MSRF Update - Recent Project Archive
What do fish do when it's eight below?
Winter in the Methow Valley can feel pretty bleak. Short days and deep valleys often drop local temperatures far below freezing. Lakes and rivers freeze over. Beneath the ice, however, life continues.
Spring Chinook salmon and bull trout eggs develop in redds (spawning beds) formed last fall by their returning parents. Juvenile salmon and steelhead that emerged last year remain in the river, feeding on algae, smaller fish, and insects. Adult mountain whitefish migrate upstream to spawn well into the winter. Some fish seek out the warmth of groundwater seeps, which can hold back the ice with temperatures 20-30° F higher than the rest of the river. Other fish bury themselves in cobbles or wood jams to conserve energy. Their cold-blooded metabolisms slow in the frigid water, slowing their growth and movement, but also decreasing their need for food.
In a few short months, spring Chinook and bull trout will emerge as the ice begins to break up. As the ice makes its way downstream, it re-sculpts the habitat for the new year, scouring channels and exposing clean gravel for the next generation of fish to spawn in. Ice dams force ice and water out of the main channel to scour side channels and floodplains. Restoring floodplain areas where levees and dikes aren’t required ensures that the spring flood surge has somewhere to go that’s not a street or basement, and takes pressure off the dikes and levees that protect homes and businesses.
Ice Dams and the Floodplain
Photo by Steven Foreman
Warming temperatures in the Methow Valley in early 2016 resulted in a dramatic ice flow on the Twisp River just upstream from the town of Twisp. This is not an uncommon thing to happen in winter, but the ice flow raised concerns of ice dams and flooding in nearby residential areas.
Riverbanks constrained by dikes and levees can form choke points where ice and debris can lodge and block up the river. Because the dikes and levees prevent water from simply going around a blockage, the water backs up and often causes flooding upstream. When the dam blows out, the water and debris can flood or wash out areas downstream and threaten bridges. In constrained sections of the river, small blockages can cause potentially dangerous flooding in much the same way that a narrow roof gutter overflows when blocked by a clump of leaves.
More-natural floodplain sites like MSRF's Twisp Ponds site serve as a sort of safety valve for the river, a place where the river can spread out beyond its normal banks without hurting anything. Over the past decade, MSRF has removed several small levees at the Twisp Ponds (just upstream of the town of Twisp) to restore its function as floodplain. If a dam forms downstream from the site, backed up water can run out onto the land here without threatening other properties. This also reduces the volume of water that could rush downstream when the dam fails. If a dam fails upstream, floodplain sites like the Twisp Ponds can absorb some of that surge, again reducing its destructive effect on sites downstream. The sloping banks of an unrestrained river floodplain are also less likely to form dams in the first place.
The recent ice flow passed without human intervention or damage to structures. While maintaining levees and dikes is necessary in some places for the protection of existing homes, roads, and utilities, flood control also relies on the preservation and restoration of floodplain where flooding can be managed.
Floodplain habitat is also home to many species of plants and animals, and is very important to the life cycle of salmon and other local fish.
Photo of Chinook Salmon by John Crandall
Testing the Design at the Thurlow Diversion
The Thurlow Diversion, the lowest and oldest irrigation diversion on Beaver Creek, has been a challenge to fisheries management for many years. The diversion is supported by a concrete diversion dam that was constructed in a relatively steep section of the creek, and the combination of the creek’s fast water and the dam’s height blocked fish passage during much of the year. The fast water also frustrated efforts to create sustainable fish passage over the dam. At least four prior fish restoration projects on the site washed out within 3-4 years of their completion.
The original channel
Early this fall, MSRF worked with the Bureau of Reclamation and the Washington Department of Wildlife to develop a more durable approach. The new design called for a series of pool-and-drop structures over the two hundred feet of creek bed below the dam, creating what’s called a roughened-channel streambed. This approach has worked well on the Chewuch River below both the Fulton and the Chewuch dams, which MSRF completed with BOR between 2006 and 2009. Work on the Thurlow channel was completed in August and September of 2014 by Boulder Creek Contracting of Winthrop, with revegetation of disturbed riparian areas completed by Methow Natives. The finished channel features a series of natural-looking pools and riffles engineered to allow fish to swim from one pool to the next, not unlike a fish ladder. Sediment that naturally collects in the pools is expected to flush out each year during high water.
