Healthy watersheds contain expansive streamside forests and rivers and streams that flow freely. Healthy watersheds produce cool, clean water. And healthy watersheds accommodate the high flow events during storms and during snow melt by occupying side channels, streamside ponds, and low lying floodplain areas.
Decades of land and water management and development have constrained many of these characteristics through the Rogue River Watershed Council’s area.
Rogue River Watershed Council identifies conditions in and along streams that limit habitat quality for fish and wildlife and water quality. We identify solutions to current fish passage barriers through our active fish passage program. We reach out to landowners and land managers to discuss these limiting factors, answer questions, develop approaches to reduce or eliminate the impact, and implement restoration projects to address them.
Smith Myer Roper Fish Passage Improvement (implemented 2019)
The Smith-Myer-Roper (SMR) Diversion Dam on Ashland Creek, a tributary to Bear Creek, is a high priority fish passage barrier that causes an impediment to fish passage for both juvenile and adult migratory fish. Ashland Creek maintains cold water throughout the summer and provides essential cold-water rearing habitat as stream temperatures rise rapidly in the summer in Bear Creek. When water quality conditions in Bear Creek trigger upstream movement, juvenile Coho Salmon and steelhead need access to the cold-water refuge in Ashland Creek. By removing the SMR diversion dam, migrating fish will have better access to two miles of spawning and rearing habitat. Providing better passage also has less obvious benefits to fish. For example, under good passage conditions, fish use little energy trying to navigate obstacles. This saved energy can then be devoted to egg development, finding quality spawning habitat, and redd building – ultimately leading to higher reproductive success. Similarly, good passage conditions make fish less prone to injuries incurred from jumping at dams and falling back. Removal of the Smith-Myer-Roper Diversion Dam on Ashland Creek will improve fish populations in the Rogue River Watershed.
This win-win project will provide irrigation water for water rights holders as well as provide fish passage by installing a reprofiled stream channel or, roughened channel. A new concrete diversion intake system will also be installed to provide water users with their full water right. We intend to implement this project in late summer 2019.
Funding partners include: Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Resources Legacy Fund, City of Ashland, Patagonia, Schwemm Family Foundation, Oregon Wildlife Foundation, Rogue Basin Partnership, and Pacific Power Blue Sky Habitat Fund/The Freshwater Trust.
Salt Creek Fish Passage Improvement (implemented 2018)
Salt Creek is a substantial tributary to the upper reaches of the mainstem of Little Butte Creek (near the town of Lake Creek). Spring fed, Salt Creek maintains cold water temperatures throughout the summer months and provides over-summering habitat for both Coho Salmon and steelhead. Salt Creek is also used for irrigation during the summer by several landowners who install seasonal push-up dams to divert flow. These dams consist of river rock and gravel that is pushed into the creek at the beginning of each irrigation season. These push-up dams can impede passage for juvenile salmonids looking for a cool water refuge from the high summer stream temperatures in Little Butte Creek. Cool water (< 64°F) is a critical environmental factor in salmonid growth and survival, so access to these tributaries is vital.
Historically, nine diversion dams block roughly 5.5 miles of high-quality habitat. Two of these structures were removed in 2018 and five of the seven remaining structures are listed as high priority by the Oregon Department of Fish and. The Rogue River Watershed Council is working with two landowners to implement irrigation and fish passage improvement at four additional push up dams on Salt Creek.
Beeson-Robison Fish Passage Improvement (implemented 2017)
The Beeson-Robison dam is located on Wagner Creek, a tributary to Bear Creek, about 2 river miles upstream from the town of Talent. This high priority fish passage impediment limits passage for juvenile and adult steelhead and possible Coho salmon. The dam is a 5.5-foot barrier during irrigation season when boards are installed to raise the water elevation and a 3-foot impediment from November 1 to mid-April when the boards are removed. Upstream migrating fish are not able to migrate past this structure under most flow conditions. During the irrigation season, upstream passage for juvenile fish is completely blocked, preventing over summering fish from reaching the coolest water in the Wagner Creek system. Wagner Creek is primarily fed by snowmelt, resulting in relatively good water quality with sustained high flows into the spring, providing cool water to fish as temperatures in the valley begin to rise. The removal of the Beeson-Robison dam will provide access to 3 additional miles of upstream habitat.
In late summer 2017, the Rogue River Watershed Council removed the Beeson-Robison dam and replaced it with a re-profiled stream channel with a 5% gradient over 115 feet. This engineered stream channel design will result in 7 jump pools made up of large boulders and “engineered streambed material”, gravels and cobbles that are compacted by heavy equipment so that the water flows on top of the material and mimics the pool that is created behind the dam each irrigation season. A new concrete diversion headworks and gate was installed at the upstream end of the re-profiled stream channel to permit irrigation water diversion.
