September 25, 2010 - Bend Bulletin - Raising Whychus Creek

Sep 27, 2010

September 25, 2010 - Bend Bulletin - Raising Whychus Creek

Raising Whychus Creek

Crews work to make dam friendlier for fish

By Kate Ramsayer / The Bulletin
Published: September 25. 2010 4:00AM PST

The Three Sisters Irrigation District dam across Whychus Creek posed a problem.

With a 5-foot drop, it created a significant obstacle to fish in the river, preventing redband trout in downstream sections from traveling upstream. And the upstream fish were at risk of being swept into the irrigation district’s canal.

But this month, the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, the U.S. Forest Service, the irrigation district and others have started a $2 million effort to fix those problems and return the creek to a more natural state.

“It’s ultimately to keep fish in the creek, and keep them moving up and down the creek at their own free will,” said Mathias Perle, project manager with the watershed council, which coordinated the project.

The dam, about 15 miles upstream of Sisters, was a complete barrier for fish, he said. But because the irrigation district depends on the structure to divert water for farmers and ranchers, simply removing it was not an option. So instead of razing the dam, the project planners decided to raise the stream.

“We just basically built the creek up to the lip of the dam,” Perle said.
The project is funded by groups and agencies including the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and the Pelton Round Butte Fund.

With the water temporarily diverted, crews have been at work since Sept. 7 adding gravel, cobbles and boulders to the stream bed, gradually ramping up 1,400 feet of Whychus Creek.

With excavators and other heavy equipment, they’ve strategically placed boulders that will create eddies of slower water, where fish can take shelter. Crews have also placed whole trees at bends in the creek to prevent erosion, create pools and provide even more habitat for fish. And they have even designed a new meander for the waterway, so that the reconfigured creek bed wouldn’t be too steep.

“The goal,” Perle said, is to “get a little bit closer to a naturally functioning system.”
Improving habitat

The Forest Service, which is leading the creek restoration efforts, is interested in improving habitat not only for the native fish, but also for the salmon and steelhead runs that could show up in the coming years, said Mike Riehle, fish biologist with the Sisters Ranger District.

With a $100 million-plus project to restore fish passage at the Pelton Round Butte dam complex under way, biologists are trying to reintroduce migrating salmon and steelhead fish to the Upper Deschutes Basin.

“We’re happy that both the anadromous and native fish will benefit,” Riehle said.
The project is also designed to allow Whychus Creek — which is prone to flashy, high flows at times — to spill out over a flood plain when lots of water rushes down, he said.

Last week, crews were placing boulders and trees in the dry creek bed. The plan is to allow the water to flow down the new route next week, Riehle said — but that doesn’t mean the work is over.

This fall, workers will plant about 50,000 plants along the banks to rehabilitate the area.
And later this fall, the Three Sisters Irrigation District will install a fish screen to reroute fish back into the creek and away from the piped canal. A smaller, private irrigation diversion will also be fitted with a fish screen.

The watershed council will continue working on other sections of Whychus Creek as well, Perle said, including projects with private landowners.

“There’s a lot going on that this fits into,” Perle said. “This is one piece of the broader puzzle.”

Kate Ramsayer can be reached at 541-617-7811 or

Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2010

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