The revised channel
Shortly after this project’s completion, sediment from the fire-ravaged headwaters of Frazer and Beaver Creeks completely filled each of the constructed pools, obscuring the structure of the engineered channel. Modeling completed by the Burned Area Emergency Response Team estimates that sediment transport through Beaver Creek may reach more than 1700% of normal levels during the next several years until the headwaters begin to revegetate. The sediment that filled the pool structures has already started to wash through, and due to the project’s self-scouring design, we expect high water to flush the remainder out in the spring. MSRF will continue to monitor the creek below the Thurlow diversion to make certain that our project design functions better than those before it in spite of the worst creek conditions in recent history.
Projects Completed Last Fall: 3R
The work completed during the summer of 2014 at the 3R project site on the Methow River was identified by MSRF and the Bureau of Reclamation nearly seven years earlier based on the presence of cold water flowing into the Methow from a series of off-channel pools. These cold groundwater seeps can provide refuge habitat for juvenile salmon and other species. Historically, this cold water was also valuable for agricultural uses. The isolated refrigerator-like pools are thought to be the remnants of chilling ponds built when the property was home to a dairy.
The source of the cold water is probably Thompson Creek, which historically flowed through the property to the Methow River. Although the surface flows of the creek were diverted into the Foghorn irrigation ditch many decades ago, cold water still flows underground and seeps into the side channel alcove at the site.
The primary objectives of the 3R project were to restore seasonal access for salmon to the cold water alcove and side channel areas and to construct three engineered logjams to provide additional near-shore refuge habitat in the main channel of the Methow River. To anchor these jams into the riverbed with the minimum impact to the river, MSRF contracted with Palm Construction of Winthrop to drive wood piles with their new vibratory pile driver. This tool allowed them to drive the piles into the riverbed more quickly and with less environmental impact than the conventional method of digging them in with an excavator.
The restoration work at the 3R site continues a tradition of balancing environmental protection and agricultural use. The privately-owned property remains in use as active farmland with long-term environmental protections guaranteed by a Conservation Easement donated to the Methow Conservancy. MSRF worked closely with both the property owners and the Conservancy to craft a restoration approach that would be consistent with their goals and a monitoring plan to ensure that these goals continue to be met.
MSRF also worked with the landowners to expand riparian plantings along the Methow River in areas that had historically been cleared, improving the function of riparian forest and increasing shade cover for fish in the project area. Maintenance and monitoring of the revegetated areas is under the care of Camden Shaw of Plantas Nativa, who has been working on this project site for nearly a decade to restore a healthy riparian plant community. Funding for a portion of these riparian plantings as well as the on-going maintenance (critical for plant growth and survival) is provided by the Washington Department of Ecology. MSRF is pleased to work in partnership with Ecology on this and other projects that strive to improve water quality conditions in the Methow watershed.
An early indication of the project’s success occurred just two days after project completion in October, when John Crandall observed Chinook and Coho salmon spawning and holding in the newly-completed wood structures during post-construction snorkel surveys.
Just as logjams provide habitat for fish, standing dead trees provide habitat for nesting birds. Snag trees along the Methow River are a common site in mature cottonwood forests but were largely missing from the 3R site. Several mature trees at the site were toppled by a windstorm at the beginning of the restoration project. Working with the landowner, MSRF “re-planted” this 60-70’ dead conifer to provide habitat for osprey, eagles, and other species.
Our continuing monitoring of this site will include examining fish use of the wood structures and continuing our PIT tag monitoring in the side channel.
Emergency Construction on Frazer Creek
For the past month, MSRF has been working with landowners on Frazer Creek to replace culverts damaged and/or buried by the debris flows that followed the Carlton Complex fires this summer. The project will replace the undersized culverts in the vicinity of the WSDOT road repairs completed on Highway 20 with free-spanning bridges ranging from 40 to 70 feet in length.
Despite the cold weather and early snow, Hurst Construction of Wenatchee has installed the first five bridges on schedule. Construction of the sixth bridge will begin next week.
The severity and scale of the fires in the uplands that drain into Frazer and Beaver Creeks has left the land stripped of vegetation and unable to retain heavy rain.
In the flooding following the fires, creek culverts that had been adequate for many years quickly filled beyond their capacity with debris and mud. With the creek blocked, water and debris flooded out of the creek bed and caused extensive damage to Highway 20 and to surrounding homes and property.
