What's Happening at MSRF?
Log Jams and High Water
Work in the side channel is wrapping up. More than 300 pieces of wood have been placed to create a series of wood jams that will increase complexity and available pool habitat in the side channel. The temporary haul roads are gone, channel sculpting is underway, and re-watering will begin over the next several weeks.
To get to this point, BCI has worked steadily to construct a mixture of mid-channel and bank-anchored log structures throughout the length of the side channel.
Constructing Logjams in the Side Channel near Old Twisp Highway (August 8)
To ensure that these structures are well anchored, the contractors must excavate 10-14 feet deep. While this is necessary to ensure the structure's stability, it does result in significant short-term disturbance at the site.
Digging in a logjam – what you see above ground is less than half of the structure.
One of the most important aspects of working in a river is keeping the river out of the work site. This is done primarily with temporary coffer dams, which must be tailored to expected river heights and constructed within a narrow time frame to avoid impact to migrating fish.
Construction of the Coffer Dams
On the weekend of September 8, the Methow Valley experienced an unusually heavy rainstorm which nearly tripled flows in the Methow River. The forecast of the storm allowed us to prepare for the resulting high water. BCI worked closely with MSRF and permit agencies to prepare for the increased flows by shoring up the coffer dams within existing permits. These efforts successfully protected the work site from high water. MSRF thanks BCI for their quick response, efforts to coordinate, and effective mitigation of what could otherwise have caused major problems.
Shoring Up the Coffer Dams for High Water
With water receding, MSRF and BCI are preparing for work within the main channel of the Methow River. This work will include removal the historic levee that has constrained the river for more than 40 years and construction of three large wood structures in its place. These structures will help restore the natural channel width. For those interested, progress at the project site can be viewed easily from Evans Road near the smokejumper base. We expect that in-water work will be completed in 5-6 weeks. The work area is already fully isolated from returning salmon, which will be able to swim past the site without disruption.
WDFW recieved a letter from a concerned valley resident questioning whether adequate protections had been taken for the high water event. Because the letter did not include contact information, MSRF cannot respond directly. We can however provide assurances here that MSRF and BCI continue to work closely with the regulatory community to develop and implement this project. We meet on-site at least weekly with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to review construction methods and practices. The work leading up to high water was completed in full coordination with WDFW. If you have questions or concerns about what you see, please contact MSRF directly 997-0028 ex. 4, or you can contact the local Fish and Wildlife biologist Lynda Hofmann at 997-9428. We would be happy to share information about the care taken in the development and implementation of this project.
Culverts under Old Twisp Highway
Old Twisp Highway reopened to through traffic (August 26)
Both culverts are now in place, and Old Twisp Highway is open again. The new culverts connect the wetland pond beside the highway to the river during high flow, giving juvenile fish a refuge from the fast water. During last week’s rainstorm, rising river levels activated the south culvert, connecting the pond to the river for the first time since construction. The newly restored channel functions as we had hoped. Boulder Creek Contracting of Winthrop, WA completed the project within the work period and on budget.
Boulder Creek Contracting Placing a Culvert (August 8)
The Culvert Installed
While the clear area through the culverts looks relatively small, together they provide more than fifty times the passage area of the single 18” culvert they replace. The slower movement of water through these wider culverts simulates a stream, allowing easier access for fish. (The old culvert functioned like a drain from the pond and did not provide any upstream fish passage.) The lowered culverts will extend the period of active connection between the wetland and the pond from a few weeks to the majority of the time when salmon need access to off-channel areas.
A Methow Natives employee replants native vegetation in one of the flow channels.
Over the next year, we will focus our work on planting new vegetation along the new connecting channels and restoring vegetation to other areas impacted by construction. The roots from this vegetation will help control erosion and the canopy created by the mature plants will provide cover from predators and help keep the water cool. Seasonal flooding in the new channels will ensure that these new plantings survive.
WFI: One Year Later
Prior to construction, receding flows isolated the Whitefish Island side channel from the main stem of the Methow River by early September. Each year when this occurred fish stranded in the isolated ponds died of high temperatures and oxygen depletion. One year after construction, the side channel has maintained active flows, connecting all previously isolated ponds. Placed wood now provides cover and shade. As a result, an abundance of juvenile salmon and resident fish have been observed in each of the side channel pool areas. (Click here for underwater video from Whitefish Island.)
While water levels may look low in the channel, they remain high enough to circulate water through the remaining pools, preventing over-warming and oxygen depletion. Increased flow in the side channel as a result of this project reduces the number of fish stranded by seasonally low water levels and aids the survival of those remaining. Even the ponds that appear isolated are oxygenated by increased subsurface flow (water flowing below ground level) in the channel.
Monitoring will continue throughout the season to document fish health and abundance. Work planned for fall of 2013 will focus on final restoration of the vehicle entrance to the site and will include interpretive signage and a formal trail entry. MSRF will continue to install additional riparian plants and monitor fish health at the site over the next several years in partnership with USGS.
In October of 2013, MSRF and USGS will install PIT (Passive Interrogation Tag) readers at the inlet and outlet of the side channel to help monitor fish usage. These readers consist of paired rows of 3” conduit laid across the surface of the channel to monitor fish without handling or impeding them. Although the conduit is designed to withstand impacts from river flows, it can be damaged by boaters or other recreational users of the river. These devices are important to our ability to monitor the success of the project. If you observe damage to these devices or have questions, please contact MSRF directly 997-0028 ex. 4.
Twisp Ponds Snorkeled
When MSRF aquired the Twisp Ponds site, a flood levee separated the existing ponds from the Twisp River. In 2001, MSRF reconnected these ponds to the river to provide year-round habitat for a variety of resident and endangered fish species. For six weeks in early spring, MSRF and the Yakama Nation use the lowest set of ponds as an acclimation facility for juvenile Coho salmon before releasing them into the Twisp River. Coho acclimated at the Ponds show a much higher return rate than non-acclimated Coho released directly into the river.
