It’s September in western Oregon and a helicopter whirrs overhead. A 32” diameter Douglas-Fir log is tethered from the helicopter’s underside with a heavy cable. On the ground below, a crew of workers are directing the swinging log’s placement into Rickreall Creek. But why all the effort to bring in helicopters to drop logs into a creek? Bounded on both sides by private and federal timber lands, this section of Rickreall Creek is part of a much bigger effort to improve water quality and recover the health and productivity of the entire Rickreall watershed.
We endeavor to create positive and practical change. There’s no better way to get to know us, and the people and places that inspire us to work hard for future generations, than learning about some of our on-the ground projects.
Guest Author, Marlies Wierenga, WildEarth Guardians
Sipping my Pallet Jack IPA at Barley Brown’s brewery on an early September evening, I didn’t put much thought into the primary ingredient of the beer – water. Me and my fellow brewery companions just enjoyed our beers. Having won many awards, Barley Brown is known for its beer. Located in historic Baker City, Oregon – locals and travelers converge to raise pints and swap stories.
It wasn’t until the next day, when I began listening to Michelle Owen and Jake Jones from the City of Baker City and Robert Macon and Kelby Witherspoon from the U.S. Forest Service describe the drinking water watershed that the connection was made in my head. Seems silly given that I was in Baker City as a member of the Drinking Water Providers Partnership. The partnership was formed to help restore and protect the health of watersheds which communities depend upon for drinking water while also benefiting aquatic and riparian ecosystems. One way we achieve this is through an annual grant program. In late 2015 Baker City applied for, and received, a grant to help purchase and install fencing in their ongoing effort to protect their drinking water source area. It’d seem obvious that I would consider water while drinking beer, but like most people, I often take clean water (and good beer) for granted.
The Gold Hill Irrigation District operates a diversion dam on the Rogue River near the town of Gold Hill. The diversion dam and canal, which supplies the community with irrigation water, had been virtually unchanged since 1916. Design flaws meant that many migratory fish were diverted along with the irrigation water, ending up in an irrigation canal where they were easy prey for bird and mammal predators.
In partnership with Freeways for Fish, the Gold Hill Irrigation District undertook a major upgrade and restoration project that improved safety for migrating fish at the site. Together, we
- Decreased the amount of water and the number of fish diverted out of the Rogue River without affecting the District’s water right
- Returned diverted fish to the Rogue River quickly by replacing an open ditch with a pipe, eliminating the risk of predation in the canal environment
- Removed a canal overflow area that attracted adult fish away from the Rogue River
Geos Institute recently completed landowner and water user agreements with 19 parties that will allow the replacement of a diversion structure on Wagner Creek near Talent, Oregon, with a structure that will allow fish of all size to pass quickly and safely. The existing structure is old, leaky, and nearly impossible for fish to migrate past during spring, summer, and fall months. Even during winter, water flows must be just right to permit adult fish to pass. Geos Institute is now working with Cascade Stream Services to design a structure that will allow the water users to continue diverting their water right while also allowing even small fish to swim past the site under all but the most extreme flow conditions.
The lower reaches of Little Butte Creek were once among the most important salmon producing tributaries in the Rogue Basin. Around 1950, however, much of meandering Little Butte Creek was straightened, with disastrous consequences for native fish. Freeways for Fish worked directly with the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, River Design Group, Inc., L & S Rock Products, Inc. and several other local partners to restore stream flow to one meandering reach of Little Butte Creek in the Denman Wildlife Area near Medford, Oregon.