The increased runoff into these creeks is predicted to yield elevated spring flows and more debris for the next several years until surrounding vegetation begins to regrow. Modeling of expected flows completed by the Burn Area Emergency Response team predicts that flows may be increased by as much as 1,000 percent during this period, well beyond the capacity of a three-foot-diameter round culvert. The new bridges will restore safe access for the affected landowners, protect Highway 20 and adjacent properties from repeated flooding, and improve fish passage throughout the lower four miles of Frazer Creek.
Funding for the Frazer Creek bridges has been provided by the Washington Recreation and Conservation Office, the Washington Department of Transportation, and the Washington Department of Natural Resources Family Forest Fish Passage Program. We are also working with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation Habitat Program to install a sixth bridge, which will replace two undersized culverts on Beaver Creek just downstream of its confluence with Frazer Creek.
The long-term impact of the fires and floods on native and anadromous fish is not fully known at this time. MSRF has been monitoring fish populations in Beaver Creek in late October of each of the past three years. After the fires and the flooding, the average number of fish caught and released in the half-mile area surveyed was reduced from roughly 400 individuals to only 4. While these numbers look bleak, a similar population crash in the Chewuch River followed the 20- and 30-Mile fires, but fish sampling in subsequent years showed recolonization exceeding pre-fire numbers. We hope to see similar results in our future surveys of Beaver and Frazer Creeks.
Cleanup Wraps Up on the Methow River
The 2014 cleanup of flood debris from the Methow River has drawn to a close. MSRF would like to thank the Department of Natural Resources for supporting the cleanup effort by paying for disposal costs and coordinating volunteers, the Department of Ecology for providing two crews through the Conservation Corps, and the local river guides, landowners, and 100+ volunteers who helped to make this cleanup possible.
In all, the cleanup effort brought more than 27,000 lbs of debris to Wastewise, with an additional several thousand pounds of scrap metal taken to Cascade Concrete for recycling. Les Schwab received more than 30 tires.
Cleanup will resume in the spring, as high flows will likely expose more debris currently hidden under mud. Several larger items believed to be in the river (including a pickup truck) have not been found. If you discover something large, sharp, or potentially hazardous in the river, please contact Tara Gregg at (509) 429-5999 or Jessica Goldberg at 997-0028, Ext 4.
Fire Season in the Methow
Reed Canary grass sprouts on the burned banks of Beaver Creek
Fire is not an uncommon occurrence in the Methow. Because native plant species have adapted to the cycle of growth and fire, healthy riparian areas usually recover without human intervention. Burned trees with live roots will send up new shoots soon after the fire. Seeds for new trees are also released by the heat. Tree snags and burned brush continue to serve as habitat for birds, insects, and other plants until live vegetation takes their place. While the loss of shade warms creek water, the lack of vegetation to suck the water up leaves more water in the creeks to support fish during the low water period of late summer. Even post-fire landslides can be beneficial, as they add nutrients, gravel, and woody debris to the water. So, even though these watersheds may appear devastated, they will often grow back stronger than they were before if left alone.
New leaves sprout from a burned-out stump near Beaver Creek.
When Action is Needed
Grazed and cleared watersheds that lack established trees and other native vegetation tend to recover more slowly after fire. This delay gives weed species the chance to move in quickly. Weeds like Canada thistle and reed canary form extensive root systems that, while helpful in holding the banks against erosion, choke out growth of slower-growing shrubs and trees necessary to provide shade over the water. Replanting in these areas is often necessary to avoid significant infestation by weedy plants.
Watersheds replanted recently (less than about six years ago) may also lack the resiliency to bounce back from a fire event. Many of our recently completed revegetation work along Beaver Creek that burned in the Carlton Complex fire did not have adequate roots established to send up new sprouts. This is especially evident when comparing re-sprout in adjacent areas of better-established native plantings.
MSRF is working with the Okanogan Conservation District and our local partners to identify where interim treatments may be needed to reduce sediment to the creek and address risk of bank failure at several sites between Highway 20 and Balky Hill Road. By monitoring these treatments, and efforts by other landowners in the Beaver Creek Drainage, we can refine our approach to future fire recovery. For more information, or to request assistance with your property, please call Chris Johnson at MSRF (429-1232) or Kirsten Cook at OCD (422-0855 Ext 100).
MSRF has also requested a small amount of funding to assist private landowners with initial assessment and treatment of burned areas Frazier Creek, a tributary of Beaver Creek which was particularly hard-hit by the fire. To secure funding for more intensive fire restoration, MSRF and our partners will need accurate information on the extent of damage and the type of vegetation in place before the fire.
If you own property along Upper Beaver Creek or Frazier Creek that suffered fire damage to the plantings along the creek or in steep slope areas, please contact either MSRF or OCD staff to schedule a site evaluation.