This project represents a strong collaboration between private landowners and water users, agencies, and non-profit organizations working towards a common goal – improving fish passage while meeting private land management goals.
Funding partners include: Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Jackson Soil & Water Conservation District, Middle Rogue Steelheaders, Pacific Power Blue Sky Habitat Fund/The Freshwater Trust, Patagonia, Resources Legacy Fund, Rogue Basin Partnership, Rogue Flyfishers, Schwemm Family Foundation, Southern Oregon Fly Fishers, Trout and Salmon Foundation, and WaterWatch of Oregon.
Elk Creek River Mile 5.6 (planned for 2020)
Forty years ago, the Army Corps of Engineers had planned on roughly four miles of Elk Creek to be reservoir bottom. But in 2008, the partially completed Elk Creek Dam was notched, making those stretches of Elk Creek immediately upstream of the former dam location a high priority for restoration. Because these stream reaches have been highly altered, there is plenty of restoration need.
A team of agencies and organizations, including Rogue River Watershed Council, developed over forty individual restoration actions along this stretch of Elk Creek. We plan to remove a ten-foot high berm at river mile 5.6, restore connection to adjacent side channel areas, and install large wood jams in these side channel areas during the summer of 2018 & 2019. The berm keeps the creek from reaching large expanses of floodplain during storm events. These floodplain areas are essential. They serve as fish habitat during storms and they allow fine sediment to drop out of the water column. The side channels and ponds that form on these floodplains are very important winter habitats for resident fish, young salmon, and young steelhead. Over time, water rushing over, through, and past log jams creates deep scour pools and accumulates large expanses of clean gravels.
Once this restoration project is implemented, we will develop more refined designs for the other actions identified in the Elk Creek Plan.
Sugarpine Creek (implemented 2016 & 2017)
Sugarpine Creek is a headwater tributary of Elk Creek (near the town of Trail). Coho Salmon, steelhead / Rainbow Trout, Cutthroat Trout, and even the occasional Chinook Salmon spawn in the creek and its tributaries, and much of Sugarpine remains cool enough through the summer for rearing Rainbow Trout (many of which will become steelhead), Cutthroat Trout, and juvenile Coho Salmon.
However, like many other streams in the Rogue Basin, Sugarpine Creek lacks large logs in the stream channel and, as a result, has “simplified” habitat conditions. These conditions include stream substrate dominated by large expanses of bedrock (instead of rocks and sands), relatively shallow depths (even in the “pools”, a relatively straight channel, and a channel that is “incised” or not in close connection with its floodplain. Some reaches of Sugarpine Creek also lack mature and wide streamside forests along their banks which can increase the amount of warming.
Rogue River Watershed Council worked cooperatively with a private landowner, Bureau of Land Management, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, US Forest Service, Blue Ridge Timber Cutting, and Plant Oregon to address the factors limiting native fishes in several reaches along the lower four miles of Sugarpine Creek by:
- removing blackberries and establishing a variety of native trees and shrubs along 1,500 feet of streambank to create shade;
- installing 13 log jams to accumulate gravels and sands (and eventually create deep pools in those sediments) to provide spawning gravels, holding habitat for large fish, and safe, rearing habitat for smaller fish and other native animals;
- stabilizing 300 feet of severely eroding cut bank in a side channel to limit fine sediments that smother fish eggs (the side channel should also provide spawning opportunities for steelhead, Cutthroat Trout, and Coho Salmon and off-channel refuge for trout and juvenile Coho Salmon during storms);
- fencing a mile of creek to limit livestock from grazing on streamside plants that will lead to greater shade and reduce streambank erosion.
The large rain events in early 2019 moved plenty of sediment around and created the sorts of conditions that could have eroded streambanks in the project area. The restored side channel came through these storms with flying colors, accumulating sands and gravels along the outside bend (instead of losing streambank) and many of the log jams on Sugarpine and Hawk Creeks backed water up during these storms allowing silt, sand, and gravel to drop out of the water column and accumulate both upstream of the jams and in places immediately downstream of the jams. Several other jams were re-arranged by the high flows but continue to provide habitat value to fish and other wildlife.
The native plantings are all establishing well thanks to the persistent watering and weeding of the private landowners and the Middle Rogue Steelheaders. Finally, the fence is definitely limiting cattle grazing on the streambank and grasses, forbes, shrubs, and young trees are establishing along this reach.
Jones Creek Fish Passage (implemented 2015 & 2016)
Over the past five years, Stream Restoration Alliance of the Middle Rogue has removed three fish passage barriers (see 2010 project, below), allowing migratory fish to reach much further up the creek than they had been able to in past years (Jones Creek Fish Monitoring).
During the summer of 2015, Rogue River Watershed Council removed a fourth barrier (an unused, eight-foot high, concrete dam) from the East Fork of Jones Creek.
