News of a newly-completed salmon habitat restoration project in the midst of farmland near Lynden is underscoring farmers’ commitment to the long-term collaborative restoration work needed to help critically-endangered salmon populations in the Nooksack River Basin.

Farmers in Whatcom County have been saying they want to bring together the local community around a common goal of restoring salmon runs and protecting streams in the basin, and the new fish-friendly floodgate installed on Duffner Ditch demonstrates their willingness to do much more than just talk.

In a recent press release from the Ag Water Board of Whatcom County, farmers involved with the project detailed the extent of collaborative efforts to make the fish-friendly floodgate happen, including farmers taxing themselves to help fund progress and working together with numerous agencies and organizations to complete the work.

The result? Miles of salmon stream habitat are once again open for fish to spawn and rear their young, and the new floodgate technology used also helps protect fish that could otherwise be harmed in a flood.

At the same time, precious farmland in the area is better protected, with the new equipment better managing floodwater to keep it in the streams and out of the fields.

The farmers involved say the complex project was only possible because of the collaboration that happened between everyone involved.

Unfortunately, this kind of collaboration could be in jeopardy. The Washington State Department of Ecology is looking to take the basin’s troubled water management issues into court. This effort threatens to undermine the potential for our community’s hardworking fishers, farmers, tribes and environmental stewards to work together to solve our water resource challenges.

So much more can be done to restore salmon and protect Whatcom County farmland when everyone concerned about fish and local food comes together and collaborates on real solutions. But if decades-long court battles divide all of these important communities, progress on restoring fish won’t reach its potential.

Hats off to these farmers and everyone else that worked together on this project, persevering through the years of planning, setbacks and hard work it took to bring it to completion.