The remaining ponds are available year round as rearing, resting and spawning habitat for resident and migratory fish.
John Crandall snorkeled the site this month and found Coho and Chinook salmon, Rainbow trout, and the first Bull trout recorded at the site.
Progress on Old Twisp Highway
Work is progressing on Old Twisp Highway. The north culvert is now in place, and Boulder Creek Contracting expects to have the south culvert complete around the end of the month. The new channel between the south culvert and the river has been excavated and will be replanted by Methow Natives over the next few weeks. The contractor has also placed a small sand bag coffer dam to isolate the wetland pond to the west of the road from the excavation pit for the south culvert. The local USGS crew has relocated fish, frogs, and tadpoles from the construction area.
Once both culverts are installed, the coffer dam will be removed to allow flow into the new south channel, the county road will be patched and paved, and new guardrails will be installed.
Our nearby river work began July 8 when BCI Construction installed a sand bag coffer dam (pictured above) to isolate the side channel from the main river flow. This temporary dam allows us to bring heavy equipment into the side channel to complete the restoration project. Fish biologists from MSRF, USGS, and the Yakama Nation worked closely with the BCI to rescue and relocate approximately a hundred salmon fry, over a thousand sculpin, and a handful of long-nosed dace, lampreys, whitefish fry, and juvenile bridgelip suckers from the dammed-off side channel over a six-day period.
USGS staff assist in de-fishing
BCI completed the first logjam structure in the side channel on July 16 and completed the second and third structures by July 23. They will construct another 17 structures over the next several weeks.
Construction on Old Twisp Highway (WDFW)
Boulder Creek Contracting is currently at work digging two new culverts into Old Twisp Highway. The south culvert will connect the river to the pond’s inlet, allowing fish passage into and out of this important off-channel habitat. The north culvert will convey any overrun from the pond to the floodplain across the road, which is currently filled by groundwater only. The single existing culvert is small and placed too high to allow fish passage between the pond and the river; the new culverts will be much lower, much wider (one 14’, one 19’), and filled partially with river rock to simulate creek bed. Put simply, these culverts replace a single length of drain pipe with two small bridges over creeks.
This work is styled after our work at Poorman Creek, where replacing a small and impassible culvert with a wide creek-level culvert has opened the upper reaches of the creek to salmon.
While Boulder Creek Contracting installs the culverts, further construction will begin on the river bank. This section of the river has been substantially altered over the last fifty years for irrigation and flood control. Like many areas of the Methow, a levee was built here in the ‘70s to protect agricultural fields from flooding. The fields it was built to protect are no longer in use. While the levee protects the land, it creates a hard edge against which the river scours.
Starting the eighth of this July, BCI Construction out of Portland, Oregon will remove the levee and place 21 log structures similar to the structures we placed at Whitefish Island last year. Removal of the levee allows the river to rebuild its bank and assume a more natural pattern of flow. When construction is complete, Methow Natives will plant roughly five thousand native-species plants in the affected area. Replanting the area formerly covered by the levee will slow the water, causing it to drop more sediment into the scoured areas. As the bank fills in, the middle of the river will become deeper. Fish will benefit from the resulting lower water temperatures, and the higher water levels and changing currents will aid the operation of the Methow Valley Irrigation District’s diversion on the opposite bank. The project will take 12-16 weeks.
This project as a whole will increase over-winter survival and provide a greater variety of complex habitat to support growing juvenile fish. Boaters should be aware that construction will restrict access to the river in this location. The side channel will be closed to recreation during this project. We expect to reopen Old Twisp Highway by the end of July. For more information, contact Mike Notaro at (509) 429-2939 or Jessica Goldberg at (509) 997-0028, extension 4.
River flows on the Methow river peaked at a little over 11,000 cfs over the last few weeks, providing the first opportunity to see how the wood structures built last year at Whitefish Island and the River Mile 46 project (across the river from the WDFW Floodplain project area) functioned during elevated flows. The structures appear stable and are functioning well. Juvenile salmon are resting and hanging out in the quieter water behind each of the larger structures.
As flow drops over the next few weeks we will re-assess the structures to track any changes and their effects on the channels.
Monitoring Past Projects
2012 M2 Construction Areas
CLICK for larger map
Monitoring Coordinator John Crandall completed a snorkel survey in the side channel of MSRF’s Whitefish Island project this past year and found that the habitat is already in use by a mix of salmon species. The Whitefish project is one of a series of projects proposed for construction in the Middle Methow by MSRF over the next several years. The next project will be built at the WDFW Floodplain site (near the Twisp Airport) this summer to reconnect the river with more than 40 acres of isolated floodplain habitat and improve in-stream conditions in 1700 feet of degraded side channel. For more information, click here.
MSRF has worked with local and regional biologists for more than a decade to develop restoration projects that balance the needs of landowners with the needs of ESA-listed salmon in the Methow Valley. From our earliest projects, we have partnered with restoration groups and agency experts to expand resources available to land owners. One recent example was a partnership with Robes Parish at US Fish and Wildlife to assist landowners in reconstructing a degraded river bank at the Wolf Ridge Resort. We have monitored this project through several high waters over the past several years, and the structures we placed continue to meet the landowner’s goals of preventing further bank erosion and our goals of providing improved fish habitat. This video shows a large number of juvenile Spring Chinook salmon thriving in the constructed wood jams.Thanks again to our partners: the Wolf Ridge Homeowner’s Association, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Bonneville Power Administration, Washington Department of Ecology, and the Washington Recreation Conservation office.