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Making Ashland Creek more fish-friendly

Work on improving passage routes for juvenile coho salmon, steelhead and other native fish in Ashland Creek by Ashland Creek Park is set to begin late next summer, after stream flows subside. The area of creek to be “reprofiled” is called the Smith-Meyer-Roper diversion site, which is a small dam that diverts irrigation for about seven water users, according to Alexis Larsen, project manager at Rogue River Watershed Council (RRWC).

The dam, which drops only a few feet, makes it difficult for juvenile fish to pass in low flows. Joey Howard, principal engineer of Cascade Stream Solutions, said after removing the dam he will reprofile the river to create a roughened channel by placing boulders to form a minimal, steady slope. This will still provide irrigation for the seven users but will also open up another two miles of habitat for the fish.

“Right now, it’s a barrier under low flow conditions We’ll be removing the barrier and reprofiling the channel,” Howard said. “There’s a discontinuity in the stream profile, where you look and see an abrupt change where the dam is. What we’ll be doing is smoothing through that and so it will be more of a constant grade.”

According to a staff report, this improved access will lead to increased spawning success, better juvenile fish survival and will potentially restore areas of suitable spawning gravels.

“It’s a pretty old structure, so taking it out and replacing it with a more improved irrigation system is beneficial,” Larsen said. “Our system is more efficient, so that will help with the amount of water in the creek as well.”

Staff will also remove about a quarter acre of blackberry shrubs and replace them with native plants, which will, in turn help stabilize the banks and create more shade to help cool the water. Cool water is vital to healthy salmon and steelhead populations because the temperature of the water is what often triggers key life cycle patterns such as migration and reproduction.

“Ashland Creek has much cooler water in the summertime than Bear Creek, so the juvenile fish that are in Bear Creek, they’re looking to get out of the warmer waters and into that cool water,” Larsen said.

She also said, depending on winter flows, the dam can impede passage for adult fish.

The project is still in the design and funding phase. Work is set to begin in late summer next year, probably in August or September, Larsen said.

After the work is complete, informational placards about water restoration and fish passage will be posted to show the importance of the change, Larsen said.

“If it’s possible, we’d like to take school kids and project partners on tours of the site,” Larsen said.

Larsen said she’s received positive responses from the water users and a National Marine Fisheries Services fish biologist and engineer for the plan.

“We’ve received initial approval, but not official approval,” Larsen said.

There will be no negative impact on the water users once the dam is removed.

“The intent is to still provide them with their complete water rights,” Larsen said.

Cascade Stream Solutions partners with RRWC on many projects. Recently they partnered to improve habitat on Little Butte Creek, Howard, the principle engineer, said.

“Coho salmon are listed as an endangered species on the Rogue River and so we’re improving access to habitat by removing this barrier,” Howard said.

Howard said he often hears questions from the public such as “Why are we considering salmon over people?”

“This really is a people project. Salmon benefit us in a variety of ways We need these types of species in our food web,” Howard said. “It’s not that we’re just a bunch of liberals in Ashland who are trying to put some swimming creature above humans.”

RRWC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring instream and streamside habitat, improving water quality, and encouraging community members to become stewards of the Rogue River and its tributaries. RRWC covers approximately 1.6 million acres in the upper and middle Rogue River Basins.

Contact Daily Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

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