Proper response following a fire is important. Before working in fire-damaged riparian areas, please consult:
|Methow Conservancy||Stewardship Assistance||Heidi Anderson||996-2870|
|Methow Salmon Recovery Foundation||Landowner Assistance||
997-0028 Ext 4
|Methow Natives||Native Plant Resources||Rob Crandall||341-4060|
|Natural Resource Conservation Service||Technical Assistance||Sarah Troutman-Zahn||422-2750|
|Okanogan Conservation District||Technical Assistance||Kirsten Cook||422-0855 Ext 100|
|Plantas Nativa||Native Plant Resources||Camden Shaw||
MSRF Past Project Updates
Despite the best planning, engineering, and construction methods, projects don’t always work as expected. One of the things that separates successful projects from failed ones is continued monitoring, maintenance, and adjustment as necessary. We monitor each project we construct for a minimum of three years. By monitoring how our projects are affected by river flows, we are able to make adjustments to ensure that projects function as designed. Here are a few of our previous projects and how they’re doing.
Upper Beaver Creek
Last year, MSRF and our partners (US Fish and Wildlife, Wells PUD Tributary Fund, and the Bureau of Reclamation) relocated upper Beaver Creek from a roadside ditch into a more naturally-shaped channel nearby. The project also included reconstruction of the Batie irrigation diversion in the new channel. The new channel allows the creek to spread onto the floodplain during high water. This gives fish more places to feed and hide, introduces organic material from the banks into the creek ecosystem, and slows the water, which reduces strain on fish. The slower water drops sediment, which keeps it out of the irrigation diversion.
The new irrigation diversion is working well, and the stream is settling into its new channel. We will continue to monitor this project in the coming years to ensure that it meets the needs of irrigators and fish.
M2: Whitefish Island
Our Whitefish Island project, which reconnected the side channel to the river, has just gone through its second high water after construction. This spring, WDFW found two steelhead redds (spawning beds) in the side channel. All of our engineered logjams remain stable, and we continue to see fish using the cover and slow water around the wood.
Last year, MSRF completed a number of adjustments to the initial construction to increase opportunities for fish rearing as well as public access and education opportunities at the Whitefish Island site. The site is available for public use and we encourage public exploration of the project site later in June after high waters have receded.
M2: WDFW (Old Twisp Highway)
Last year’s project on Old Twisp Highway was designed to restore floodplain function over a sixty acre site. Project elements included removal of a levee constructed in the 70s to protect former agricultural lands and reestablishing flows to an off-channel wetland pond known locally as Plummer’s Pond. During high spring flows, the level of the pond fluctuates with the level of the river; the pond level will drop again when the river calms down in the fall. During high water, juvenile fish seek out off-channel habitat like Plummer’s Pond for slower water and abundant food. As flows drop, fish will leave the pond for cooler water in the main channel and the groundwater-fed pools elsewhere in the wetland. Prior to the project, the off-channel pond was not accessible to fish from the river except during the highest flood flows. Although the pond received inflow from groundwater, culverts under the Old Twisp Highway were not installed to allow rearer flow into the pond, but served as an overflow to prevent damage to the roadway. MSRF removed the undersized culverts and installed two significantly larger arch culverts, allowing for a more natural stream connection. The upper channel is designed to connect only during flood flows, but the lower channel remains connected throughout the spring high flow period. Water flowed through these channels this spring, during moderate high water.
This winter was especially hard on plantings, as extended cold occurred with very little protective snow cover. The cold claimed a few of our plantings, but survival is still well above the permit requirements. We will continue to maintain surviving plants and replace plants lost over the next few years to ensure that the site’s vegetation establishes itself well enough to thrive on its own.
Work on Old Twisp Highway also included increasing the complexity of the side channel through the placement of engineered log jams. If the bed of the river is flat, smooth, and flowing at the same speed, the fish have nowhere to feed or hide. Log jams and other structures in the river support habitat formation through varied flows and depths. Our wood structures appear to be creating nicely varied flow rates, which should help sculpt the channel to create a variety of different depths for fish to rear in year-round.
MRSF’s John Crandall took this video of in the mouth of the south channel:
Fish love cover!
The Twisp Ponds is one of four semi-natural sites where the Yakama Nation acclimates juvenile Coho salmon from northwest hatcheries before releasing them into the river. These young salmon are small and vulnerable. The trees surrounding the lowest pond at the Twisp site, where these Coho are reared, have not yet grown to the point where they provide cover for fish, making the Coho easy picking for mergansers and other predators. The lack of shade in the ponds also stresses the fish, slowing their growth.
