Puget Sound. This GRP focuses on the lower Nisqually portion of the riparian habitat downstream of the LaGrande Dam, which is preceded by the 2-mile long La Grande Reservoir, the 8-mile long Alder Lake Reservoir and the remaining 26 miles of the upper Nisqually. The Alder and LaGrande Dams are operated in concert with each other though Tacoma Public Utilities’ Nisqually River Project. Annually, the Alder and LaGrande produce 200 million and 345 million kilowatt hours of electricity, respectively (Tacoma Public Utilities). They are separated by the 2 mile long La Grande Reservoir. Downstream of the La Grande Reservoir, the river following the LaGrande Dam is characterized by steep gorge terrain. As a result, the LaGrande Dam and Reservoir complex are not publicly accessible (Tacoma Public Utilities).

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Below the confluence of the Nisqually with the Mashel River downstream of the LaGrande Powerhouse, the terrain flattens out around the river as it meanders towards the Puget Sound. This change in topography marks the beginning of greater development surrounding the river. At river mile 26.2, just upstream of Yelm, the river flow is diverted by the Centralia Dam. The 4-foot high dam diverts up to 800 cubic feet of water per second (cfs) into the Centralia Canal. The Centralia Canal runs 9.1 miles through the City of Yelm and feeds a designated wetland area built by Centralia City Light as a flood mitigation measure. The Canal rejoins the Nisqually on the downstream side of Yelm at river mile 13. Located at the downstream end of the Canal is the Centralia Power House, a hydropower facility that supplies 12 million watts of electricity to the city of Centralia (City of Centralia). Between the Centralia Dam and the LaGrande Power House, the river is often inaccessible by boat. Downstream of this point, the river enters the reservation land of the Nisqually Indian Tribe. The Nisqually Reservation is approximately 5,000 acres, of which the northeastern 3,300 acres on the Pierce County side of the Nisqually River is managed by Joint Base Lewis McChord as a military training and operations area (Nisqually Indian Tribe). Located between river miles 12 and 13 is a fish weir and a JBLM military vehicle bridge, both of which span the width of the river. The weir is in place seasonally from early July through late October. It is used by the Nisqually tribe for trapping and counting salmon. The reservation is also home to the Nisqually Clear Creek and Kalama Creek fish hatcheries. There are several river access locations on the reservation land and on property owned by the tribe, which are primarily used for fishing access. At the northern most portion of the reservation, the river flows into the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.

Located at the mouth of the river where it joins Puget Sound, the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge serves as a preserve for the Nisqually Delta area. Encompassing almost 3,000 acres, this area consists of very sensitive habitat, both environmentally and culturally (USFWS). The refuge is home to “over 300 species of birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, and amphibians” (USFWS 2013). It is also noted for being an important area for migratory birds. In addition to a designated Sanctuary, the refuge also has delineations for Nisqually Indian Tribe lands, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Hunting Area, a Nisqually NWR Hunting Area, Private/other lands (within the approved refuge boundary) and a Research Natural Area.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that boat use in the Refuge for motorized and nonmotorized craft is 6,700 visits per year. This figure has been limited due to the physical constraints of the delta, but is increasing according to the USFWS (USFWS 2004). The Sanctuary is permanently closed to recreational access, and the Research Natural Area is closed to boat traffic from October 1 to March 31. A major transportation corridor cuts through the approved refuge boundary outside of the southern edge of the Sanctuary and the eastern side of the Research Natural Area. This consists of the Interstate 5 freeway and Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) rail tracks serving both BNSF and Union Pacific trains. Rail tracks cross the Nisqually at three points in this GRP, with one being an abandoned (as of publication) Tacoma Eastern Railroad line at river mile 22. The remaining active lines are operated by BNSF and cross at river miles 4 and 20.

The shoreline of the lower Nisqually River consists of various habitat types, which include: sand beaches, sand and gravel beaches, sand and cobble beaches, rocky shores, and sheltered marshes (WA Dept. of Ecology 2003). The geomorphology of the river was shaped by Mt. Rainier; landslides, avalanches and volcanic activity created lahars in the Nisqually, which have shaped the watershed over many millennia (USGS). These lahars graded the river valley to Puget Sound building upon the ancient post-glacial landforms (Pringle, Patrick, and Scott 2001). Over the course of time, these foundations were sculpted into the modern day Nisqually River through alluvial sediment transport and manmade intervention.


