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Project To Restore Valuable Juvenile Fish Rearing Habitat Along Methow River Begins This Summer
Posted on Friday, February 28, 2014 (PST)

Work will begin this summer on a $2.6 million project, known as the “1890s Side Channel Restoration Project”, to restore aquatic habitat conditions in a remnant side channel of the Methow River for the benefit of natural spawned spring chinook and steelhead. 


The Yakama Nation Fisheries’ Upper Columbia Habitat Restoration Project (UCHRP) will implement a salmon habitat restoration project along the Methow River just north of the town of Twisp in central Washington’s Okanogan County. Spring chinook salmon and steelhead that spawn and rear are listed under the Endangered Species Act. The Upper Columbia spring chinook are categorized as endangered; the Upper Columbia steelhead as threatened.


The target side channel was the main river channel of the Methow River in the 1890s. Since then human development including the creation of State Highway 20 and a large flood control levee have diminished the ability of the river to maintain aquatic habitat conditions within the 1890s side channel system.


“In the last century we’ve done an efficient job of obliterating complex side channel habitats in our western river systems in the name of transportation efficiency and flood control,” according Hans Smith, project habitat biologist for the tribe. “The Methow River between Twisp and Winthrop illustrates a classic case where floodplain development and extensive bank armoring for erosion control have greatly altered the river’s hydraulics and pushed the system away from creating and maintaining productive side channel habitats.


“The 1890s side channel is an optimal restoration location where valuable juvenile fish rearing habitat can be restored in a manner that is not in conflict with the other social and economic elements of the landscape,” Smith said. “It’s a great opportunity where salmon recovery money can produce win-win solutions in this region.”


The 1890s side channel project will occur almost exclusively on private property, most of which include nearby single family residences. Participating property owners are voluntarily allowing the Yakama Nation to restore the side channel habitat in their back yards.


The Yakama Nation’s restoration program in the Upper Columbia Region only works with volunteering landowners in pursuing the region’s Salmon Recovery Plan restoration agenda. One of the keys to this project’s success in gaining landowner participation is that the project will not increase or alter the conditions by which the river’s floods access and flow through the side channel.


“Essentially we are targeting the creation of low flow rearing habitat in the 1890s side channel that will be fed by thermal regulating groundwater sources,” Smith said. “We are not interested in bringing the river’s high flows back into this side channel through this project. Peak times of stress for juvenile fish rearing in their natal tributaries can occur when the river gets low and either really warm in the summer or really cold in the winter.


“Creating side channel aquatic habitats that gain significant groundwater input provides thermal refuges from the more adverse main channel low-flow conditions.”


Creating the ideal groundwater-fed, side-channel habitat relies on two key components for this project, the tribe says.


First, the side-channel bed elevation must be deepened to be in contact with the natural groundwater surface elevation. This component is completed by digging out the channel using large equipment like a 300 series excavator.


The second component is the installation of a groundwater infiltration gallery which uses horizontally buried slotted pipes and gravity (similar to a French drain) to collect shallow groundwater flows upstream of the side channel site and divert those flows into the side channel.


“We are in essence creating a spring fed creek in the 1890s side channel,” Smith said. Other components important to the project’s success include creating habitat complexity elements within the side channel system including riffle/run/pool sequences and submerged large wood structures where juvenile fish can hide out and feed as needed.


The project also includes wetland enhancements, extensive native plant restoration, and the disposal of excavated side channel material into an adjacent upland area where a working farm’s uneven pasture surface will be improved.


The total cost of the project, including engineering and design, environmental permitting, and construction comes to nearly $2.6 million dollars. The project will be funded by the Bonneville Power Administration through its agreement with the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation embodied in the 2008 Columbia Basin Fish Accords. BPA markets power generated at Federal Columbia River Power System dams in the Snake and Columbia river basins and funds fish and wildlife work as part of federal treaty obligations to the region’s tribes and as mitigation for dam impacts.


The Yakama Nation UCHRP is a tribal fisheries program dedicated to enacting salmon habitat restoration project along prime water courses in the Methow Valley through the year 2018 using BPA funding. All of  the projects are part of a 2007 Salmon Recovery Plan coordinated between the Upper Columbia Salmon Recovery Board, local jurisdictions, the state of Washington and federal agencies charged with mitigating for FCRPS fish impacts, as well as with other salmon recovery entities in the area.

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