Indian Creek Restoration
ELGIN -- A project to remove several dams along Indian Creek near Elgin is underway.
Trout Unlimited, in partnership with Hancock Natural Resource Group, is planning to remove two outdated diversion dams on the creek, along with removing an old roadbed and its culvert in an effort to restore spawning habitat and rearing grounds for juvenile fish, including Lower Snake River steelhead, chinook salmon and bull trout.
Some of the fish species this project will help are endangered, including the redband trout.
"It is really helpful to have a return back to the state it was supposed to look like, and that allows for more resilience in the ecosystems," said Emery Hansell, river communications specialist with Trout Unlimited.
The groups plan to break ground on the project this week. Officials expect the project will run approximately three to four weeks in total, and open up nearly 10 miles of connected habitat in the area.
Removing the obstructions, according to officials, will allow for the easier passage and rearing of juvenile fish as they travel through the Grande Ronde River. But that’s only one benefit that will come with the removal of the dams.
"There is more than just the passage going on," said Levi Old, Northeast Oregon project manager for Trout Unlimited. "You will, a lot of times, have a constricted floodplain so you’re moving water more efficiently through an area near the dam, which affects the local geomorphology. By removing these two dams, we’re going to open up about 1.5 acres of historic floodplain habitat that had been cut off."
The project also will add 22 large wood structures to the creek in order to create habitat for fish that would protect them from predators, help with sediments sorting and offer shade from the sun. The introduction of these wood structures, according to Old, will help restore the creek to its original state.
"Streams have evolved with heavy woodloads in them, and historically humans have taken them out, but these fish have evolved to use the shade and cover," Old said. "A creek like Indian Creek is especially important for spawning and rearing of ocean-going fish and resident trout species. And as we’re starting to feel the effects of a changing climate, there is still cold water in places like Indian Creek."
Returning the wood structures to the creek would do a lot toward making the creek a more habitable environment for the fish. While removing debris from a creek improves the efficiency of water flow it damages the waterway’s natural state, with far-reaching consequences.
"If you take out all the wood, you turn a creek into a ditch. All the fine sediments and small gravels which salmon and trout use to spawn are going to be swept out of them. You’re left with big boulders and cobbles," Old said. "A functioning stream has a bunch of wood in it, and it catches sediments, builds pools and changes the geomorphology of the stream."
The restoration work will also include planting of native riparian species along the creek to further bolster the resiliency of the habitat.
According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, there are more than 470 small dams in Northeastern Oregon similar to the ones being removed by Trout Unlimited and Hancock Natural Resource Group. Barriers like those prevent fish from utilizing small creeks for spawning and rearing purposes, and limit the available space for the fish to spawn. By opening up these waterways, the ability of fish to properly reproduce -- especially important for those that are endangered -- is greatly increased.
"Anytime we can open up more habitat for spawning and rearing resident and ocean-going fish is a big win," Old said.
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