The flow of the Nisqually River in this planning area is primarily controlled by the flood gates of the three dams. The reservoir for the Alder Dam has a capacity of 241,950 acre-feet, while the reservoir connecting it to the La Grande Dam has a capacity of 2,700 acre-feet (Low Impact Hydropower Institute). In addition to the flow rate of the spillways, the lower Nisqually also receives input from the Mashel River and several small tributaries. A collection of creeks which serve as tributaries to the Nisqually in this section are as follows: Ohop, Tanwax, Muck, Lacamas, Toboton, Powell, Yelm, Thompson, Hart, Horn and Murray.

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The mean winter flow (December-January) in the Nisqually is approximately 2,200 cfs (USGS). In the spring, the flow is around 1,400 cfs. During the summer the flow ranges from 937 cfs in June to its lowest monthly average of 463 cfs in August. The flow starts to rise in October as the fall to winter transition begins (USGS). Between the two geographical ends of this planning area, there is a change in altitude of 750 feet, from the base of the La Grande Dam to the Nisqually Delta at sea level. Water Resource Inventory Areas (WRIAs): The Nisqually River planning area is contained entirely within WRIA 11 Nisqually. The annual precipitation in the Nisqually Watershed ranges from 40 inches in the lower Nisqually Watershed to over 120 inches per year in the Cascade Mountains.

Precipitation is greatest during the winter, resulting in larger river flows. Water discharge during the summer is significantly reduced. During this time, flow in the lower Nisqually is subject to the dam flood gates. They are calibrated to ensure a balance between downstream water management and maintaining an optimal shoreline level on the Alder Lake Reservoir for recreational purposes (Tacoma Public Utilities).
In this planning area, there are a number of water intakes, most of which are spring-fed intakes and wells. These include the spring-fed Nisqually Tribe fish hatcheries on Clear Creek and Kalama Creek and numerous municipal and private ground-water wells. Below the La Grande Dam, the Centralia City Light Diversion Dam at river mile 26.2 diverts water directly from the Nisqually River.

Climate and Winds

The Nisqually River GRP planning area falls within the South Puget Sound region of Washington, reaching up to the Cascade foothills at the base of Mt. Rainier. The lower reaches of the Nisqually River are influenced by south Puget Sound’s maritime climate with cool summers and mild winters, and the area is protected from strong south-southwest winds associated with winter storms by the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges (USFWS). Annual precipitation averages around 50 inches in the lower portions of the Nisqually. Snowfall varies along the river, with this GRP’s planning area receiving infrequent snow due to its lower altitude in comparison to the upper Nisqually. Mean high temperatures in the winter can range from mid to upper 40s (F) with low temperatures ranging from low to upper 30s (F). Summer mean high temperatures are usually in the mid to upper 70s (F) with low temperatures in the upper 40s to low 50s (F) (NOAA).

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Prevailing winds in the area are generally from the south year round, based on historical averages from nearby Gray Army Airfield at JBLM (WRCC). Average wind speed at the airport is 6.4 mph. The lightest winds are usually experienced in September at 5.6 mph average. Winds are typically strongest in March with average wind speeds of 7.5 mph (WRCC).

Tides and Currents

Tidal influence on the lower Nisqually River extends approximately 3.3 miles upstream near the town of Nisqually. The mean tidal range (MHW – MLW) for South Puget Sound is 9.4 to 10.48 feet. The diurnal tidal range (MHHW – MLLW) is 13.1 to -3.5 feet (USFWS) The river current in the planning area is predicated on the flow rate of the dam spillways and input from the Mashel River and its various tributary creeks. The flow rate from the creeks is predominately determined by runoff from precipitation.


Risk Assessment

The Nisqually River area is plentiful in natural, cultural, and economic resources, all at risk of injury from oil spills. Potential oil spill risks include, but are not limited to, road transportation, rail transportation, oil pipelines, aircraft, recreational boating, and other oil spill risks. This section briefly discusses these risks and how they could impact the Nisqually River and the greater GRP planning area.