To increase shade and reduce predation at hatcheries, raceways and rearing areas are often fully covered with netting. This approach isn’t possible at the large and irregularly shaped Ponds site. To provide increased cover for the short term, we’ve installed four floating cover rafts.
MRC Monitoring Coordinator John Crandall, Independent Learning Center (Liberty Bell) Biology teacher Sara Mounsey, and several of Sara’s 9th-12th grade students assembled these structures from PVC pipe donated by the Omak Home Depot. These structures float on the surface of the ponds and are held away from the shore by ropes. Dead grass and branches gathered from the site fill in the frames to provide shade under the structures.
Students build rafts in the Discovery Center.
MRC Monitoring Coordinator John Crandall supervises the launch of a cover raft.
To secure the rafts, the students used ropes, which they threw across the ponds and tied up. When one of the ropes didn’t cooperate, two students jumped in to get the job done. They report that the water is very cold!
So, how are the fish doing?
While the students built rafts, Rick Alford (program lead for the Methow Component of the Mid-Columbia Coho Reintroduction Program by the Yakama Nation) and his crew sampled the Coho population to measure their growth and health. The crew caught the salmon with weighted nets, carried them out in buckets, and measured their weight and length before releasing them back into the ponds. (Because of their small size, juvenile fish weight is recorded in fish/lb; fish are typically introduced at 22-25 fish/lb.) This monitoring is completed weekly by the Yakama crew to track the Cohos’ development and time their release into the Twisp River.
Rick Alford explains the salmon holding tank to the Liberty Bell students. A small pump keeps water flowing through the tank to provide the fish with oxygen.
The fish are considered ready to release when 90% of them have grown into smolts or are transitional (almost smolt), and when the weight of the fish is up to 15-16 fish/lb. Monitoring on April 29 (the day of the raft building) showed 17 fish/lb. Today’s monitoring (May 12) showed 15 fish/lb, so release is scheduled for tonight. The screen that’s confined the fish to the rearing pond will be opened halfway, and Rick and his crew will monitor over the next couple of weeks as the Coho migrate out into the main channel.
A captured Coho is measured.
In the six years of this partnership, we’ve seen an increase in Coho distribution throughout the Twisp river and an increase in adults returning to spawn. We’re excited to see what effect the new cover rafts have on return numbers.
Thanks again to the Yakama Nation for making this possible, to the Independent Learning Center students for their work on the rafts, and to the Omak Home Depot for their generous donation of construction materials.
For more information on the reintroduction of Coho to the Methow, visit yakamafish-NSN.gov.Whitefish Island Time Lapse
This time-lapse video shows construction at our Whitefish Island project and illustrates the changes we made to the habitat.
Looking Back on 2013: Finished Construction
Construction has wrapped up in this year’s project areas. Our projects this year included reconnecting the Methow River to its historic floodplain along Old Twisp Highway, building more than 20 log jams in the side channel near the old MVID Methow River dam, and relocating a section of upper Beaver Creek from a roadside ditch to a re-created channel in its original floodplain.
Each project was designed primarily to restore habitat for native fish species, but great care was also taken in design and construction to make certain that these projects would also meet the needs of landowners and irrigators. At our upper Beaver Creek project, relocating the creek required us to rebuild the Batie diversion, intake, fish screen and about 700 feet of the irrigation ditch. This investment ensures that the irrigators will have continued reliable access to needed water, and allowed us to restore more than 2000 feet of the creek to a more natural alignment that will improve steelhead and salmon passage and survival.
While initial observations suggest that projects like Beaver Creek will benefit steelhead and salmon, the only way to know if our projects succeed over time is through careful monitoring. Our primary monitoring tool is to survey the number of fish in the project area before and after construction, but we also check for bank erosion, channel changes, vegetation response, and potential impacts to surrounding properties.
To ensure that the upper Beaver Creek project is successful, MSRF will monitor how the new channel changes over the next several years, how fish population in the creek change, and how well the new irrigation structures serve the irrigators.
It’s been a year since we finished the habitat project at Whitefish Island, and we’ve already observed a 5-7x increase in fish use in the reworked habitat. While we expect to see similar gains at this year’s projects along Old Twisp Highway, the real measure of success at both sites won’t be known for several more years. For this reason, MSRF will bw working closely with Washington Fish and Wildlife and USGS to comppare monitoring data for at least three more years at each site. This level of sustained monitoring at past project sites will allow us to refine our projects to focus on what has been proven to work, and adjust what hasn’t.
