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Restoration Project At Green Island To Help Salmon

The McKenzie River Trust for years has been working to return the area around the confluence of the McKenzie and Willamette Rivers to a more natural free-flowing waterway.

At Green Island, north of Coburg, the trust is restoring a side channel of the Willamette River where gravel pits had disrupted habitat for salmon and other wildlife.

The project was a partnership with Wildish Company which did the work of reconfiguring the three ponds.

Joe Moll is Executive Director of McKenzie River Trust. KLCC's Rachael McDonald spoke with him at Green Island.

Moll: "So, we're standing on a little hillock above the Coburg Aggregate Reclamation Project, or CARP, ponds post-reclamation, post restoration. This is a year, almost a year since we started moving dirt around. What was here then were three ponds, really steep walled 15 to 25 feet deep. It was the aftermath of some gravel extraction that had occurred here starting in the 1970s."

Moll says crews used earthmovers to lessen the slopes on the edge of the ponds so that water can move, connecting the waterways.

Moll:  "So many of the native fish and wildlife here evolved with the river that ebbed and flowed through he seasons and as we've dyked and built up and dammed and built gravel ponds they don't have that access during winter and summer or in this case they would have access in the winter but as water levels dropped fish would get stranded in these steep-walled ponds. Now, they can get that historically valuable winter access but also they can get out in the spring when the water starts to drop and its better for them to get back towards the main stem of the river. So we've really expanded the available habitat over the course of the seasons for especially things like Chinook Salmon and cutthroat trout."

 Moll says now its up to nature to complete the restoration project. It will take a couple of years for that to happen.  I asked Moll if he's seen the effects of drought at Green Island. He says a year ago, water levels would be a foot or so higher, but…

Moll:  "We're very fortunate here in this part of the Willamette Valley in that the steady flow of the McKenzie River and the history of the river spreading out has given us a lot of subsurface flow. So a lot of what we're seeing will stay at this level throughout the summer even with the continued drought because of that sub-surface flow. So we see changes in heights over the course of the season but that just accentuates more the value of these off-channel habitats that are fed by sub-surface ground-waters because typically those are cold water flows that are filtered through the rocks."

Moll says places like Green Island where the river is allowed to flow freely, can help mitigate the effects of drought in the region. He says the other impacts of climate change can also be helped. In the upper Willamette, warmer waters have been killing Chinook Salmon. Moll says here, the system is cooler.

Moll: "The more we can continue to keep the flood plain wide and let the rivers filter in and filter down and repopulate those old channels and keep those clear, cool channels flowing, the better the main stem will benefit because this water re-emerges in the Willamette in those cold water spots that are so important to fish this time of year especially."

The McKenzie River Trust is opening Green Island to the public Saturday for its Living River Celebration.

It's from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can get more information at mckenzieriver.org

Rachael McDonald is KLCC’s host for All Things Considered on weekday afternoons. She also is the editor of the KLCC Extra, the daily digital newspaper. Rachael has a BA in English from the University of Oregon. She started out in public radio as a newsroom volunteer at KLCC in 2000.
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