The Oregon Department of Transportation took extra measures to protect fish in Canyon Creek during a flood mitigation project on Highway 395 last summer.

ODOT personnel from Regions 4 and 5 and ODOT Environmental Services joined local Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife crews to salvage 1,794 fish, crayfish and mussels from the creek bed at mile markers 4.5 and 7.25 south of Canyon City.

The crews used handheld nets, electrofishing equipment and buckets as summer temperatures reached 100-plus degrees, Region 5 Environmental Coordinator Paul Kennington told the Southeast Area Commission on Transportation in John Day on Jan. 28.

A total of 985 fish listed as threatened or endangered were salvaged from the creek with a mortality rate of about 1 percent, he said.

Fire impacts

Last year’s Canyon Creek Flood Mitigation Project was in response to concerns about erosion and flooding following the 2015 Canyon Creek Complex fire.

Highway 395 was closed during the fire because of smoke, trees falling on the roadway, emergency vehicles and damage to guardrails, signs and asphalt, Kennington said.

Following the fire, the Forest Service’s Burned Area Emergency Response team recommended increasing the capacity of the Vance Creek and Sheep Gulch culverts, protecting a bridge at mile marker 7.25 and removing hazard trees.

In addition to being undersized, the Vance Creek structure near the hairpin turn on Highway 395 was damaged by the Canyon Creek Complex fire and fish passage was compromised, Kennington said.

Fish passage was also compromised at the Sheep Gulch structure about 4 miles south of Canyon City. The culvert was undersized and required ongoing maintenance, Kennington said.

Both structures were replaced in 2015. A giant metal culvert was used at Vance Creek, and a concrete structure was used at Sheep Gulch. Trash racks were installed at both sites.

Projects in 2018

ODOT addressed two more problems in the burned area last summer — roadway flooding and a berm in the clear zone at mile marker 4.5 and scouring at the bridge footings and upstream from the bridge at mile marker 7.25.

The bridge project was more straightforward, Kennington said. Boulders were placed upstream and around the bridge footings and partially grouted to riprap the banks and protect the bridge.

Addressing flooding at mile marker 4.5 was more complicated. In the past, ODOT had constructed a flood control berm at the site, and boulders had been removed from the channel in 2010. The objectives in 2018 were to increase channel capacity, remove the berm and increase material transport through the project area. Engineers faced a number of problems in the project area — a steep, eroding slope above the creek, a power transmission line, a curved roadway on county right-of-way through Bureau of Land Management land, a naturally occurring asbestos outcrop and a hand-dug historic Chinese mining ditch.

Addressing the steep slope was an expensive option and constant maintenance was not a satisfactory solution, so ODOT chose to reconstruct about 600 feet of channel. ODOT contracted with Suulutaaq Inc., an Alaskan construction company with an office in Eugene, for the project.

A large-diameter plastic pipe was installed to temporarily contain Canyon Creek while the stream bed was de-watered. A diversion dam was constructed using plastic sheeting, and a pumping system backed up the main pipe. Fish salvage work continued as the creek bed was de-watered.

ODOT provided two backpack-style electroshockers, and ODFW brought in one more, ODFW assistant district fish biologist Brent Smith told the Eagle. Fish salvage work is common when replacing culverts for fish passage or in other fish habitat restoration projects, he said.

Salvage crews placed salvaged fish, crayfish and mussels in buckets and walked them upstream to the head of the project, Smith said. Mussels were placed back in the substrate of the creek bed.

Both sides of the channel in the project area were riprapped with boulders, and the banks were planted, Kennington said.

Fish salvage accounted for a large portion of the $1.45 million total cost of the bridge and channel projects, Kennington said. The scoping estimate had been $2 million. A more elaborate fix was abandoned after the estimate came in at over $3 million.

Richard Hanners is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. He can be contacted at rick@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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