MSRF would like to thank the landowners, agencies, and contractors who worked with us this year for making our 2013 projects possible.
In the new year, we will continue to work with our parners to expand restoration efforts within the M2 reach (the Methow river between Twisp and Winthrop). We’re also gearing up for several larger habitat projects on the Twisp River.
If you have questions about past projects or would like additional information on planned efforts, please contact Brian Fisher at (509) 997-0028 or Chris Johnson at (509) 429-1232.
What do fish do in the winter?
Though the river looks inhospitable in the winter, with its frigid water and thick ice, fish activity continues. Juvenile salmon and steelhead that emerged last year remain in the river during the winter. Because these fish are exothermic (their body temperature is the same as that of the water around them), and because their food species are scarce, their metabolisms slow significantly during the winter months. They do continue to feed on algae, smaller fish, and insects, sometimes surfacing on cloudy days to eat hatching midges and stoneflies. Some fish seek out pockets of warmer water where groundwater seeps into the river, or conserve energy by burying themselves in cobbles or wood jams.
Not all fish slow down. Adult mountain whitefish, a close cousin to trout, remain active, migrating to spawn well into the winter. Spring Chinook salmon and bull trout eggs, laid last fall, continue to develop in gravel spawning nests (called redds) below the ice. They’ll hatch in the spring, triggered by warming water temperatures and longer periods of daylight.
Surveying fish populations in the winter is challenging, partly because much of the water is covered, and partly because the fish are so cold that they don’t move around much.
A small midge walks along the ice near Whitefish Island.
The ice itself is a powerful force in changing river habitats. Ice dams push ice and water into backwaters and floodplain areas. Moving ice scours existing channels and creates entirely new ones. During next year’s high water, fish will use the new habitats sculpted by this winter’s ice.
Log Jams and High Water
Work in the side channel is wrapping up. More than 300 pieces of wood have been placed to create a series of wood jams that will increase complexity and available pool habitat in the side channel. The temporary haul roads are gone, channel sculpting is underway, and re-watering will begin over the next several weeks.
To get to this point, BCI has worked steadily to construct a mixture of mid-channel and bank-anchored log structures throughout the length of the side channel.
Constructing Logjams in the Side Channel near Old Twisp Highway (August 8)
To ensure that these structures are well anchored, the contractors must excavate 10-14 feet deep. While this is necessary to ensure the structure's stability, it does result in significant short-term disturbance at the site.
Digging in a logjam – what you see above ground is less than half of the structure.
One of the most important aspects of working in a river is keeping the river out of the work site. This is done primarily with temporary coffer dams, which must be tailored to expected river heights and constructed within a narrow time frame to avoid impact to migrating fish.
Construction of the Coffer Dams
On the weekend of September 8, the Methow Valley experienced an unusually heavy rainstorm which nearly tripled flows in the Methow River. The forecast of the storm allowed us to prepare for the resulting high water. BCI worked closely with MSRF and permit agencies to prepare for the increased flows by shoring up the coffer dams within existing permits. These efforts successfully protected the work site from high water. MSRF thanks BCI for their quick response, efforts to coordinate, and effective mitigation of what could otherwise have caused major problems.
Shoring Up the Coffer Dams for High Water
With water receding, MSRF and BCI are preparing for work within the main channel of the Methow River. This work will include removal the historic levee that has constrained the river for more than 40 years and construction of three large wood structures in its place. These structures will help restore the natural channel width. For those interested, progress at the project site can be viewed easily from Evans Road near the smokejumper base. We expect that in-water work will be completed in 5-6 weeks. The work area is already fully isolated from returning salmon, which will be able to swim past the site without disruption.
WDFW recieved a letter from a concerned valley resident questioning whether adequate protections had been taken for the high water event. Because the letter did not include contact information, MSRF cannot respond directly. We can however provide assurances here that MSRF and BCI continue to work closely with the regulatory community to develop and implement this project. We meet on-site at least weekly with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to review construction methods and practices. The work leading up to high water was completed in full coordination with WDFW. If you have questions or concerns about what you see, please contact MSRF directly 997-0028 ex. 4, or you can contact the local Fish and Wildlife biologist Lynda Hofmann at 997-9428. We would be happy to share information about the care taken in the development and implementation of this project.
