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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Section 319 Success Stories, Vol. III - Oregon

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Dawson Wetland Restoration Project:
Landowners and Wetlands Both Win

Contact:
Bill Gates
Umpqua Soil and Water
Conservation District
541-271-2611

Primary Sources of Pollution:

  • diked/drained wetlands
  • flooding

Primary NPS Pollutants:

  • nutrients
  • sediment

Project Activities:

  • tide gate installation
  • removal of levee and installation of new dike
  • revegetation

Results:

  • 30 acres of restored wetlands
  • decreased flooding and sedimentation
  • 80 acres of restored habitat for wildlife

The Smith River Estuary has been modified over the years by a number of projects that have diked and drained wetland areas in the estuary so they could be used for livestock grazing. Levees, tide gates, and dredging were all common practices from the 1900s to the 1960s.

The Dawson property near the mouth of the Smith River has been diked and used for agricultural purposes since the early 20th century. Since the floods of 1996-1997, however, the existing levee has been breached in three places, resulting in daily tidal inundation of the property.

Wetland restoration and enhancement as the answer

The Umpqua Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) received a 319 grant of $85,000 from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality in August 1999 to help with the Dawson Wetland Restoration Project. The landowners originally contacted the Umpqua SWCD for assistance in repairing the dike, hoping to halt the flooding of their property. Eventually, the project evolved into one that would protect part of the property and return 30 acres to estuarine wetlands.

The landowners agreed to donate 30 acres of their 100-acre parcel to be restored as wetlands, along with construction of a new levee to protect the remaining acreage for their homestead and agricultural purposes. The Umpqua SWCD participated in fundraising for the project and directs the project inspection and planting of vegetation on the new levee. Additional partners, such as Ducks Unlimited, are providing project management and engineering assistance.

In addition to restoring the 30 acres of estuarine wetland, the project also involved enhancing the 50-acre Stowe Marsh, just upstream from the Dawson property and managed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The marsh contained a levee with a break in it, and the project removed a large portion of the levee so that natural floodplain function could be restored.

Project activities

The Dawson Wetland Restoration Project was divided into three phases. Phase I of the project, completed in 1999, included installation of a tide gate, as well as development of engineering plans and specifications. Phase II, completed in 2000, included removal of two sections of the Stowe Marsh levee to enhance 50 acres of estuarine wetlands, construction of the new Dawson levee, vegetation of the new levee and adjacent disturbed areas with native plants, revegetation of borrow area, and improvements to internal drainage on farmland inside the new levee.

During 2001 Phase III is removing the old failed levee on the Dawson property, allowing the 30 acres outside the new levee to be returned to estuarine wetland status. Title to the restored wetlands on the Dawson property outside the new levee will be transferred to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Old fencing in the donated wetlands will be removed. Plantings will be fortified in the borrow area, and all interior drainage will be routed to the new tide gate. Fencing will be installed around the new levee to restore livestock grazing to the Dawson ranch.

Additional benefits

Erosion Protection. The existing levee will be left in place for one winter to protect the new structure from erosion. Plantings with native vegetation will be part of the bioengineered plan to prevent erosion, making the use of riprap unnecessary. This approach will also reduce future sedimentation into the river.

Fish and Wildlife Habitat Restoration. Various salmonid species use estuaries as incubation areas for feeding, rearing, and staging before they begin their ocean migration. The Smith River estuary is already one of the most important areas in Oregon for threatened coastal coho. The addition of 30 acres and the enhancement of 50 acres will provide 80 acres of the habitat needed for these species and others. Waterfowl are also expected to use the restored wetlands.

Restoration of Estuary Floodplain Function. One result of the extensive diking of the Smith River system is that the river's transport capacity has increased, resulting in higher river energy against the city of Reedsport's levee. This project will result in more water storage capacity in estuarine wetlands, moderating the effects of flooding and reducing the river's erosive energy.

Public-Private Collaboration. This project represents a win-win situation in which the landowners benefit by increased protection of their homesteads and the public benefits from the enhanced ecological functions provided by the restored wetlands. This collaborative approach respects the existing land use that provides the family's economic base while at the same time recognizing and protecting the important public benefits from returning a portion of the land to its former wetland status.
 


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South Myrtle Creek Ditch Project:
Removal of Dam Benefits Aquatic Life

Contact:
Bob Kinyon
Umpqua Basin Watershed Council
541-673-5756

Primary Sources of Pollution:

  • flow modifications

Primary NPS Pollutants:

  • high stream temperature

Project Activities:

  • removal of diversion dam and concrete apron
  • conversion from ditch to sprinkler irrigation
  • revegetation of riparian area
  • livestock exclusion

Results:

  • additional 2.5 cfs water in stream
  • reduced stream temperature
  • improved aquatic life/fish passage

Historically, populations of cutthroat trout and coho salmon had journeyed through the waters of South Myrtle Creek, which flows into the South Umpqua River in Douglas County, Oregon. Since the early 20th century, however, some form of diversion structure has been blocking South Myrtle Creek. In the 1960s a concrete apron structure with metal supports for planks was installed to raise the water level to provide water for irrigation to adjacent and downstream landowners. During the summer, the structure elevated water levels by 14 feet, diverting water into a 2½-mile irrigation ditch. As a result, South Myrtle Creek has been identified as having water quality problems from flow modifications and high stream temperatures.

