Crews remove dam on Whychus Creek

Sep 24, 2013

Sisters Nugget

Crews remove dam on Whychus Creek By Jim Cornelius

News Editor

The babble of Whychus Creek was interrupted last week by the roar of heavy equipment as work crews removed the old Leithauser irrigation dam on Whychus Creek.

The dam removal is part of a wider project to restore salmon and steelhead runs in the streams of Sisters Country.

The Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, the City of Sisters, water-right holders and adjoining landowners partnered to remove the dam located near the intersection of E. Black Crater Drive and N. Fir Street. In addition to the removal, work crews are bioengineering stream banks with logs and boulders to control erosion and eventually host riparian plantings to improve fish habitat.

The creek was diverted into a bypass channel to allow crews to work in dry conditions. Fish were salvaged from the creek before work began. Once work is completed, the creek will flow through a more "natural" channel, with the bioengineered west bank keeping it a few feet farther away from the homes that line the creek.

"Now there's a little more room for the creek," said Upper Deschutes Watershed Council Project Manager Mathias Perle. "The center line of the creek will come out maybe 10 feet or so. We wouldn't call it a realignment."

The grant-funded project cost approximately $180,000, from design to the work in the channel.

Perle noted that the Leithauser family participated directly in the project.

The dam once diverted irrigation water on water rights dating back to the 1880s.

"The water ran through town and irrigated an area out near the airport," Perle said.

With the dam out of the way, passage for fish is unimpeded through that section of the creek. There are two other diversions upstream; the plan is to create passage around those impedances.

Perle readily acknowledges the paradox of engineering a more natural creek.

"You can't go back necessarily to the way it was before town," he said. "You have to find a balance, given that you're in an urban setting and there are homes."

Materials were being brought in to create new banks. Trees removed as part of the Uncle John Ditch piping project were staged in Sylvia Cara's front yard and brought down into the channel, where they were placed along with boulders to build new banks which will eventually be planted to create shaded riparian habitat.

Henderson Environmental Design-Build Professionals did the design work.

The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, the Pelton-Round Butte Mitigation Fund, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others contributed to the project.

Work will be completed by October 15. 

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