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Clear Creek Restoration Design Flying to Completion

On July 7, 2016 you may have noticed something odd flying through the sky in Pine Valley. Starting in the early hours, engineers and operators gathered in fields south-east of Halfway to fly not one, but two drones over a nearby creek.

Drone pilots from Aerial Inspection Resources, with LiDar drone, July 7, 2016

Many people cringe at the mention of the word drone, being that it can be associated with military turmoil and invasion of privacy in our modern times. In reality, however, drones can be used for a wide variety of tasks, including data collection for the management of natural resources and disaster relief. Michael Toscano, president and CEO of Aerial Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) discusses the public perception of drones to the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 20, 2013:

“You have probably noticed that I do not use the term “drone.” The industry refers to the technology as unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, because they are more than just a pilotless vehicle. A UAS also includes the technology on the ground, witha human at the controls. As I like to say, there is nothing unmanned about an unmanned system. The term “drone” also carries with it a hostile connotation and does not reflect how UAS are actually being used domestically. UAS are used to perform dangerous and difficult tasks safely and efficiently. They were used to assess the flooding of the Red River in the upper Midwest. They were used to help battle California wildfires. And they are being used to study everything from hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, tornadoes in the Great Plains, and volcanoes in Hawaii.”

These particular drones in Halfway were special because they carried equipment that was used to create a 3-D drawingof Clear Creek. One of the drones, the DJIS1000, had a LiDAR Pod attached to it. LiDAR, also referred to as Light Detection and Ranging, is a surveying technology that measures distance by illuminating a target with a laser light.

It is primarily used to make extremely accurate, high-resolution maps and aidsin better understanding how water flows through a stream system. This particular LiDAR drone came all the way from a company in Scotland and required a team of three pilots from a Portland-based company, Aerial Inspection Resources. The LiDAR drone was surprisingly quiet, contained six propellers and weighed just under fifty pounds, but could take thousands upon thousands of data points from forty meters in the air.

The second drone, the DJIInspire, carried photographic equipment that took thousands of photos which were later digitally stitched together to make one large photo. The whole process took approximately two hours of flight time; however, the drone batteries needed recharging about every fifteen minutes so the survey was spread out over two days. The data acquired from both drones was then used to create a plan for restoration designs on a portion of Clear Creek, near its confluence with Pine Creek.

Clear Creek, Halfway, Oregon. Photo by Anna Morgan

Up-close of drone with LiDar equipment, July 7, 2016

The completion of this survey is an important milestone, both for the Council and for the landowners on Clear Creek. For severalyears they have worked together to establish funding and develop a plan to address their many concerns. This collaboration began when landowners along lower Clear Creek approached staff from the Council about their concerns over bank damage from the floods in 2007 and 2010. But first, to understand the necessity of the project you must also understand Clear Creek.....

Clear Creek, a tributary to Pine Creek in the Brownlee Subbasin flows from the Eagle Caps to its confluence with Pine Creek and is approximately 19 miles long. Landowners became concerned after massive flooding in 2008 and again in 2010 where large debris was forced downstream and banks were quickly eroded away causing fence and pasture loss. After these flooding events, landowners began to notice more and more sediment building upin the creek, often wideningit in places and unable to control the path of the main channel. While any landowner knows that controlling the creek completely was out of the question, they sought a solution that would buffer the next big flood event.

Upon completion of the Point of Diversion Survey, landowners met with the Council to discuss the challenges they faced along the stream. Following this, the Council began to seek funding for a design project to hire an engineering firm. In Aprilof 2015, the Council was awarded the amount needed by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board. Shortly after, the Council hired TerraGraphics Environmental Engineering, Inc. and Quadrant Consulting, Inc. to collaborate on designs for landowners that met the needs of landowners while providing resistance to future flood damage.

Since 2015, the Lower Clear Creek Restoration Project has encompassed six landowners with properties south of Highway 86. Engineer, Su- san Firor reports that the goal of the project has been to develop low-impact restoration designs that increase aquatic habitat and function while addressing agricultural and ranching needs for each of the properties. In this sense, a balance will need to be created to address human and environmental needs of the creek. Although challenging, a successful implementation of the project can be accomplished through the cooperation of landowners and the Council that promotes health of the watershed and creates efficiency and protection for landowners.

More recently, engineers met once again with landowners to discuss the final products of their survey reports. Using the data collected by the drones, the engineers were able to set out a detailed plan to stabilize banks and prevent further erosion and widening. Most of the plan relies heavily upon revegetation of bare banks and diversion upgrades. By doing these improvements, landowners will gain better control of their water intake, and riparian vegetation will stabilize banks and reduce pasture loss. Some other proposed alternatives included: weed and debris removal, temporary and permanent fencing, creating livestock access points or off-channel watering, and adding aquatic habitat structures, in addition to the maintenance alternatives required with most restoration projects. Many landowners, having owned their properties for decades, are eager to move on with the process and hope to begin implementation on a final restoration project soon.

The project arrived out of necessity for landowners, but there have also been gainsin terms of fish habitat. According to prior surveys, the entire length of Clear Creek provides 7.2 miles of spawning and rearing habitat for threatened fish. In fact, it has been listed as critical bull trout habitat and maintains a resident population in the headwaters, although, many landowners would agree thatit has been quite some time since they have seen bull trout coursing through their creeks. Researchers have identified that migration barriers, sediment load, loss of habitat complexity, and changes in water quality are threats to the recovery of this species.

Gulick Road Bridge, June 2010. Photo provided by Halfway resident, Jim Young.

The Council hopes to address these concernsby adding habitat structures along the creek which will create shaded pools necessary for fish. Additionally, diversion upgrades havethe potential to address some of the sediment transportation issues in time and remove barriers to fish movement. Riparian plantings are also integral to healthy streams because they provide shade to prevent high water temperatures, as well as increase habitat complexity, and act as buffers both for flooding and runoff.

Once the project designs are finalized, the next step is to acquire funding for the construction of the designs. The Council will apply on behalf of the landowners for public funds from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, as well as private foundations that support development of fish habitat. If all goes well, construction could begin as early as next summer.

Engineered bank stabilization log structures on the McMullen Slough Project, 2014.

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