The Scappoose Bay Watershed Council is putting the finishing touches on a restoration project in South Scappoose Creek, but more projects are already in the works to preserve and restore healthy watershed habitats for plants, fish and other wildlife.
Construction on the project, which began in July 2018, took place in the portion of the creek that runs along Veterans Park in Scappoose. Workers removed dirt from the riverbanks to create a more gradual slope down to the water, built log structures in the bank, added rocks to the creek, and repaired a tributary stream that feeds into the creek. This year, the restoration team planted native vegetation in riparian zones, which are the areas between the water and land.
"The riparian vegetation is really adding the root structure that we need and then adding all kinds of other benefits for the wildlife," council Coordinator Pat Welle explained.
When heavy rains hit Scappoose in February, the creek rose beyond its banks, submerging portions of Veterans Park. The flooding happened just days after Amber Kester, the council's watershed technician, led the planting of 3,000 trees in the restoration area.
"This flood was so unusual in how much water in so short a time was kind of pinpointed right above Scappoose. It was really very unique," Welle said. "We can't, obviously, control the amount of water we get, or how much comes off, but (the restoration work) did help to spread it out and slow the rise."
Once the water receded, Kester and volunteers visited the park to clean debris off the plants. Despite only having been planted the week prior, the vast majority of the plants stayed in place and survived, according to Welle.
After the flooding, the SBWC saw an uptick in landowners interested in their work.
"People are seeing that this lack of riparian vegetation is really detrimental, it really increases the erosion," Welle said. She also credited Oregon State University Extension Agent Chip Bubl and the Columbia Soil and Water Conservation District with spreading awareness about invasive species.
Human practices have altered waterways in the Scappoose Bay Watershed for more than a century. Some damage has come as a side effect of logging and development, but other alterations have been the result of misguided attempts to improve the waterways.
"Many years ago, the general thought was you pull all the trees out, so they cleared everything," said Chris Vanderzanden, the council's communication specialist.
Now, conservationists know that trees and rocks cluttering waterways can support fish habitat. Messy creeks provide places for fish traveling upstream to rest and hide from predators and provide shade, which lowers water temperatures.
"Historical logging practices... have caused significant changes, disconnecting much of the historical side-channels, straightening and deepening channels throughout the system," notes the SBWC strategic plan.
"We can't go back to what was, 150 years ago, because we don't have the room," Welle said. "Ideally, this stream would have been wandering back and forth."
The council does projects on publicly owned land, like the Veterans Park project, as well as private land. The watershed strategic plan outlines the importance of working throughout the watershed.
"If landowners are interested, we want to talk to them, and see how it fits within the whole scheme of the watershed," Welle explained.
The council has a subset of grants up to $15,000 for projects to replace invasive species in the riparian zones of privately owned land.
Working on private land hasn't helped convey the SBWC's mission as much as projects on public land.
"Doing a project right downtown, people see more," Welle explained.
The council's outreach has increased in recent years with the growth of the native plant nursery, which is managed by Kester. "People see the nursery or they come in and buy native plants and they hear more about (the council)," Welle said.
With just one full-time staff member, overseeing restoration projects from initial studies to completion has occupied most of the council's resources. But since bringing on Vanderzanden, the council has been able to increase public outreach efforts and provide more education and resources to the community.
The South Scappoose Creek project was funded through the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, a $266k grant from the Bonneville Power Administration, and $75k from the city of Scappoose.
"We've had a lot of neighborhoods flooded in the past and we thought this might mitigate that," Scappoose City Manager Michael Sykes explained. Plus, Sykes added, the work made the area safer for children visiting the park.
While the South Scappoose Creek project is coming to a close, the SBWC has more projects planned.
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