Restoration project planned in North Fork of Teanaway River
ELLENSBURG, Wash. (AP) — On a bend of the North Fork of the Teanaway River, the waters come alive.
The water splits into separate channels, pools are created for fish to relax in as they travel upstream, and the river seems to meander in every direction it chooses at its own will.
“Look at this,” Yakama Nation Fish Biologist Ryan DeKnikker told the Ellensburg Daily Record with a glint in his eye. “This is how this river is supposed to look.”
Over the past 150 years, the Teanaway has been molded by humans to fit their needs. The first contact was through trappers, effectively eliminating beaver habitats. Logging activity came shortly after, and the river was converted into a channel of sorts for splash dam logging operations. Eventually railroads were built on the banks of the river to carry the logs out. Although the tracks have been long removed, the results of the modification for logging purposes has remained. The river shows signs of scouring, deep channeling that prohibits it from utilizing the historic floodplains that were a characteristic before human impact.
A team effort by the Yakama Nation Fisheries and Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group will work to restore the stretch of the Upper Teanaway to what it once was. In order to recover, the river badly needs wood to be placed in the streambed. Once approval is granted, the two entities will deposit a large number of trees in the upper fork, helping the river recover from the human impact. The hope is that the river can return to the conditions seen in the example DeKnikker pointed out. In that situation, wood was naturally deposited through storm activity, but most stretches of the river need more intentional intervention.
Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group Yakima Basin Program Director Rebecca Wassell explained that once wood is placed in the river, it will help the water move past the unnatural levies that were created by the logging operations. She said once the water is distributed onto the floodplain, the benefits will be numerous. Gravels will build up, allowing pools to be created that provide habitat for spawning fish. The distribution of water onto the floodplain will also help recharge the groundwater, aiding in irrigation throughout the valley.
“The water that came up here would stop,” she said. “It would slow down and have to soak into the soil profile. It would be stored then for release later in the season when the river got low.”
As the river doesn’t have any sort of a man-made storage mechanism such as a dam, Wassell said the utilization of floodplain areas are critical for the health of the valley.
“We call it a sponge all the time,” she said. “In a functioning floodplain, water from spring floods is stored in the adjacent floodplain in the soil. That is released as the water in the river is drawn down throughout the season.”
Once the wood placement replenishes the natural streambed, Wassell said the benefits can be more directly quantified. As of now, however, it is more of a guessing game as far as what is being lost from season to season.
“We don’t have an estimate of the quantity of water, but everything that would have been stored in these old floodplain areas is lost and sent downstream during spring runoff,” she said.
When looking at the channeling effects of the river, DeKnikker tried his best to guess the amount of water being lost while not being distributed on the floodplain.
“In the order of thousands of acre-feet,” DeKnikker added. “For the whole Teanaway. There’s a lot of loss.”
Although the project is currently in the public comment process and still needs approval to move forward, Wassell said the benefits will eventually aid residents of the valley in drought years such as this summer. She said it will take years for the river to return to the place where it can be productive again, but it will eventually be a boon to the area.
“The Teanaway doesn’t have a reservoir,” she said. “For the downstream irrigators in low water years like this year, they’ll see their rights prorated,” she said. “They won’t be able to irrigate to their full amount. One of the ways we can start to make more flow available is by reconnecting floodplains. By trapping water earlier in the season. We like that better than a dam.”
Information from: Daily Record, http://www.kvnews.com