Duwamish Valley Research Coordination Network

Several strands of research are underway on the Duwamish. F.R.E.S.H. Water Relations Lab student Cori Currier’s 2019 masters thesis explored social-ecological dimensions of “living shoreline” salmon habitat restoration projects in the lower Duwamish River, which are also used by local residents for community gatherings, fishing, and contemplation. She and Charlotte Dohrn also conducted monitoring of experimental floating wetlands designed to provide habitat for outmigrating salmon, under the guidance of the Green Futures Lab. Starting in 2020, students Samantha Klein, James Lee, and George Thomas, Jr. continued this work through a collaborative capstone project to evaluate policy, ecology, and social implications of different ecological restoration strategies in the lower Duwamish.

Also in 2020, these students, P.I. Dr. Woelfle-Erskine, and other collaborators across the University of Washington began exploring the possibility of a “Science Shop” to aid University of Washington researchers and agency collaborators in making research more relevant to community members and organizations. Together, this research group applied for and obtained a Urban@UW Research Spark Grant.

Prior to grant application, the research group reached out to community-based organizations instrumental in Superfund cleanup, neighborhood greening, green stormwater infrastructure, and facilitating events and projects that connect local residents to the Duwamish River, as their participation in the project is crucial in grounding UW research in community priorities. Multiple members of our research group have past relationships with these organizations, and are working actively with them on the Puget Creek Watershed Assessment that is part of the Duwamish Tribe’s Ridge to River Trails project. Our main partner is Duwamish Tribal Services.

31 December 2020 – The sign at the entrance to hǝʔapus Village Park, across from the Duwamish Longhouse. Puget Creek flows downhill from the west and ultimately drains into the Duwamish River at the park. (Photo: James Lee)

GRANT: Co-creating an Adaptive Community-Science Network: Supporting Tribal and Grassroots Action through the Puget Creek Watershed Assessment

Urban communities in the Lower Duwamish River (LDR) have been underserved and overstudied. Legacies of settler-colonialism, industrialization, and redlining have reduced LDR ecosystem function, paved over green space, and contaminated soils and waters. In 2001, the EPA declared this stretch of the river a Superfund site due to high levels of contaminants in its sediment, shellfish, and fish, which pose risks to the communities that live, work, and play in and around the river. While some cleanup has already occurred, remaining contaminants and stormwater runoff continue to be a problem. Research addressing these issues in the LDR is often initiated by academics, not responsive to community needs, or duplicates the work community organizations are already doing.

This project addresses this gap in urban research through co-created community-driven assessment, visioning, and dissemination.

For decades, the Duwamish Tribe and its NGO partners have driven accountability and contaminant remediation, while supporting local residents’ connection to this industrialized yet vibrant river. This project supports these efforts by establishing a virtual “Science Shop”—physical and digital research infrastructure grounded in community need and protocols, with plans to be housed at the Duwamish Tribe’s Longhouse in the future. The team envisions this infrastructure to be both social and material—a process for learning and sharing across academic, Indigenous, and local knowledges, linked with a lending library of field equipment for mapping and monitoring soil, water, and organisms. They will also form a Duwamish Valley Research Coordination Network (DVRCN) to enable UW and agency researchers to co-design projects that meet community needs in the short and long term.

To pilot this project and convene this network, the team will use a community co-generation approach to pursue an urgent priority of the Duwamish Tribe: a watershed assessment of Puget Creek and the LDR. This proposal directly grows out of the Duwamish Tribal Services’ (DTS) Ridge to River Trail project, a community-led feasibility study that investigates the potential to remediate contaminated watershed lands and connect a series of currently unlinked trails running along the LDR to culturally significant Duwamish sites, including the current day Longhouse, t̕uʔǝlaltxʷ (Herring’s House) and y̓ǝliqʷad (Basketry Hat) village sites.

14 November 2020 – Cleo and George deploy a data logger at a sheltered portion of Puget Creek. (Photo: Kristin Dew)

Project Team Members:

The core team is majority BIPOC, and includes first-generation, queer, transgender, and female scholars, across ranks, disciplines, and UW campuses.

31 December 2020 – Mosses and lichens grow on a fallen branch on top of a blue tarp covering a pile of cement kiln dust (CKD). Rain can cause heavy metals and alkaline substances to leach out of CKD, presenting challenges to trail restoration and creek health. (Photo: James Lee)