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Road Transportation: Vehicle traffic on roadways poses a risk of oil spills in the area. Commercial trucks can contain hundreds to thousands of gallons of fuel and oil, and almost any kind of hazardous waste or material. An accident involving a fully loaded tank truck on the Interstate-5 Bridge or on State Route 507 crossing over the Nisqually River could result in a substantial oil spill. Highways 7 and 161 have crossings over two tributaries of the Nisqually, the Mashel River and Ohop Creek. There are also several local roads which intersect the river and its tributaries in the area. Smaller vehicle accidents pose a similar risk, though they carry smaller volumes of fuel and oil. Spills from vehicles onto roadways could cause fuel or oil to flow from ditches or hardened surfaces into streams, creeks, wasteways, or storm water systems that flow into the Nisqually or its tributaries.

Rail Transportation: Train locomotives typically hold several thousand gallons of diesel fuel and large quantities of lube and motor oils. Loaded train tank cars can each contain tens of thousands of gallons of crude oil or other petroleum products. Hazardous material spills from rail cars also present a risk to the river. Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) rail lines cross the Nisqually River at approximately river miles 4 and 20. There is an out of service (as of publishing) Tacoma Eastern Railroad line that crosses the Nisqually at river mile 22. A Tacoma Eastern Railroad line crosses the Mashel River, a tributary of the Nisqually, at river mile 6.6.

Oil Pipelines: The Olympic Pipeline Company pipeline crosses the Nisqually River at approximately river mile 19. It carries a range of petroleum products including gasoline, diesel, and aviation turbine fuel. Manual block valves are located on both sides of the river crossing, approximately 2 miles apart (Olympic Pipeline Company). If the pipeline were to leak or rupture, impact to sensitive resources in the area could be substantial.

Aircraft: The Western Airpark and airfields located at Joint Base Lewis McChord are located within or near the planning area. There is always a potential for aircraft failures during inbound and outbound flights that could result in fuel releases to water.

Recreational Boating: Accidents involving recreational water craft on the Nisqually Delta could result in spills of a few gallons of fuel oil to several dozen gallons. Types of incidents could include a vessel grounding, fire, sinking, or explosion. Bilge discharges could also occur and have the potential to impact sensitive resources on the river. Vessels and personal watercraft are not allowed in certain parts of the Nisqually delta, but there are certain areas within the delta where vessels are allowed, which could present a substantial spill risk to sensitive sites in the area. The U.S. Coast Guard defines the Nisqually as a navigable waterway for appropriate small craft, but access is considered to be tidally dependent at the I-5 bridge crossing (USCG).

Joint Base Lewis-McChord: The U.S. military conducts field training on JBLM throughout the year, which requires transport and storage of fuel in the area. To reach the training areas at Joint Base Lewis McChord, military units cross the Nisqually River either at the Nisqually River military vehicle bridge or ford the river at the tank crossing site. A worst-case scenario spill would involve an accident on the bridge or at the tank crossing site involving a 7,500 gallon military tanker truck with fuel overturning and spilling the majority of its fuel into the river. The probability of such a spill is considered small, and no spills into the river from military training have been recorded. However, with continued military training activity, this potential remains(WA DNR).

Other Spill Risks: Other potential oil spill risks in the area include road run-off during rain events, on-shore or near shore construction or farming activities where heavy equipment is being operated, and the migration of spilled oil through soil on lands adjacent to the lake or along stream banks.

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Resources at Risk

This section provides a summary of natural, cultural, and economic resources at risk in the vicinity of the Nisqually River and McAllister Creek and upriver to the base of La Grande Dam. It provides general information on habitat, fish, and wildlife resources, and locations in the area where sensitive natural resource concerns exist. It offers a summary of cultural resources that include fundamental procedures for the discovery of cultural artifacts and human skeletal remains. General information about flight restrictions, wildlife deterrence, and oiled wildlife can be found near the end of this section.  A list of economic resources in the area is also provided.

