Watershed Restoration Action Plan
Since 2015, the watershed council has been conducting bioassessments in key sub-watersheds. Using a protocol that the council developed with Cascade Environmental Group from Portland, detailed data is being collected on juvenile salmon fish distribution and on key habitat characteristics. With snorkels and wet suits, pools in the target streams are systematically sampled and all the juvenile fish counted. A range of habitat features, such as bedrock pools, large wood and spawning gravels, are methodically recorded. From this data, we begin to understand where the fish are and why. We can use this information to guide our efforts to restore degraded habitat and to increase the number of juvenile fish that each sub-watershed can produce.
One of the most significant features of our bioassessment protocols is that it allows us to compare changes in the habitat over time. Most of the streams in the Elk Creek watershed were surveyed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) in the mid-1990s. As we complete our bioassessments, we can compare our data to what ODFW found 20 years ago. In this way, we can tell if the habitat is improving or getting worse.
This data will be important because it will support the case for "de-listing" the coho. Since the recovery plan is based on improving the habitat necessary for coho survival, this data will be able to demonstrate that our restoration efforts have succeeded.
Water Quality Monitoring
In addition to the instream habitat projects that the Elk Creek Watershed Council has been implementing, the council is also monitoring the condition of water quality and salmon habitat in the watershed.
Water quality in the U.S. is regulated by the Clean Water Act, which was passed by Congress in 1972. The Clean Water Act is administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In Oregon, water quality is regulated by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
Parts of the Clean Water Act legislation require the EPA to establish standards for water quality, and list those rivers and streams that do not meet standards. In the Elk Creek watershed, several streams have been listed. Nearly all of the Elk Creek mainstem does not meet standards for E. coli bacteria or temperature. Yoncalla Creek has been listed for excess bacteria. Tom Folley, Brush Creek and Pass Creek are listed for temperature.
The watershed council has been testing water samples to better understand where the problem areas are. A study is underway to try to identify the "sources" of the bacteria using DNA analysis. In spite of what is portrayed on TV, even DNA testing won't identify all the problems, but it may help us get a better understanding of what the problems are.