Watershed Council Plans Projects for Clear Creek and Pine Creek
by Hayley Sanders
of the Hells Canyon Journal
Volume 33, Number 45
After a low winter snow- pack, a summer drought, and an unprecedented fire sea- son, there’s no doubt that water is Baker County’s most vital resource. But for the Powder Basin Watershed Council, it’s not just about the amount of water flowing down from the mountains; the quality of the water and how it flows are equally important.
The Powder Basin covers 3,368 square miles and con- tains 4,833 miles of streams in three sub-basins the Powder, Burnt and Brownlee. These waters support about 16,000 residents, a mix of natural ecosystems, and a diverse variety of economic and recreational needs.
In response to a common desire for a healthy and abundant watershed, the Powder Basin Watershed Council formed in 1995 with the mis- sion of promoting, restoring and enhancing the health of Powder Basin waters through the cooperation of all stake- holders in the community.
Council members and volunteers come from a wide variety of backgrounds, from ranchers and residents with an interest in stream health to large businesses and local and state government agen- cies. They may not always have the same politics, but they understand that cooperation and sharing resources is the only way to develop, fund, and implement long- term solutions and alternatives to daunting water problems.
This isn’t easy; it sometimes requires landowners and community members to take risks, but the watershed council has had real success with these goals when the willingness is there.
“We’re trying to engage a broad segment of the community to address problems and issues in our basin, and we want our projects to come from the community mem- bers themselves,” said Meghan Rorick, Monitoring Coordinator for the Powder Basin Watershed Council. “We want people to see us as a resource that they can go to and address some of these problems they are facing.”
Restoration Projects in Pine Valley
In addition to its growing water quality monitoring pro- gram, which now has volun- teers collecting samples from 78 different sites across the Powder Basin, the watershed council plans and implements large-scale projects that fo- cus on water conservation, restoring habitat and pre- venting bank erosion and flooding.
One of these projects was McMullen Slough outside of Halfway. The slough runs along Pine Creek and holds irrigation and stock water, but the floodplain between it and the creek had been badly damaged by the destructive 2010 flood. Concerned about the unstable channel and the real possibility of the slough carrying floodwaters into Halfway during high water, the landowner approached the watershed council for a solution. In 2014 the PBWC worked with multiple partners to fund and install a woody floodplain structure to stabilize the bank, allow veg- etation to re-establish, minimize flooding, and improve fish habitat. The landowner later took the initiative to install livestock exclusion fencing, further aiding the recovery of McMullen Slough.
Photo by Steve Backstrom
A STREAMBANK STABILIZATION PROJECT was designed by the Powder Basin Watershed Council for this stretch of Pine Creek, near the former site of the Holbrook Spur bridge, which washed out during flooding in 2010. The project was shelved when landowners decided not to proceed with implementation.
Following on the heels of this project, other local land- owners whose creek banks were damaged by the 2010 flood have also approached the council for help.
“It seems like a lot of the landowners along Pine Creek and Clear Creek are dealing with erosion problems and looking for help stabilizing banks and preventing further erosion of their property, ”said Rorick. “Right now we are trying to identify other landowners who might be interested in doing a bigger project and getting as many people involved as possible for long-term solutions rather than short-term fixes. These streams are very powerful, especially in the spring, and we don’t want to do something that will be undone in the next spring runoff or even make it worse.”
Along both creeks, lack of vegetation and straight chan- nel beds have made banks unstable and flooding more problematic. “Many of the channels have been straightened, which increases water flow, which in turn increases erosion. The stream is trying to recreate meanders, so it is eroding the banks and tak- ing out a lot of pastureland for people who live along the creek,” added Rorick. “There are issues up and down the creeks, and some people are more impacted than others, but it is a concern for everyone. Plans are evolving, but the council is very excited and interested in working with the landowners along Pine and Clear creeks.
”While project planning on both creeks is still in the early stages, the PBWC recently received funding to complete an engineering design along a stretch of Clear Creek, making creek restoration that much closer to becoming a reality.
The PBWC also received funds for engineering from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board for the stretch of Pine Creek where the Holbrook Spur Bridge washed out, moving the stream channel 50 feet to the east and leaving 250 feet of severely eroded bank. The proposed conceptual design includes installing woody habitat structures and vegetated soil lifts, constructing 1,000 feet of livestock exclu- sion fence, and regrading the channel to create a 385-foot riffle. Rorick said the council has received the final stabili- zation designs for that stretch of creek, but the adjacent landowners have decided not to proceed with the project at this time.
With successful projects under its belt and growing interest and involvement over the past few years, the Powder Basin Watershed Council is looking to expand its outreach and education programs in the hopes of at-tracting more funding, and, even more importantly, more community involvement, ideas, and cooperation.
The organization recently launched a new interactive website, www.powderbasin watershedcouncil.org, which has information on the council, past and future projects, upcoming events and meetings, blog posts and ways to volunteer and get involved.
Social media is also being put to use, thanks to a new Facebook page.
“Not all the info is on there yet, but we’re working on it. We are trying to reach out on Facebook to engage a broader segment of the community and more demographics than we’ve seen participation from in the past,” explained Rorick.
This winter the PBWC also plans to put out its first informational newsletter, which will be distributed quarterly to all the communities in the Powder Basin, including Baker City, Haines, Halfway, Hereford, Huntington, North Powder, Richland and Sumpter.
The Powder Basin Water- shed Council meets the first Wednesday of every month from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. in the 5J School District Building on the corner of 4th and Broadway in Baker City.
The upcoming December 2 meeting will feature two guest speakers from Idaho Power, who will be talking about the Snake River Stewardship Plan and the Tributary En- hancement Program, along with funding opportunities for irrigators in the Pine Creek Basin through the Idaho Power Water Efficiency Program. All members of the public are welcome to attend.
To contact the Powder Ba- sin Watershed Council about a project, volunteering, or for more information, call 541- 523-7288 or email pbwcout email@example.com. Infor- mation can also be found at www.powderbasinwater shedcouncil.org or on the Powder Basin WatershedCouncil Facebook page.