This map shows the boundary of the John Day River basin, which includes land in Grant, Wheeler, Gilliam and Sherman counties.

After four years of work, the John Day Basin Partnership recently learned it has been awarded a $4 million Focused Investment Partnership implementation grant from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board.

OWEB received applications from 10 organizations for the competitive grant, and the local partnership was ranked No. 1, partnership coordinator Kristen Walz said. The group was nominated for an OWEB Outstanding Partnership Award in 2015.

The application was for $12 million over three bienniums, and the OWEB announcement was for $4 million for the 2019-2021 biennium. According to OWEB, the partnership estimates it can leverage an additional $9.7 million from other funding sources for the 2019-2021 biennium.

The grant funding will be used to improve fish habitat for steelhead, spring chinook salmon, bull trout and other native fish species, with three focus areas in the John Day River basin: the Middle Fork, North Fork and the Thirtymile and Butte creek watersheds.

The partnership represents 28 organizations in Grant, Wheeler, Gilliam and Sherman counties. That includes watershed councils, soil and water conservation districts, forest and landowner collaboratives, tribes, state and federal agencies and conservation groups from across the basin.

The partnership was formed in 2014 to leverage partners and resources to accelerate the pace and scale of watershed restoration in the John Day River Basin. The partnership’s goals are to improve Endangered Species Act-listed and Oregon-priority native fish species viability, ridgetop-to-ridgetop watershed health and promote local economies.

Amy Charette, a watershed restoration coordinator in John Day for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, said the partnership has focused on organization building over the past four years, including developing operation and action plans.

A steering committee serves in an advisory capacity. Each partner can cast a vote on adding partners, submitting grant applications and other matters. A technical team will review project proposals. The partners bring technical expertise to projects, Charette said, including hydrology, civil engineering, fish biology, range management and grazing specialists.

The partnership relies on the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife for advice on evolving fish and water quality monitoring technologies. The soil and water conservation districts along with the Forest Service provide civil engineering expertise.

The OWEB funding in this grant is focused on aquatic projects, but the John Day Basin Partnership will look for other funding for projects such as enhancing upland watersheds, Charette said. A basin-wide goal is to improve streamflow and reduce stream temperatures by retaining runoff from snowpack.

Mid-Columbia chinook salmon spawn in the John Day River’s main stem in late August and September. Steelhead spawn in tributaries in spring. Bull trout spawn in headwater tributaries in the fall, such as Desolation Creek in the North Fork "area.

“This investment benefits native fish species while improving water quality and supporting the local natural resource economy,” OWEB Executive Director Meta Loftsgaarden said.

From 1999 through 2017, OWEB awarded $17 million in grants for projects in Grant County. About 65 percent of that funding went to projects to improve irrigation efficiency, fish passage and upland conditions. That work took place on 228 miles of streams, 1,161 miles of fish habitat, 108,673 acres of upland habitat and 189 acres of wetland or estuarine habitat.

For more information about the John Day Basin Partnership, contact Kristen Walz at or 541-421-3018, or contact local watershed councils.

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


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