Culverts under Old Twisp Highway
Old Twisp Highway reopened to through traffic (August 26)
Both culverts are now in place, and Old Twisp Highway is open again. The new culverts connect the wetland pond beside the highway to the river during high flow, giving juvenile fish a refuge from the fast water. During last week’s rainstorm, rising river levels activated the south culvert, connecting the pond to the river for the first time since construction. The newly restored channel functions as we had hoped. Boulder Creek Contracting of Winthrop, WA completed the project within the work period and on budget.
Boulder Creek Contracting Placing a Culvert (August 8)
The Culvert Installed
While the clear area through the culverts looks relatively small, together they provide more than fifty times the passage area of the single 18” culvert they replace. The slower movement of water through these wider culverts simulates a stream, allowing easier access for fish. (The old culvert functioned like a drain from the pond and did not provide any upstream fish passage.) The lowered culverts will extend the period of active connection between the wetland and the pond from a few weeks to the majority of the time when salmon need access to off-channel areas.
A Methow Natives employee replants native vegetation in one of the flow channels.
Over the next year, we will focus our work on planting new vegetation along the new connecting channels and restoring vegetation to other areas impacted by construction. The roots from this vegetation will help control erosion and the canopy created by the mature plants will provide cover from predators and help keep the water cool. Seasonal flooding in the new channels will ensure that these new plantings survive.
WFI: One Year Later
Prior to construction, receding flows isolated the Whitefish Island side channel from the main stem of the Methow River by early September. Each year when this occurred fish stranded in the isolated ponds died of high temperatures and oxygen depletion. One year after construction, the side channel has maintained active flows, connecting all previously isolated ponds. Placed wood now provides cover and shade. As a result, an abundance of juvenile salmon and resident fish have been observed in each of the side channel pool areas. (Click here for underwater video from Whitefish Island.)
While water levels may look low in the channel, they remain high enough to circulate water through the remaining pools, preventing over-warming and oxygen depletion. Increased flow in the side channel as a result of this project reduces the number of fish stranded by seasonally low water levels and aids the survival of those remaining. Even the ponds that appear isolated are oxygenated by increased subsurface flow (water flowing below ground level) in the channel.
Monitoring will continue throughout the season to document fish health and abundance. Work planned for fall of 2013 will focus on final restoration of the vehicle entrance to the site and will include interpretive signage and a formal trail entry. MSRF will continue to install additional riparian plants and monitor fish health at the site over the next several years in partnership with USGS.
In October of 2013, MSRF and USGS will install PIT (Passive Interrogation Tag) readers at the inlet and outlet of the side channel to help monitor fish usage. These readers consist of paired rows of 3” conduit laid across the surface of the channel to monitor fish without handling or impeding them. Although the conduit is designed to withstand impacts from river flows, it can be damaged by boaters or other recreational users of the river. These devices are important to our ability to monitor the success of the project. If you observe damage to these devices or have questions, please contact MSRF directly 997-0028 ex. 4.
Twisp Ponds Snorkeled
When MSRF aquired the Twisp Ponds site, a flood levee separated the existing ponds from the Twisp River. In 2001, MSRF reconnected these ponds to the river to provide year-round habitat for a variety of resident and endangered fish species. For six weeks in early spring, MSRF and the Yakama Nation use the lowest set of ponds as an acclimation facility for juvenile Coho salmon before releasing them into the Twisp River. Coho acclimated at the Ponds show a much higher return rate than non-acclimated Coho released directly into the river.
The remaining ponds are available year round as rearing, resting and spawning habitat for resident and migratory fish.
John Crandall snorkeled the site this month and found Coho and Chinook salmon, Rainbow trout, and the first Bull trout recorded at the site.
Progress on Old Twisp Highway
Work is progressing on Old Twisp Highway. The north culvert is now in place, and Boulder Creek Contracting expects to have the south culvert complete around the end of the month. The new channel between the south culvert and the river has been excavated and will be replanted by Methow Natives over the next few weeks. The contractor has also placed a small sand bag coffer dam to isolate the wetland pond to the west of the road from the excavation pit for the south culvert. The local USGS crew has relocated fish, frogs, and tadpoles from the construction area.
Once both culverts are installed, the coffer dam will be removed to allow flow into the new south channel, the county road will be patched and paved, and new guardrails will be installed.
