What's Happening at MSRF?
Watershed Watchers at the Twisp Ponds
On two occasions this spring, 46 third graders from the Methow Valley Elementary School visited the Twisp Ponds as part of the Watershed Watchers program. These budding scientists were engaged in a “Floods and Floodplains” study unit developed by Watershed Watchers and integrated with the Washington State Common Core learning standard related to natural disasters. The Twisp Ponds site provided a perfect location to take this learning into the field.
A primary concept of this study was an examination of the beneficial and detrimental effects of floods. The students learned that, while floods can be destructive, they can also be beneficial. Floodplains were highlighted as a key habitat type that depends on flooding. Students visited the Twisp Ponds on two occasions – once before the spring floods had begun and once during high water – to examine the differences in a suite of habitat features over the course of changing water levels.
At the site, Watershed Watchers program lead Robert Crandall (Methow Natives), local scientists Brian Fisher (MSRF), John Crandall (MSRF/Confluence Aquatics), Jennifer Molesworth (USBR), Kirsten Kirkby (Yakama Nation), Crystal Eliot (Trout Unlimited), and Tara Gregg (MSRF) staffed four stations that focused in on specific aspects of floodplain ecology. The students studied riparian soils (pictured below), the importance of shade for streams, and the elements of fish habitat. One group estimated flow rates in a stream channel using simple math, a floating orange, and channel measurements.
Another station saw the students up to something no Watershed Watchers class had ever done before. The lesson was to explore side channels and their function as fish habitat. On the first visit, the side channel of the Twisp River was dry, and the students examined elements that could provide habitat for fish. On the second visit, during high water, John assisted each group in putting on waders to walk up the same side channel (top picture). As they sloshed through the water, the students took water depth and temperature measurements, wrote down their observations in their field journals, and compared them to their observations recorded during their first visit.
To complete the field study, groups of students made posters at the Ponds Discovery Center about what they learned from their stations, and then orally presented them to the rest of their class.
A key component of the Watershed Watchers program is to provide students with hands-on science experience using the outdoors as a classroom. Integrating Watershed Watchers programs with Common Core learning standards has helped build engagement and support for the program from local schools. We look forward to further development and integration of Watershed Watchers into local school curriculums, and to further building environment education in the Methow Valley.
MSRF Past Project Updates
Despite the best planning, engineering, and construction methods, projects don’t always work as expected. One of the things that separates successful projects from failed ones is continued monitoring, maintenance, and adjustment as necessary. We monitor each project we construct for a minimum of three years. By monitoring how our projects are affected by river flows, we are able to make adjustments to ensure that projects function as designed. Here are a few of our previous projects and how they’re doing.
Upper Beaver Creek
Last year, MSRF and our partners (US Fish and Wildlife, Wells PUD Tributary Fund, and the Bureau of Reclamation) relocated upper Beaver Creek from a roadside ditch into a more naturally-shaped channel nearby. The project also included reconstruction of the Batie irrigation diversion in the new channel. The new channel allows the creek to spread onto the floodplain during high water. This gives fish more places to feed and hide, introduces organic material from the banks into the creek ecosystem, and slows the water, which reduces strain on fish. The slower water drops sediment, which keeps it out of the irrigation diversion.
The new irrigation diversion is working well, and the stream is settling into its new channel. We will continue to monitor this project in the coming years to ensure that it meets the needs of irrigators and fish.
M2: Whitefish Island
Our Whitefish Island project, which reconnected the side channel to the river, has just gone through its second high water after construction. This spring, WDFW found two steelhead redds (spawning beds) in the side channel. All of our engineered logjams remain stable, and we continue to see fish using the cover and slow water around the wood.
Last year, MSRF completed a number of adjustments to the initial construction to increase opportunities for fish rearing as well as public access and education opportunities at the Whitefish Island site. The site is available for public use and we encourage public exploration of the project site later in June after high waters have receded.
M2: WDFW (Old Twisp Highway)
Last year’s project on Old Twisp Highway was designed to restore floodplain function over a sixty acre site. Project elements included removal of a levee constructed in the 70s to protect former agricultural lands and reestablishing flows to an off-channel wetland pond known locally as Plummer’s Pond. During high spring flows, the level of the pond fluctuates with the level of the river; the pond level will drop again when the river calms down in the fall. During high water, juvenile fish seek out off-channel habitat like Plummer’s Pond for slower water and abundant food. As flows drop, fish will leave the pond for cooler water in the main channel and the groundwater-fed pools elsewhere in the wetland. Prior to the project, the off-channel pond was not accessible to fish from the river except during the highest flood flows. Although the pond received inflow from groundwater, culverts under the Old Twisp Highway were not installed to allow rearer flow into the pond, but served as an overflow to prevent damage to the roadway. MSRF removed the undersized culverts and installed two significantly larger arch culverts, allowing for a more natural stream connection. The upper channel is designed to connect only during flood flows, but the lower channel remains connected throughout the spring high flow period. Water flowed through these channels this spring, during moderate high water.
This winter was especially hard on plantings, as extended cold occurred with very little protective snow cover. The cold claimed a few of our plantings, but survival is still well above the permit requirements. We will continue to maintain surviving plants and replace plants lost over the next few years to ensure that the site’s vegetation establishes itself well enough to thrive on its own.
Work on Old Twisp Highway also included increasing the complexity of the side channel through the placement of engineered log jams. If the bed of the river is flat, smooth, and flowing at the same speed, the fish have nowhere to feed or hide. Log jams and other structures in the river support habitat formation through varied flows and depths. Our wood structures appear to be creating nicely varied flow rates, which should help sculpt the channel to create a variety of different depths for fish to rear in year-round.
MRSF’s John Crandall took this video of in the mouth of the south channel:
For past updates on these projects and more, please visit our archive.