TFT enters agreement with U.S. Forest Service to improve ‘Wild & Scenic’ rivers

July 25, 2018

The “Wild & Scenic” sections of the Rogue River including the iconic Illinois, a tributary of the Rogue, will see improvements in water quality, thanks to a recent agreement between the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest of the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture (U.S. Forest Service) and The Freshwater Trust (TFT).

In June, TFT signed a scope of work worth over three-quarter of a million dollars to develop systems that facilitate more efficient and effective restoration actions within certain sections of the southwestern Oregon’s Rogue River basin.

“Being dubbed wild and scenic does not make a stretch of river immune from upstream contamination issues, such as heavy summer withdrawals, nutrient-rich runoff and a dearth of native fish habitat,” said Denis Reich, southern Oregon program director with TFT. “We see this as a chance to reverse some of the systemic degradation affecting the most precious parts of this great river.”

The Wild & Scenic Rivers Act (Act) turned 50 this year. Initiated by Congress in October of 1968, the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System was developed to “preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations.”

Congress or the Secretary of the Interior can make a designation to preserve a river’s outstanding natural, cultural or recreational values. The Rogue was one of the original eight designated through the Act, along with the Rio Grande in New Mexico, Salmon River in Idaho, and Feather River in Northern California. Approximately .35% of the country’s total river miles are designated, equating to almost 13,000 stream miles protected from development that would change their scenic quality. Due to the Act’s focus on sections of rivers, and the inevitable adjacency of each section with more traditional land uses, the legislation needs local support to fulfill its objectives.

“There may be certain things that are prohibited in the wild & scenic section of a river, but that doesn’t mean the river is protected from all actions that have a noteworthy impact on water quality,” said Reich. “Restoration is still incredibly necessary to prevent upstream impacts from undermining the pristine nature of these sections.”

In collaboration with local U.S. Forest Service staff, TFT will begin a comprehensive planning effort this fall. The approach will emphasize synchronization between (public) headwater and (private) lowland restoration for maximum benefit on downstream wild and scenic reaches. When complete in 2021, a full suite of publicly available geospatial tools will be available to support priority project execution and maximize the benefits of future restoration efforts throughout the Rogue.

Through modeling and publicly available data, TFT will prioritize sites that reduce sediment and improve water temperatures within the boundaries of wild and scenic sections. One of the high priority projects identified during the analysis will be actually implemented as a demonstration project by TFT within the next three years. Basin partners will have access to the planning, prioritization and tracking tools to continue their work improving the Rogue watershed.

“This project is a blend of analysis, engagement and project work,” said Reich. “It allows us to flex multiple muscles and demonstrate the variety of ways we fix rivers. Ultimately, this is about taking the time to share expertise and knowledge among all local partners and deepen the impact of our collective programming in the Rogue.”

TFT began working in the Rogue in 2012 after contracting with the city of Medford to offset the warm water discharged into the river. This opened doors for opportunities with other entities, including the Bureau of Reclamation and the Oregon Department of Transportation.

To date, more than 20 projects have been implemented in the basin on three major creeks and the main stem of the Rogue.

According to TFT’s monitoring, these actions have kept at least 60 pounds of phosphorus and nitrogen and more than 100,000 pounds of sediment from entering the river. Acres of streamside planting projects have also prevented 500 million kilocalories of solar load from warming the water – approximately equivalent to shading 100 Olympic swimming pools.

Salmonid populations in key tributaries throughout the basin have also increased, as a testament to the work of providing better habitat.

“This partnership is another chapter in the Rogue story,” said Reich. “Each initiative builds upon the others. Piece by piece and partnership by partnership, we are fixing this basin.”