Our nearby river work began July 8 when BCI Construction installed a sand bag coffer dam (pictured above) to isolate the side channel from the main river flow. This temporary dam allows us to bring heavy equipment into the side channel to complete the restoration project. Fish biologists from MSRF, USGS, and the Yakama Nation worked closely with the BCI to rescue and relocate approximately a hundred salmon fry, over a thousand sculpin, and a handful of long-nosed dace, lampreys, whitefish fry, and juvenile bridgelip suckers from the dammed-off side channel over a six-day period.
USGS staff assist in de-fishing
BCI completed the first logjam structure in the side channel on July 16 and completed the second and third structures by July 23. They will construct another 17 structures over the next several weeks.
Construction on Old Twisp Highway (WDFW)
Boulder Creek Contracting is currently at work digging two new culverts into Old Twisp Highway. The south culvert will connect the river to the pond’s inlet, allowing fish passage into and out of this important off-channel habitat. The north culvert will convey any overrun from the pond to the floodplain across the road, which is currently filled by groundwater only. The single existing culvert is small and placed too high to allow fish passage between the pond and the river; the new culverts will be much lower, much wider (one 14’, one 19’), and filled partially with river rock to simulate creek bed. Put simply, these culverts replace a single length of drain pipe with two small bridges over creeks.
This work is styled after our work at Poorman Creek, where replacing a small and impassible culvert with a wide creek-level culvert has opened the upper reaches of the creek to salmon.
While Boulder Creek Contracting installs the culverts, further construction will begin on the river bank. This section of the river has been substantially altered over the last fifty years for irrigation and flood control. Like many areas of the Methow, a levee was built here in the ‘70s to protect agricultural fields from flooding. The fields it was built to protect are no longer in use. While the levee protects the land, it creates a hard edge against which the river scours.
Starting the eighth of this July, BCI Construction out of Portland, Oregon will remove the levee and place 21 log structures similar to the structures we placed at Whitefish Island last year. Removal of the levee allows the river to rebuild its bank and assume a more natural pattern of flow. When construction is complete, Methow Natives will plant roughly five thousand native-species plants in the affected area. Replanting the area formerly covered by the levee will slow the water, causing it to drop more sediment into the scoured areas. As the bank fills in, the middle of the river will become deeper. Fish will benefit from the resulting lower water temperatures, and the higher water levels and changing currents will aid the operation of the Methow Valley Irrigation District’s diversion on the opposite bank. The project will take 12-16 weeks.
This project as a whole will increase over-winter survival and provide a greater variety of complex habitat to support growing juvenile fish. Boaters should be aware that construction will restrict access to the river in this location. The side channel will be closed to recreation during this project. We expect to reopen Old Twisp Highway by the end of July. For more information, contact Mike Notaro at (509) 429-2939 or Jessica Goldberg at (509) 997-0028, extension 4.
River flows on the Methow river peaked at a little over 11,000 cfs over the last few weeks, providing the first opportunity to see how the wood structures built last year at Whitefish Island and the River Mile 46 project (across the river from the WDFW Floodplain project area) functioned during elevated flows. The structures appear stable and are functioning well. Juvenile salmon are resting and hanging out in the quieter water behind each of the larger structures.
As flow drops over the next few weeks we will re-assess the structures to track any changes and their effects on the channels.
Monitoring Past Projects
2012 M2 Construction Areas
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Monitoring Coordinator John Crandall completed a snorkel survey in the side channel of MSRF’s Whitefish Island project this past year and found that the habitat is already in use by a mix of salmon species. The Whitefish project is one of a series of projects proposed for construction in the Middle Methow by MSRF over the next several years. The next project will be built at the WDFW Floodplain site (near the Twisp Airport) this summer to reconnect the river with more than 40 acres of isolated floodplain habitat and improve in-stream conditions in 1700 feet of degraded side channel. For more information, click here.
MSRF has worked with local and regional biologists for more than a decade to develop restoration projects that balance the needs of landowners with the needs of ESA-listed salmon in the Methow Valley. From our earliest projects, we have partnered with restoration groups and agency experts to expand resources available to land owners. One recent example was a partnership with Robes Parish at US Fish and Wildlife to assist landowners in reconstructing a degraded river bank at the Wolf Ridge Resort. We have monitored this project through several high waters over the past several years, and the structures we placed continue to meet the landowner’s goals of preventing further bank erosion and our goals of providing improved fish habitat. This video shows a large number of juvenile Spring Chinook salmon thriving in the constructed wood jams.Thanks again to our partners: the Wolf Ridge Homeowner’s Association, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bonneville Power Administration, Washington Department of Ecology, and the Washington Recreation Conservation office.