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This section is purposely broad in scope and should not be considered comprehensive. Some of the sensitive resources described in this chapter cannot be addressed in Section 4 (Response Strategies and Priorities) because it is not possible to conduct effective response activities in these locations. Additional information from private organizations or federal, state, tribal, and local government agencies should also be sought during spills.

This material is intended to provide general information about the area during the first phase of a spill response. During an actual incident, more information about resources at risk will be available from the Environmental Unit in the Planning Section.

Specific resource concerns related to areas that already have designated protection strategies (see Section 4) may be found in the “Resources Protected” column of the matrix describing individual strategies.

The information provided in this chapter may be useful in:

  • Assisting the Environmental Unit (EU) in identifying resources at risk during a spill response and in developing additional response strategies beyond those found in Section 4.
  • Providing resource at risk “context” to responders, clean-up workers, and others during the initial phase of a spill response in the GRP area.
  • Briefing responders and incident command staff that may be unfamiliar with sensitive resource concerns in the GRP area.
  • Providing background information for personnel involved in media presentations and public outreach during a spill incident.


Natural Resources at Risk – Summary

This area contains a wide variety of aquatic, riparian, and upland habitats. These habitats support many of Washington’s salmonid species as well as a complex diversity of other wildlife. In addition to those species directly at risk to oil spills, others (due to their life histories and/or behaviors) are unlikely to become directly oiled during a spill incident but may be disturbed by other operations such as cleanup, reconnaissance, or fire suppression activities. Some of the bird species are resident throughout the year, but many others seasonally migrate through of the area.

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Several of the species found in this area have been classified under the Federal Endangered Species Act or by the Washington State Fish and Wildlife commission.

Classification types are:

  • Federal Endangered (FE)
  • Federal Threatened (FT)
  • Federal Candidate (FC)
  • State Endangered (SE)
  • State Threatened (ST)
  • State Sensitive (SS)

Federal and State listed species (subspecies shown in parenthesis) that may occur within this area include:


  • common loon [SS]
  • marbled murrelet [FT/SE]
  • northern spotted owl [FT/SE]
  • sandhill crane [SE]
  • steaked horned lark [FT/SE]
  • yellow billed cuckoo [FT/SE]


  • killer whale (southern resident) [FE/SE]
  • Mazama pocket gopher (Roy Prairie, Yelm) [FT/ST]
  • western gray squirrel [ST]


  • bull trout [FT]
  • chinook salmon (Puget Sound) [FT]
  • steelhead (Puget Sound [FT]


  • Oregon spotted frog
  • western pond turtle [SE]


  • Taylor’s checkerspot [FE/SE]
  • Mardon skipper [SE]


  • golden paintbrush [FT]
  • marsh sandwort [FE]
  • water howellia [FT]

Critical habitats:

These are the specific areas, occupied by an endangered or threatened species at the time it was listed, that contain the physical or biological features that are essential to the conservation of that species – and that may need special management or protection. Critical habitat may also include areas that were not occupied by the species at the time of listing but are essential to its conservation.

The following species have federally designated critical habitats within this area:

  • bull trout
  • chinook salmon (Puget Sound)
  • killer whale (southern resident)
  • steelhead (Puget Sound)