In 1998 one of the landowners initiated a project to restore flow and improve water quality in South Myrtle Creek by removing the diversion dam and concrete apron, converting from ditch irrigation to sprinkler irrigation to conserve water, revegetating the denuded riparian area, and excluding livestock until the seedlings were well established. That landowner, along with Water Resources and the Watershed Council, recruited all of the other landowners who used water from the diversion, and they began to plan the various aspects of the project.

The project was a collaborative effort of all of the landowners, who donated services and supplies. In addition to 319 funds, funding was provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, the Bureau of Land Management, the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, and two local foundations, the Joe Merchep Umpqua River Foundation, and the Douglas Timber Operations' Fisheries Enhancement Derby. In addition, the Oregon Water Resources Department and Douglas County Watermaster assisted with the project by examining water rights and helping to devise a plan whereby 2.5 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water is being returned to the stream.

Project highlights and successes

Using a jack hammer, acetylene torch, excavator, loader, and dump truck, the structure was successfully removed. Because ditch irrigation is the least efficient use of water because of losses from evaporation and leakage, irrigation was switched to the more efficient sprinkler type, with individual pumps drawing from the stream's surface water. Water temperature has improved, and flows have increased by 2.5 cfs during the summer. The restoration of the streambed to its historical level allows passage of salmon and trout to the 10 miles of stream above the dam for the first time in nearly a century, benefiting cutthroat trout, coho salmon, and steelhead with additional habitat. In the winter of 2000 area landowners confirmed the project's success when they identified several coho upstream of the diversion site. Other aquatic life will also benefit from the reconnection of the areas above and below the dam.

Streambank restoration along the 2½-mile project site consisted of planting the riparian area, which had not supported vegetation for a century because of annual flooding from irrigation. To protect young seedlings from livestock, the areas were fenced until the vegetation could become established. Establishing this vegetation will contribute to the efforts to reduce stream temperature to levels that better support cold-water fish.

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The concrete apron of the diversion structure spanned the creek with a 2-foot outfall at summer flows. This barrier prevented fish from reaching 10 miles of stream habitat.




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Wet Meadow Restoration in the Upper Grande Ronde Basin:
Channel Restoration Brings Cooler Waters

Contact:

Mitch Wolgamott
Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Pendleton Office
700 SE Emigrant, Suite 330 Pendleton, OR 97801
541-975-2120

Primary Sources of Pollution:

  • grazing
  • channel modifications

Primary NPS Pollutants:

  • high stream temperature

Project Activities:

  • channel restoration to natural meandering
  • revegetate riparian areas

Results:

  • declining water temperature
  • increased riparian growth

The streams of the Grande Ronde Basin have historically provided a rich habitat for cold-water fish such as rainbow trout, salmon, summer steelhead, and bull trout. However, cold-water fish production has been declining since 1970 as a result of land use changes. Those changes have reduced riparian vegetation by 75 percent and simplified in-stream habitat through grazing practices and channel modifications. Stream temperatures have risen as riparian vegetation that once shaded the streams has been lost, and higher temperatures in the stream have resulted in reduced cold-water fish populations.

Restoring the channel to its natural pattern

In July 1997 the Oregon Department of Environment Quality used section 319 funds to divert a half-mile section of lower McCoy Creek from its channelized segment into the remnants of a historical meandering wet meadow channel. The stream was treated by stabilizing and revegetating riparian areas, restoring wet meadow conditions, and restoring old channels to allow the stream to meander naturally.

Dramatic results

Response within the newly restored channel section was quick and dramatic. Existing vegetation, particularly willows, grew quickly in the new riparian area. Beavers moved in and succeeded in building dams, which created several large, deep pools and numerous smaller pools for fish and waterfowl. Following the channel diversion in 1997, cooler temperatures were measured within the boundaries of the restored reach. Compared to the temperature of the water flowing into the restored section, maximum water temperatures measured in the middle of the reach were 3.0 ºC cooler in 1997 and 4.6 ºC cooler in 1998. In 1998 water temperature measured at the bottom of the reach was 0.9 ºC cooler than the temperature measured at the top.

Cooling within the restored section can be attributed to the lower gradient and the deeper, meandering channel, which allows more mixing with cool subsurface water. The shading of surface waters by riparian vegetation also contributes to cooler temperatures. Further protection from solar heating is provided by the increased depth and lower width-to-depth ratio in the river. Early results of cooler water temperatures within the restored section are encouraging.


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