The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Conservation district working for watershed improvement


October 23, 2013

Slowly but surely, the Wahkiakum Conservation District is working to rebuild the health of the streams in the Skamokawa Creek basin.

The district has been working with landowners in Middle Valley to stabilize stream beds and improve fish habitat.

"This is a community watershed approach to resource management," district Manager Darren Haupt said Tuesday.

Haupt described the district's programs as getting the watersheds back in balance. Under normal, natural conditions, drainage and stream flow will be in equilibrium with sediment load. However, external factors that impact one or the other will affect the balance of the system.

"You mess with one side and you throw the system out of whack," he said, "and that's what we have in every drainage down here (Wahkiakum County)."

The district this week is finishing installation of a new tide gate at the mouth of Dead Slough, which joins Skamokawa Creek along the Wahkiakum County Fairgrounds.

The new tidegate will allow the district to improve flow from the slough into the creek and eventually make the slough more like a creek with fish friendly habitat, Haupt said.

He added that the increased flow would lower water level in the slough, not raise it.

"We’re going to hang the tide gate on Thursday (today), pulling sheet pile on Monday, the channel will get connected and we’re pretty well done out here.

"During ‘96, ‘06 and ‘09 your creek actually flooded your bathtub out there at the corner, and so we are trying to bring parts of the dike that are well below their original design elevation back up to grade and protect the community.

“This thing does not stop flooding. Don’t even get that in your head that this is about flooding. This is all about water quality and fish in there. The benefit to the diking district is that we can limit the duration of the flood by letting the bathtub drain.

"We cannot deal with flood elevations what we can do is manage the damages left when the waters recede."

Other projects the district has completed include:

--Stabilizing stream banks at a site farther up Middle Valley to help a landowner concerned about loss of land and flood damage.

“The long term solution in this valley is to get the trees, the riparian zone,” Haupt said, “back in along the stream, which will make it stable. We are currently working with this landowner who has given up a number of acres for this project. It’s quite a contribution to take out of production that many acres for the benefit of society.”

-- Stabilizing stream banks and shifting an entire creek to save a bridge and a home.

“The design calls for a realignment of the entire creek with the bridge, because the bridge was in trouble,” Haupt said. “It’s as much a county bridge solution as a homeowner solution as a fish solution. We cannot move the bar with equipment but we can put in the structure to reroute water and restore a meander.”

The primary goal of the projects, Haupt said, is to improve habitat for fish. He noted that having trees and shrubs along the streambed not only improves fish habitat, but it keeps streambanks stable. Aerial photos going back to the 1930's show that where trees have been maintained, the banks are stable, but where they've been cleared away, the creek has jumped its banks.

Haupt also said the district hasn't supported a proposal from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to purchase parcels in the lower Skamokawa Creek drainage.

That proposal came prematurely, he said, and hadn't been reviewed by land owners, and the district embarks on projects in partnership with landowners.

One landowner had expressed interest in the project, he added. That particular project coincided with conservation district plans, and the district would support that particular project.

The district's board of supervisors would like to conduct similar projects in the county's other valleys, Haupt said, but funding will dictate how fast the work could be addressed.


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