New bridge, planting add to Whychus Creek restoration

September 25, 2015
New bridge, planting add to Whychus Creek restoration

Year after dam removal plenty of work remains

By Dylan J. Darling

SISTERS — Dam removal was only part of the floodplain restoration along Whychus Creek, just upstream from Sisters.

More than a year after the Pine Meadow Ranch dam came out, the woods where Whychus flows are still bustling with activity. Just this Tuesday, a construction crew on contract with the U.S. Forest Service moved a new footbridge into place while school kids planted streamside vegetation farther up the creek.

These efforts and more on about 170 acres over the past couple years should put Whychus Creek on course to expand and contract naturally, not sticking to one route through the floodplain, said Mathias Perle, project manager for the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, a Bend-based restoration group.

“Creeks tend to move and meander,” he said Tuesday during a walk along the creek.

Historically, Whychus Creek exemplified this, but for more than a century, this stretch was dammed and channeled in some way or another. The last incarnation of the dam was a beefy, 6-foot-tall concrete structure installed in the 1990s. The dam diverted water from the creek to nearby Pine Meadow Ranch. As part of the restoration, a pump has been installed along the creek to supply the ranch’s water.

Excavators tore out the dam last September, the end result of about five years of negotiations among the watershed council, the owners of the dam, the Deschutes River Conservancy and the Forest Service.

Much of the restoration area is in the Deschutes National Forest. Now the focus is on the floodplain.

The restoration creates habitat for salmon and steelhead, which are returning to Whychus Creek following changes downstream. Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs, which together own the dam forming Lake Billy Chinook, teamed up to build a submerged fish tower in the lake. The tower, completed in 2009, fixed the problem of young fish becoming lost in their swim toward the ocean, which for decades stopped runs of salmon and steelhead from originating upstream of Lake Billy Chinook.

Like the old dam, an old footbridge across Whychus Creek along Mainline Road was not good for fish. The old bridge had been installed in the 1950s for cars and trucks. The Forest Service decommissioned it in the 1980s and converted it to a footbridge.

Narrow passages under the bridge crimped the creek as it flowed beneath, and two piers regularly caught debris. The old bridge spanned about 50 feet, while the new bridge stretches 125 feet.

The wider new bridge without piers allows the creek to fan out, said Cari Press, hydrologist for the Sisters Ranger District of the Deschutes National Forest.

“It’s much improved,” she said. “You can get a lot of floodplain underneath.”

Replacing the bridge is just the latest project aimed at giving Whychus Creek space to spread out. Other work included filling in channels made unnaturally deep by the dam, dikes and berms used to direct Whychus Creek.

“There are just so many different ways the creek can go now,” Perle said.

The Forest Service also thinned woods around the creek and created logjams with cut trees to accelerate the creek’s return to a slow-flowing stream.

As Whychus Creek comes back in the floodplain, so are plants along its banks. The Forest Service also hopes to foster this with the help of volunteers.

More than 45,000 plants — including trees such as cottonwood, willow and alder — are set to be planted over the next couple years, said Mike Riehle, district fisheries biologist for the Sisters Ranger District.

Fourth- and fifth-graders from Cascades Academy on Tuesday planted about 100 trees and shrubs .

As the trees grow, they’ll provide shade along the creek, improving water conditions for fish. For the past seven years or so, salmon and steelhead fry — young fish — have been released from this stretch of Whychus Creek.

“The hope is this will be good, diverse habitat for rearing salmon and steelhead,” Riehle said.

Nate Goodman and Chloe Lauferrae, both 10 and fifth-graders at Cascades Academy, took the time to name their plants before putting them in the ground. They had a Willow named “Will” and a pair of alders named “Alder” and “Alder Jr.”

Why the junior?

“Because it is smaller,” Chloe explained.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812,

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