Local partners help to restore one of the region’s most beloved salmon rivers
“We call this one the ‘coho couch,’” said Bill Weiler, restoration project coordinator with the Sandy River Basin Watershed Council (SRBWC). The mangled pile of tree trunks, stumps, and branches to which Weiler is referring is actually an engineered logjam (ELJ), a log mass placed in and along a river to approximate natural river conditions and benefit resident fish species. This particular ELJ is one of five that SRBWC installed this summer as part of its Sandy River Mainstem Floodplain Reconnection project, which aims to reactivate a historic side channel of the Sandy River in Clackamas County, Oregon.
This summer’s work also involved removing a portion of a levee at the mouth of the side channel and grading the channel, with the goal of transforming the floodplain from predominantly dry land to a backwater refuge, thus providing crucial spawning and rearing habitat for salmon and steelhead. Successful habitat restoration here will support the Sandy’s wild runs of spring and fall Chinook salmon, coho salmon, and winter steelhead, which are some of the healthiest in the entire Columbia Basin.
The Sandy River is well loved by recreationists as well as the many area residents living within its dynamic floodplain. SRBWC recognized public outreach to nearby landowners as crucial to the success of the project and has led a series of tours and flood awareness events. Early on, when erosion concerns emerged, SRBWC refined its plans accordingly. Instead of reactivating the entirety of the side channel, which would have brought flows from the Sandy a little too close for the comfort of some homeowners, the group decided to redirect the channel back toward the main channel several hundred feet sooner.
As the owner of the 30-acre property on which this restoration project is taking place, Columbia Land Trust has been an active partner, providing SRBWC with technical assistance and support. We will also monitor and maintain the project site moving forward. The Land Trust is pleased to have worked with SRBWC on a project that should have real and visible impacts for a number of threatened salmon and steelhead species. Our stewardship staff looks forward to strapping on some snorkels and paying the coho couch a visit this winter.
In addition to SRBWC, we extend our thanks to LKE Construction and Natural Systems Design, along with project funders including the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Timberline Rim Neighborhood Association, Portland Water Bureau’s Habitat Fund, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Clackamas County Soil and Water Conservation District.