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Portland Water Bureau Recognized for Salmon Habitat Restoration

Blog Post
Aerial view of river with passageway for salmon
Balancing the needs of our customers while minimizing our ecological impact is paramount to our mission.

The Portland Water Bureau’s work to improve salmon habitat in the Sandy River Basin—home of the Bull Run Watershed—with partner organizations was recognized on Jan. 16, 2019, by the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) of Oregon.

ACEC awarded the Sandy River Engineered Log Jams Project team with a 2019 Small Project Award for creating a design that “found a balance among needs of threatened fish species, desires of recreation enthusiasts and requirements for the municipal water supply for the people of Portland.”

Aerial view of river with passageway for salmon

Restoring Habitat and Natural Flow

The project, with elements constructed at Oxbow Regional Park and Dabney State Recreation Area, improved habitat for Chinook and Coho salmon and steelhead. The project was constructed during the summers of 2017 and 2018.

At Oxbow, more than 2,000 feet of historic side channel habitat were reopened to annual winter water flow. Two massive engineered log jams were built to provide cover for fish while helping to maintain flow to the new side channel. The engineered log jams were built to resemble the natural log jams loved by fish and were designed to withstand floods at least as big as those witnessed in 1964 or 1996.

At Dabney, a floodplain stream was restored to its original course. The stream had been blocked by a landslide, degrading or eliminating a half mile of habitat.

In both locations, additional pieces of large wood were placed along the river banks to give fish places to hide from predators and swift currents.

Providing Water and Protecting Natural Resources

The Sandy River Log Jams Project is one of a suite of Portland Water Bureau projects collectively called the Bull Run Water Supply Habitat Conservation Plan, the HCP. The HCP brings our activities in the Bull Run Watershed into compliance with the Endangered Species and Clean Water acts and offsets impacts to wildlife caused by water supply infrastructure and operations.

The HCP is part of a broader coordinated effort by a diverse variety of regional partners in the Sandy River Basin, including government agencies and non-profit groups, to protect natural resources and provide good stewardship of a resource of considerable ecological, economic, and aesthetic value.

The Payoff

Ecological restoration takes time. We are still early in the process but are already starting to see improvements such as increases in the type of river gravel salmon use for spawning and new accumulation of the small woody debris that fish can use for cover. We are even seeing young salmon moving in to use the new habitat. While winning recognition from engineers across the state is appreciated, the real reward will be seeing fish habitat and salmon and steelhead populations in the Sandy River continue to improve.