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State directs $400,000 to boost Crooked River watershed fish passage, bring back beavers

(Update: adding video, comments from Crook County Soil and Water Conservation District and fish guide)

Barriers to be removed from Ochoco, Marks creeks; trees, shrubs to be planed along Lower Camp Creek, Crooked River

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board has approved more than $400,000 to restore fish habitat and improve water quality in the Crooked River watershed.

The money will be used for two projects, one being an initiative to plant more native trees and riparian shrubs along lower Camp Creek and the Crooked River.

Andy Gallagher is the district manager for the Crook County Soil and Water Conservation District.

“Focus of this project is to be smart about how we plant, where we plant and what we plant, in order to maximize the establishment,” Gallagher said Friday. 

He said bringing back native plants will prevent erosion, create extra shade to keep the water cooler for redband trout, and eventually bring back the state's official animal. 

“Ultimately getting beavers back in the system is the path to healing that system,” Gallagher said. 

He said beavers building natural dams in the area will help the Prineville Reservoir maintain a higher level and better quality of water.

"I mean, this project by itself isn’t going to do that, but this type of project (is one) that we need to just keep doing and keep getting more establishment,” Gallagher said. 

The other project aims to increase fish passage in the upper Ochoco Creek watershed, an area Bend native and fishing guide Anders Korman is very familiar with.

“To be honest, that fishery pretty much died a long time ago as far as steelhead go,” Korman said. 

The plan is to remove one barrier on Ochoco Creek and three on Marks Creek, to increase fish spawning.

“So this will offer fish passage year-round, as long as there’s water in the stream and fish streaming to keep the fish out of the ditches and out of the fields,” Gallagher said. 

Korman, who works at Confluence Fly Shop in Bend's Old Mill, thinks this work is long overdue.

“And honestly, we're really late to the issue,” Korman said. “I think it should have been something that we could have done something about a long time ago."

But he's also optimistic that it's not too late.

“It's something that if we can fix it, you never really know -- it could totally bounce back the whole fishery. So it's really important,” Korman said. 

Gallagher said the projects could each take a few years.  


News release:

The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board has approved more than $400,000 to the Crook Soil and Water Conservation District for two projects to restore fish habitat and improve water quality in the Crooked River watershed.

“Both projects are part of a long-term, collaborative effort with partners and landowners in the basin that are starting to really improve the Crooked River watershed,” said Andy Gallagher of Crook SWCD. “I’m grateful that Oregonians are so invested in improving watersheds for fish and wildlife.”

Ochoco Creek fish passage barriers and irrigation management

In the Upper Ochoco Watershed, a tributary to the Crooked River, Crook SWCD and partners are improving fish passage and screening to allow for easier migration for native redband trout by retrofitting irrigation diversions.

The work is centered on Ochoco Creek and its largest tributary, Marks Creek, east of Prineville. One barrier will be removed on Ochoco Creek and three on Marks Creek, allowing redband trout to move freely between Ochoco Reservoir and Marks Lake, thus greatly increasing spawning and rearing habitat for the fish, listed as sensitive under state and federal rules.

OWEB approved $323,339 for the project, out of a total cost of $417,316. Partners include the Lookout Ranger District of the Ochoco National Forest, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Partners for Fish and Wildlife, Crooked River Watershed Council and Oregon Water Resources Department.

Crooked River water quality and riparian enhancement

OWEB also approved funding for a project to plant native trees and shrubs along Lower Camp Creek and the Crooked River to improve water quality and stream conditions for native fish and wildlife. Plantings will improve bank stability and thus decrease runoff and sediment in the river; increase shade along streams to cool water for fish; and provide rearing, foraging and resting habitat for fish.

Crook SWCD and the current landowner have been working for the last five years to improve the area for fish, wildlife and water quality including: riparian fencing along 3.5 miles of Camp Creek and the Crooked River to manage cattle grazing, with help from previous OWEB funds; planning native shrubs and trees; removing encroaching juniper; treating weeds; and seeding upland areas with native plants.

This is improving water quality and habitat for redband trout, as well as habitat for sage grouse, trumpeter swans and mule deer.

In addition to Crook SWCD and OWEB, partners include the landowner and the Oregon Department
of Agriculture. OWEB approved $78,500 for this project; total project cost is $101,950.

OWEB also has approved $200,000 in funding for the Tumalo Irrigation District, to go toward a $6.1 million, 2.3-mile canal lining project to conserve and return water to Tumalo Creek and Crescent lake, replacing canals that leak about half the water withdrawn.

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Noah Chast

Noah Chast is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Noah here.

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