General Resource Concerns


  • Eelgrass is the predominant submerged aquatic vegetation in South Puget Sound, appearing primarily as fringing beds along the shorelines. It is most abundant from Nisqually Reach northward into Carr Inlet. Eelgrass and similar kelp habitats provide critical nursery areas for fish and shellfish as well as important spawning habitat for herring and feeding areas for waterfowl.
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  • Shallow intertidal and subtidal habitats are critically important as rearing areas for juvenile salmon, Dungeness crab, hardshell clams and other fish and shellfish. These habitats are also often important feeding areas for marine birds, shorebirds and herons.
  • The mixed sand/gravel beaches found along the marine shorelines of this region provide spawning habitat for forage fish such as sandlance and surf smelt.
  • The salt marsh located in sheltered areas of the Nisqually River delta supports a diverse array of fish and wildlife species.
  • The rivers and streams throughout this region provide rich and vital resources to a wide variety of fish and wildlife, including spawning and rearing habitat for various salmonid species. The associated riparian scrub and woodlands play crucial roles in supporting a large diversity and abundance of songbird species as breeding, migrating, and overwintering habitat.
  • Side channels and impounded areas provide feeding and resting areas for waterfowl and herons and are important rearing areas for juvenile fish.
  • Wetlands in the lower reaches of this region are freshwater although tidally influenced. These wetlands range from seasonal open marshes to forested swamps along rivers and streams. All wetland types support a diverse array of amphibian, bird, insect, fish, and wildlife species.
  • The native oak and prairie habitats present in this region, primarily in the vicinity of Joint Base Lewis McCord (JBLM), are extremely rare and sensitive to disturbance. These areas support a wide variety of wildlife including listed species such as the Mardon skipper [SE] and Taylor’s checkerspot [FE/SE] butterflies, the Mazama pocket gopher [FT/SE], the streaked horned lark [FT/SE], and the western gray squirrel [ST].
  • Numerous habitat restoration sites exist along the Nisqually River, its estuary, and its tributaries. Often, significant resources have been invested in these locations to improve stream conditions specific to salmon recovery.
  • Shallowsubsurface habitats in this region extend from the combined estuary of the Nisqually River and McAllister Creek upstream to the La Grande dam and all the associated tributaries.
  • Fine sediments (mud/silt/sand): Aquatic vegetation may be present. Animals associated with these areas tend to be: cold or warm water fishes; birds (dabbling ducks); semi-aquatic mammals (muskrat, beaver, etc.); shellfish (freshwater clams); amphibians and reptiles (frogs, newts, salamanders, turtles, etc.); insects caddis flies, mayflies, dragonflies, and stoneflies). Many other animals also utilize these areas for foraging.
  • Coarse sediments (gravel/cobble): Aquatic vegetation may be present. Animals associated with these areas tend to be: cold or warm water fishes; birds (dippers, harlequin ducks); semi-aquatic mammals (muskrat, beaver, etc.); shellfish (freshwater mussels, crayfish); amphibians and reptiles (tailed frogs, torrent salamanders; insects caddis flies, stoneflies). Many other animals also utilize these areas for foraging.
  • Bedrock: Aquatic vegetation not likely to be present. Animals associated with these areas tend to be mostly cold-water fishes, birds (dippers, harlequin ducks), and amphibians (torrent salamanders).

Fish and Shellfish:

  • Several anadromous salmonid species are present in this region (including the listed bull trout, chinook, and steelhead). Spawning occurring throughout the Nisqually watershed Several species of juvenile salmonids use the lower rivers and shallow nearshore areas extensively for feeding and rearing.
  • Resident fish in the drainage area include cutthroat, kokanee, and rainbow trout, sculpin, whitefish, brook lamprey, crappie, Pacific lamprey.
  • Freshwater mussels (western pearlshell) are present in the upper reaches.
  • Hardshell clams are found intertidally along marine shorelines throughout most of the region. Geoduck clam are found in the intertidal areas and in commercial subtidal beds in the adjacent Nisqually Reach.
  • Dungeness crab and pandalid shrimp are commonly found in the deeper waters of the Nisqually Reach.
  • Smelt and sandlance spawning occurs along sand and gravel shorelines in the areas of this region.


  • Seabird concentrations routinely occur year-round in areas adjacent to the Nisqually Reach. The largest concentrations occur in these areas during the fall through spring seasons. There are no significant seabird nesting colonies in this region.
  • Marbled murrelet [FT/ST] nesting areas known to be present in this area.
  • Great blue and green herons, along with raptors (including bald eagle, osprey and peregrine falcon) nest and forage year-round along waterways throughout the region.
  • Waterfowl concentrations may be found seasonally throughout the region, notably in areas such as the Nisqually River delta.
  • The Nisqually River delta is a significant shorebird concentration area within this region. Smaller shorebird concentrations are common throughout the region.
  • Resident and migratory songbirds heavily utilize riparian habitats year-round and are susceptible to response activities that disturb riparian vegetation.
  • Harbor seal haulouts are scattered throughout the region although the Nisqually River delta is a regionally important site. In addition, California sea lions are often observed using navigational buoys in the area as haulouts.
  • Other mammals common to the region include semi-aquatic species such as beaver, muskrat, river otter, mink and raccoon. These small mammals are vulnerable to contact with spilled oil because of their habitat preferences. Western gray squirrel [ST] and Mazama pocket gopher [FT/ST] presence is documented at locations throughout the drainage. Larger mammals (deer, elk, etc.) are also present throughout this area.

