Ecology grant brings big changes to Little Naches River

Sometimes the best intentions don’t work out as hoped. More than 40 years ago, land managers built levees on the Little Naches River to protect 1900 Forest Service Road from flooding. They removed tree trunks and leveled the riverbed. The dams constricted the creek and prevented it from spreading in its natural floodplain. This damaged habitat for many species of fish, including endangered salmonids. The changes also reduced fishing and wading opportunities in the most popular recreation area in the Naches Ranger District of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. That’s all changing, thanks in part to a 2020 Streamflow Restoration Grant from Ecology.

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Collaboration: the big difference in Little Naches

Stream blocked by protocols in stream

The Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group worked with partners to create a collaborative plan to repair the damage and restore habitat along a 1 mile (1.6 km) stretch of the river. The Little Naches Workgroup Aquatic Sub-Committee, staff from Yakama Nation Fisheries, USDA Forest Service, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, NOAA Fisheries, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Mid-Columbia Fisheries, and Yakima Basin Fish and Wildlife Recovery Board regularly met with engineers from TetraTech, LLC to create an effective restoration project.

In 2020, we awarded Mid-Columbia Fisheries a $1.175 million Streamflow Restoration Grant. Additional funding from the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan and the Forest Service’s Central Washington Initiative allowed the project to take shape, with a completion target of fall 2022. On the project’s methods of retaining water in the landscape and restoring habitat, belong:

  • eliminate dikes. The levees were ten feet high on the Kittitas County side and about five feet high on the Yakima County side. A small portion of one of the dikes was left in place to limit the risk of flooding for Forest Road 1900.
  • Raise the submerged river bed. All of the rocks from the levees were brought back into the creek bed, raising the creek bed by up to four to five feet in some areas.
  • Reconnect the flood plane. The elimination of the levees allows the river to slow and return the current to its natural floodplain. The water from the creek can spread out, limiting erosion and temporarily storing excess water for drier times.
  • Add wood to improve living space and raise the creek bed. The forest service donated nearly 600 adult trees with root balls. The beauty of this part of the project is that the lumber was pulled from nearby tree thinning projects rather than having to be purchased and flown in by truck or helicopter, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars and reducing the carbon footprint of the build.
  • Replant the shore areas to increase floodplain roughness, shade and future wood supply, reduce evaporation, keep water cool, and restore habitat for land-based forest dwellers.

The first phase of the project was completed in September 2022. In the fall of 2023, Mid-Columbia Fisheries will plant native trees to complete the project. The water table is now noticeably higher. In the previously separated floodplain there are areas of standing water and wet sand. Beaver has already moved in to begin long-term site management. A bull trout was recently spotted so there is hope that they will discover this new spawning habitat and return to this stretch of the river for years to come.

“We are so grateful for the agencies, organizations and individuals working together to keep the water, fish and forests healthy in the Yakima Basin,” said Rebecca Wassell, program director for the Yakima Basin for Mid-Columbia fisheries. “Collaboration is key to meaningful habitat restoration – and it sure makes our projects fun, too.”

Panoramic views of the Little Naches River

More grants will follow

Our Power Restoration Competition grants fund projects that improve rivers and creeks in Washington. We support the work of state and local governments, tribal governments and nonprofit organizations across the state. To learn more, visit our Streamflow Grant webpage.

Since 2019, we have awarded more than $40 million to 37 watershed projects statewide. We plan to announce the next round of grantees early next month.

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