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Kayakers prepare to enter the Sandy River.
Sandy River Basin Watershed Council celebrates 20 years of work posted on 10/02/2017

For the past 20 years, the Sandy River Basin Watershed Council (SRBWC) has worked to improve fish habitat, water quality and more in the Sandy River basin, with projects including reconnecting historical floodplains and side channels back to the river system, distributing fish carcasses to bring more nutrients to the ecosystem and playing a role in the removal of the Marmot and Little Sandy Dams in 2007 and 2008, respectively. The group will celebrate the two decades of stream improvements, plus the 10th anniversary of the removal of the Marmot Dam, from 6-9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, at the Riverview Restaurant, 29311 SE Stark Street in Troutdale.

Steve Wise, SRBCW’s Executive Director, noted that the group’s aim is for the Sandy River basin to be an anchor habitat for the lower Columbia River, and that the early indications are that their work is paying off.

“We’re going to be a salmon stronghold for the Columbia,” Wise said. “If people stay with us, we can do it.”

Wise will deliver “The State of the Sandy” at the event, including statistics on how the basin has changed in particular over the past decade, or what amounts to 2.5 generations of salmon. He noted that there are increases in wild fish, particularly with spring Chinook and wild steelhead, with numbers in the past decade substantially higher than in the previous one.

“From that, we take great encouragement,” Wise said. “It’s too early to declare victory, but we can definitely declare progress.”

The numbers for Coho and fall Chinook are not quite as positive, partly due to the accuracy of the numbers due to the water conditions at that time of year. But Wise also stressed that removing the two dams were only part of the puzzle to help raise the numbers of salmon in the basin.

“Dam removal was a great leap forward for the river, but that alone wouldn’t be enough to restore wild fish,” he said, citing the other types of projects the group has been a part of since then, such as planting native vegetation and removing invasive species. “The trick is that rivers are complicated and fish biology is complicated.”

Wise noted that one big factor in improving the basin has been the willingness of the community to help, including landowners who own property next to a river. He cited an example of a floodplain restoration project upstream of Brightwood, where the community members of Timberline Rim stepped up to provide $20,000 to the effort.

“They contributed cash to planning and building of side channel restoration because they felt responsible and saw it was worth the community getting together,” Wise said. “The willingness of the community is a huge asset and a critical piece of the future of the Sandy.”

Wise added that when decision was made to remove the two dams, it was a “radical notion,” but since then, thousands of other dams have been removed throughout the country, including a number of larger ones.

“We’ve proven that not only can you do it, but it’s a productive and essential step for watersheds,” he said.

Wise noted that in the coming years, the council plans on performing more restoration efforts, including additional areas in the upper Sandy River and areas that have been shown to be more productive habitat for fish than originally thought, including Beaver Creek and Kelly Creek in the lower Sandy.

He also added that keeping people aware of the importance of salmon habitat will play a key role moving forward, particularly with the numbers of recreational visitors increasing to enjoy biking, skiing, paddling and more.

“That’s going to be important in the long run; people will keep coming,” Wise said. “The Sandy is a regionally significant natural resource.”

“We’ve got a really strong running start on the restoration side of things; having a free flowing river is a tremendous advantage,” he added. “It will take more than one decade to recover from the impacts of a century.”

The SRBWC celebration and The State of the Sandy will include appetizers and desserts, including coffee, tea, juices and a cash bar. There will also be a silent auction, including art and tickets to the Portland Thorns. The event is sponsored by Portland General Electric’s Habitat Fund, Metro and the Port of Portland. Tickets are $25 for general admission and $15 for students, and can be purchased at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sandyversary-tickets-36497845037.

For more information, visit http://sandyriver.org/.

By Garth Guibord/MT




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