Oregon Utilities Launch River Enhancement Projects in McKenzie River Watershed

March 20, 2014

Oregon Utilities Launch River Enhancement Projects in McKenzie River Watershed

Eugene and Springfield municipalities partner with non-profit to improve fish habitat

The Eugene Water & Electric Board and the Metropolitan Wastewater Management Commission of Eugene and Springfield have partnered with water conservation organization The Freshwater Trust on two separate programs that improve the health of the McKenzie River.

The Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB) has engaged with The Freshwater Trust to develop a survey program in the McKenzie River watershed to identify key river frontage for conservation. With the help of local partners, including the McKenzie Watershed Council and Upper Willamette Soil and Water Conservation District, The Freshwater Trust has begun to collect and analyze vegetation and habitat data from 14 reference sites; these data will help define subbasin-specific characteristics and plant communities that constitute a diverse and healthy riparian system.

By using a tablet application developed by The Freshwater Trust – StreamBank Mobile – data collection efforts will be more efficient than ever before and will increase the effectiveness of field work and data analysis. The Freshwater Trust will then build a field protocol for EWEB’s Voluntary Incentives Program to clearly define the criteria for site inclusion, and apply the protocol to private landowner pilot sites in late 2014. Comparing landowner vegetation conditions to reference site conditions will determine landowner eligibility for the incentives or recommend restoration pathways.

“As the sole source of water for more than 200,000, the McKenzie River has high scenic, recreational, residential property, agricultural and forestry value, as well,” said Joe Whitworth, president of The Freshwater Trust. “By incentivizing private landowners to conserve streamside vegetation, this program protects the water quality of this important river and potentially avoids more costly water treatment methods down the road.”

Just a few miles away, the Metropolitan Wastewater Management Commission (MWMC) – a regional wastewater entity formed through a partnership between the cities of Eugene and Springfield and Lane County, Oregon, that serves the two cities – has undertaken a pilot program to demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of a water quality trading program for its requirement to comply with temperature limits on the treated water it discharges into the river.

The MWMC has contracted with The Freshwater Trust to restore streamside vegetation within the MWMC’s watershed service area, thereby reducing the solar load on the water via shade. The MWMC identified two tributaries within the McKenzie River watersheds that are high priority for protecting fish habitat and water quality. One site is on public land on the Mill Race, and The Freshwater Trust has recently secured a lease for a second, privately-owned site on Cedar Creek. These sites were cleared of invasive plant species and are being planted with native streamside vegetation over the next three years.

Once the temperature benefits of the restoration actions are verified, water quality trading credits will be purchased by the MWMC. The pilot is designed to demonstrate the feasibility of a streamside shade credit program, should the MWMC choose to expand it at a later date to comply with future pollutant limits. This natural solution could be a more cost-effective way to comply than building new infrastructure at the wastewater facility.

Together, EWEB’s incentives program and MWMC’s shade restoration program begin to build a framework for a comprehensive source water protection approach in the McKenzie watershed. Riparian vegetation serves as a critical component of a healthy stream network by contributing to shade, reducing soil erosion, adding woody debris necessary for cold-water fish spawning and resting habitats, and preventing sediment, pollutants and excessive nutrients from entering the waterways.

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