Oregon’s Nehalem River Steelhead will Face Improved Passage this Year
Oregon’s Nehalem River on the North Coast is home to some of the wildest winter steelhead in the region. It also hosts strong populations of chinook, coho, and coastal cutthroat, as well as chum and lamprey. The Nehalem is big water – some 120 miles long winding from its headwaters near the outskirts of the Portland metropolitan area to its bay at the town of Wheeler. Many of the Nehalem’s wild winter steelhead spawn in the river’s upper reaches, which is where Maggie Peyton and the intrepid Upper Nehalem Watershed Council come into the picture. Maggie and her staff and partners at the UNWC have been fixing problems for fish in the Upper Nehalem for longer than she’ll admit. One of the prize accomplishments this year was eliminating a barrier culvert (rather, two) on Oak Ranch Creek in the Upper Nehalem and replacing it with a full-span, pre-formed concrete bottomless arch culvert. Prior to this summer, migrating steelhead and other fish faced a double-barreled barrier when they reached this point: two side-by-side undersized, 72” perched culverts that blocked juvenile fish at most flow levels and adult fish many times of the year. The bankfull width at this crossing is 30’.
Oak Ranch Creek Crossing – before
The UNWC had a design in-hand for the Oak Ranch Creek crossing but was short on construction funds, with time running short for construction in the summer of 2015. Trout Unlimited, through its relationship with Orvis and the 1000 Miles Campaign, was able to step up, contribute key funding, and help get the project done. This is what the crossing looks like today:
The Oak Ranch Creek (lower) crossing, today
The site will be augmented with large wood placements and native plants to add complexity to the stream channel.
Importantly, this crossing is only Phase I of a two-phased project. Restoring passage to this culvert opens up some 1.7 key stream miles for salmonids, but above the next culvert is more than 6 miles of quality spawning and rearing habitat upstream. That’s this summer’s job, and TU intends to be there to help Maggie Peyton and the Upper Nehalem Watershed Council get it done.