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Specific Geographic Areas of Concern – Overview

Nisqually Reach (open waters off the mouth of the Nisqually River delta; Tatsolo Point west to Tolmie State Park): Extensive eelgrass beds and shallow intertidal habitats. Dungeness crab and forage fish spawning habitats along with juvenile salmonid rearing habitat. Large concentrations of waterfowl and seabirds, primarily occurring fall through spring. Marbled murrelet present year-round. See Figure 1.

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  1. Nisqually River delta: The extensive network of slough, salt marsh and riparian habitats at this site support a wide array of fish and wildlife throughout the year and large numbers of waterfowl, marine birds, shorebirds and bald eagles during the winter months. The Nisqually River is the largest salmonid spawning area in south Puget Sound. Tribal and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service wildlife refuge lands are also present in this area.
  2. Fort Lewis, oak and prairie habitat: The largely native oak and prairie habitats located between Dupont and Roy supports many different types of wildlife, including the following listed species: the Mardon skipper and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, Mazama pocket gophers, and streaked horned larks.
  3. Nisqually Tribal Lands: Nisqually Tribal lands are present within this area (graphic indicates approximate boundary of the Nisqually Reservation). Riparian habitat on the reservation supports various fish and wildlife species.


Specific Geographic Areas of Concern – Maps

Figure 1: Areas of concern within the Nisqually GRP.


Cultural Resources at Risk – Summary

Culturally sensitive sites are present within the Nisqually River area. Due to the sensitive nature of this information, details regarding the location and type of cultural resources present are not
included in this document. However, in order to ensure that tactical response strategies do not inadvertently harm historical and culturally sensitive sites, Washington Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation (WDAHP) should be consulted before disturbing any soil or sediment during a response action. WDAHP may assign a person to monitor cleanup operations, or provide a list of professional archeologists that can be contracted to monitor response activities.

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Information on the location of culturally sensitive sites is maintained by WDAHP and made available to Washington Department of Ecology for oil spill preparedness and response planning. The Nisqually Indian Tribe may also be able to provide information on cultural resources at risk in this GRP area and should be consulted. After the Unified Command is established, information related to specific archeological concerns will be coordinated through the Environmental Unit.

Table 6-1: NR GRP Cultural Contacts.

Contact Phone Email
Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (360) 586-3065
Nisqually Tribe (360) 456-5221

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Discovery of Human Skeletal Remains

Any human remains, burial sites, or burial-related materials that are discovered during a spill response must be treated with respect at all times (photographing human remains is prohibited to
all except the appropriate authorities). Refer to Section 9403 of the Northwest Area Contingency Plan for National Historic Preservation Act Compliance Guidelines during an emergency response.

Procedures for the Discovery of Cultural Resources

All work must be stopped immediately and the Incident Commander and Cultural Resource Specialist notified if any person monitoring work activities or involved in spill response believes that they have encountered cultural resources. The area of work stoppage must be adequate to provide for the security, protection, and integrity of the material or artifact(s) discovered.

Prehistoric Cultural Resources (May include but not limited to any of the following items):

  • Lithic debitage (stone chips and other tool-making byproducts)
  • Flaked or ground stone tools
  • Exotic rock, minerals, or quarries
  • Concentrations of organically stained sediments, charcoal, or ash
  • Fire-modified rock
  • Rock alignments or rock structures
  • Bone (burned, modified, or in association with other bone, artifacts, or features)
  • Shell or shell fragments
  • Petroglyphs and pictographs
  • Fish weirs and traps
  • Culturally modified trees
  • Physical locations or features (traditional cultural properties)

Historic cultural material (May include any of the following items over 50 years old):

  • Bottles, or other glass
  • Cans
  • Ceramics
  • Milled wood, brick, concrete, metal, or other building material
  • Trash dumps
  • Homesteads, building remains
  • Logging, mining, or railroad features
  • Piers, wharves, docks, bridges, dams

Numerous culturally sensitive areas exist along the shorelines of the region. A qualified archaeologist must approve any land-based spill response work that involves soil or sediment disturbance prior to initiation. Land-based spill response equipment, such as vacuum trucks, must stay on hardened surfaces until the area has been evaluated by an archaeologist.

