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Water and Wildlife: The Cedar River Watershed

IMG_6658Do you know where your drinking water comes from? Take a look at the picture to the left. Stunning, isn’t it?

The City of Seattle’s Cedar River Municipal Watershed supplies clean drinking water to over 1 million people in the greater Seattle area. Safe, high quality drinking water is one of our priorities here at SPU. That’s why we carefully manage and protect the Watershed so that the water meets or exceeds all federal standards for drinking water. In fact, more than 50 microbiological samples are tested daily at SPU’s Water Quality Lab for a variety of chemicals and contaminants. Check out our current and past Water Quality Annual Reports.

The water in the Cedar River Watershed is used for more than just drinking. One important use is to support wildlife habitats. The Cedar River Watershed has incredible biodiversity. Forests, wetlands, meadows, and lakes are home to a variety of wildlife including black bears, deer, salmon, frogs, and spotted owls.

Below are some fun facts about different types of habitats and wildlife that can be found in the Cedar River Watershed.


  • Ninety-five percent (12,255 acres) of the lower watershed is covered with second-growth forest ranging in age from 70 to 119 years.
  • Most of the old-growth forest in the watershed ranges from 190 to 350 years old, but a few scattered stands are up to 850 years old.
  • Besides a variety of tree species, mammals and birds can also be found in the forests.


  • Major wetland habitats in the lower watershed include a beaver pond, shrubs, and bog or fen complexes. An extensive beaver pond system is found at the headwaters of Williams Creek along the northern boundary of the lower watershed.


  • In the upper watershed, the forest gives way to open meadows that provide habitat for several amphibian species and provide forage and cover for deer.


  • Located in the upper watershed, Chester Morse Lake functions as a water supply storage reservoir and powers a 30-megawatt hydroelectric facility. The bull trout and pygmy whitefish populations found here have been separated from other populations for at least 13,000 years! As a result, these populations represent a unique genetic stock of their species.

The Cedar River Watershed and its network of water, wildlife, and habitat is a reminder of how interdependent our environment is. This is why efforts to conserve and protect our region’s water are so important—so that we can ensure a safe, reliable source of water for generations of people and wildlife to come.

Want to learn more about the source of your water? Read about the Watershed’s biodiversity, or sign up for a tour from the folks at the Cedar River Watershed Education Center. A variety of tours are offered, including family friendly tours. Don’t miss the chance to get an immersive, behind-the-scenes look at a remarkable landscape—right in our backyard!