The fifth barrier in the Jones Creek system is found at the Mina Lane crossing. During summer of 2015, Rogue River Watershed Council and a handful of volunteers waded through the poison oak to create a weir that forms a large pool at the downstream end of the road culvert. This weir backs water up to the downstream end of the culvert. In July of 2016, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife completed the project by installing baffles to make water deeper (and slower, particularly during storms). In concert, the weir and baffles allow migrating fish to be able to easily swim past the road crossing on their way upstream.
Evans Creek Fish Passage (implemented 2015)
During July, August, and early September of 2015, Rogue River Watershed Council managed the removal of two dams on Evans creek for Geos Institute. The Fielder and Wimer Dams were severe impediments to fall Chinook Salmon, Coho Salmon, summer and winter steelhead, and Pacific Lamprey since their construction over 80 years ago.
Both of these dams were listed by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife as among the top-10 most important fish passage barriers to address in Oregon. Excellent water quality and habitat quality, as well as the amount of habitat available, in upper Evans Creek, West Fork Evans Creek, and several of the smaller tributaries were the primary reasons for the state level priority.
Salmon, steelhead, Pacific Lamprey and other migratory fish can easily swim through the lower 10 miles of Evans Creek on their way to as much as 70 miles of habitat for the first time since the 1930’s. This easy access to such a large amount of cold, clear water will lead to healthier native fish populations.
Larson Creek Fish Passage Project (implemented 2014)
This project was designed to improve native fish passage at two locations on Larson Creek in Medford, Oregon. Construction took place at two culvert crossings owned by the City of Medford with two private landowners at each site. At the Ellendale Drive (RM 0.25) site, there was a 2.5” to 3” drop at the culvert exit and shallow sheet flow within the culvert which prevented adult and juvenile salmonid passage during most flows. At the Black Oak Drive (RM 0.5) site, the culvert had a ramped exit that created a hydraulic jump and shallow sheet flows within the culvert which prevented fish passage at most flows. The solution at both culverts was to construct an engineered riffle to eliminate the drop at the culvert exits and to provide baffling inside the culverts to provide adequate flow depth during low flows. This project provided access to more than three miles of spawning and rearing habitat for steelhead and 2 miles of spawning and rearing habitat for coho.
Jones Creek – Railroad Culvert (implemented 2010)
Jones Creek is the most important summer steelhead producing stream in the Middle Rogue subbasin. Fish passage had been impaired on Jones Creek by two undersized culverts that concentrated water flow and downcut the stream channel at the mouth of the culverts. This resulted in a 2-3 foot jump into a high velocity culvert, preventing all juvenile passage to upstream spawning and rearing grounds.
In the summer of 2010, we restored fish passage on Jones Creek by implementing a roughened channel design. We rebuilt the channel to its original grade using materials intended to stay in place, removed invasive plants, and planted native trees and shrubs. In the first year after project completion, counts of out migrating juveniles have shown a 800% increase in fish that have made it above the culverts in comparison with the previous 5 year average documented by ODFW.
Watch the video of the project!
West Branch Elk Creek Habitat Restoration (implemented 2010)
The project site is located on West Branch Elk Creek in the Upper Rogue sub-basin. Large wood tree lengths and logs were placed in jams within a 1 mile stretch of West Branch Elk Creek. Large wood jams are effective in slowing high winter stream flows and scouring pools for young salmon and steelhead.
The large wood jams have slowed the velocity of water during high flow events. This has led to an increase in the volume of spawning gravels that have dropped out during high flows and are stored in the project site. Slower water velocities during the winter have allowed the jams to capture considerable smaller wood pieces and offer niches within the wood complex where fish can take cover during a flood event. Pools have been created by water scour under the large biomass of the wood jams and these pools contain overhead cover and complex collections of branches and smaller wood pieces optimum for juvenile salmonid rearing.
Hawk Creek Habitat Enhancement (implemented 2004)
Hawk Creek is located in the Elk Creek watershed of the Upper Rogue sub-basin. Hawk Creek contains coho salmon, summer and winter steelhead and Cutthroat trout. Land use practices such as logging alongside streams and removal of woody material from the stream channel had resulted in degraded aquatic conditions by simplifying the stream channel, reducing spawning gravel, overwintering habitat and pools.
In 2004, ten structures composed of logs and boulders were placed in a 0.5 mile stretch of Hawk Creek and Elkhorn Creek to benefit fish habitat.
By improving these limited conditions, coho salmon and steelhead were observed using newly-recruited gravel in a section that had previously been all bedrock. Surface water that formerly ran in a shallow sheet over bedrock now runs through gravel and cobbles in many locations, reducing solar radiation on surface waters. Nooks and crannies in and around gravels, cobbles, boulders and wood jams provides aquatic insect habitat, a critical aspect of a healthy watershed.