Parks in this area include:

  • Nisqually State Park
  • Alder Lake Park


Economic Resources at Risk – Summary

Socio-economic sensitive resources are facilities or locations that rely on a body of water to be economically viable. Because of their location, they could be severely impacted if an oil spill were
to occur. Economically sensitive resources are separated into three categories: critical infrastructure, water dependent commercial areas, and water dependent recreation areas. Economic Resources at Risk in the Table of Contents provides a list of economic resources for this GRP area.


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Commercial and Recreational Shellfish Harvesting is present near the Nisqually River Delta. Washington State Department of Health (WDOH) Shellfish Programs manage commercial and recreational shellfish harvesting areas in the state and should be notified immediately if an oil spill impacts or threatens shellfish harvest areas. WDOH will make decisions related to the closure of shellfish harvesting areas, as needed to ensure public safety and avoid the recall of product. WDOH can be contacted by calling (360) 236-3330 during normal hours, (360) 789-8962 after hours, or email WDOH maintains an interactive map that shows the location of commercially and recreationally classified shellfish beaches. This information can be viewed online at: Guidance for responders on managing impacts to shellfish growing areas is detailed in Section 9409 of the Northwest Area Contingency Plan (NWACP), available online at

Tribal and recreational fisheries targeting species such as salmon and steelhead are important to area and local economies.

Fish hatcheries:

  • Clear Creek Hatchery – Nisqually Tribe
  • Kalama Creek Hatchery – Nisqually Tribe
  • Schorno Springs rearing pond – Nisqually Tribe
  • Silver Lake net pen
  • McAllister Hatcher – WDFW
  • Nisqually screw trap – WDFW

Public water intakes in this area include:

  • Nisqually Fish Hatchery: River Mile 6.5. Note that hatchery intake is spring fed (not from river).
  • Centralia Power Canal Diversion: River Mile 26.2


General Information

Flight Restriction Zones: The Environmental Unit (Planning Section) may recommend flight restriction zones to minimize disturbance or injury to wildlife during an oil spill. Pilots/operators can decrease the risk of aircraft/bird collisions, prevent the accidental driving of wildlife into oiled areas, and minimize abandonment of nests by keeping a safe distance and altitude from these identified sensitive areas.

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The Air Operations Branch (Operations Section) will manage all aircraft operations related to a response and will coordinate the establishment of any Flight Restriction Zones as appropriate. Environmental Unit staff will work with the Air Operations Branch Director to resolve any conflicts that arise between flight activities and sensitive resources.

Wildlife Deterrence: The Wildlife Deterrence Unit within the Wildlife Branch (Operations Section) manages wildlife deterrence operations. These are actions intended to minimize injuries to wildlife by keeping animals away from the oil and cleanup operations. Deterrence activities may include using acoustic or visual deterrent devices, boats, aircraft or other tools. The Wildlife Branch works with state and federal agencies, and the Environmental Unit (Planning Section), to develop deterrence plans as appropriate.

Oiled Wildlife: Capturing oiled wildlife may be hazardous to both personnel and the affected animals. Incident personnel should not try to approach or capture oiled wildlife but should report any observations of oiled wildlife to the Wildlife Branch (Operations Section).

Wilderness Areas: There are no federally designated wilderness areas present in this GRP region. The Billy Frank Jr. National Wildlife Refuge does, however, encompass the bulk of the Nisqually estuary.

Aquatic Invasive Species: The waters of this region may contain aquatic invasive species (AIS), species of plants and/or animals that are not native to an area and that can be harmful to an area’s ecosystem. If so, preventative actions may be required to prevent the spread of these species as a result of spill response activities and the Environmental Unit is able to recommend operational techniques and strategies to assist with this issue.

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