Foundation awarded $4.8 million for projects
The Methow Salmon Recovery Foundation has received one of its largest grants — almost $4.8 million — to improve salmon habitat in the Methow River.
The funding will allow Methow Salmon Recovery Foundation (MSRF) to conduct four projects on a 5-mile stretch of the Methow River that extends upstream from the confluence with the Twisp River to just above the Methow Valley Intercity Airport between Twisp and Winthrop.
The state funding was awarded by the Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board to help protect spring Chinook salmon and steelhead trout, both listed as federally threatened species.
“This is one of our biggest grants,” said Chris Johnson, MSRF president. “We’ve never done four projects all at the same time.”
The work will take place in four locations along the Methow River, within an area referred to as the Sugar Reach. MSRF calls the overall restoration project the Sugar Reach Channel Reconnections Project.
Project designs will be completed in 2023, and work will be done in 2024 and 2025, Johnson said. MSRF will continue to work with landowners and other partners to approve and finalize the designs during the next year, he said.
The $4,794,000 grant is part of a supplemental appropriation awarded by the state Legislature to the Salmon Recovery Funding Board to provide grants for projects that benefit salmon recovery. The large grant will allow MSRF to complete projects that were expected to take much longer, Johnson said.
“It will condense implementation from 10 years to two years. It’s a focused infusion of funding into the region that not only supports salmon recovery but supports the local economy,” he said.
“MSRF has a local preference policy. Our goal is to put as much of this money into local contractors in Okanogan County and the Methow Valley in particular,” Johnson said. “We have a good history of working with Methow contractors. I anticipate this project will bring multiple contractors into each worksite.”
MSRF will be reaching out to contractors in early 2023 and plans to host a series of site visits to familiarize contractors with the project, Johnson said.
MSRF is a nonprofit organization that works with biologists, engineers and the community to carry out habitat projects that contribute to the recovery of threatened and endangered fish species.
The Sugar Reach Project aims to increase floodplain connectivity, enhance side channel habitat, and expand instream rearing and refuge habitat for salmon, said Tara Gregg, MSRF project manager. Gregg provided the following description of the overall project.
At the project’s upstream end, where the Methow River flows by the Intercity Airport, MSRF will conduct work on both sides of the river on WDFW land and private property. The new project is the second phase of a project that began at that location 10 years ago when MSRF removed a levee on the right side of the river and installed a series of engineered wood structures to reopen historic floodplain areas and provide additional habitat for fish.
The project will remove old defunct culverts, previously used for agricultural purposes, in a floodplain area next to the river to help further restore the floodplain. The work also includes placing large wood structures on both sides of the river (to create pools for salmon to rest, feed and hide from predators), and conducting instream grading to maintain water in two channels of the river.
A second project location includes work on both sides of the Methow River on privately owned land near the Riverbend RV Park north of Twisp. Work will include installation of wood structures on both sides of the river, excavation and planting along the river to enhance riparian areas along the left bank, and excavation of an existing flow split to allow more water to enter the left side channel that goes dry in summer.
The third and fourth project locations are on both sides of the Methow River, extending downstream from a 1970s-era levee on the right side of the river known as the Sugar Levee, to just above the confluence with the Twisp River. The levee forces the river to take an unnatural 90-degree turn, which has created bank erosion and flooding concerns downstream.
About 300 feet of the tip of the 1,425-foot-long levee will be removed through excavation and grading to help restore the natural channel bed and reduce downstream erosion. Large wood structures will be placed to create a year-round side channel, which provides additional habitat for salmon and connects to the natural floodplain.
On the left side of the river a series of flood plain channels will be excavated to increase the amount of time they hold water during the year. Large wood structures will be placed in the river and smaller wood in the channels.
In-water work, such as excavating, is only permitted in the month of July, to avoid harming reproducing salmon. But out-of-water work will take place during between June and October in 2024 and 2025, Gregg said.
A decade of work
The Sugar Reach Project “builds on more than a decade of work by MSRF and others to … initiate restoration actions” in this stretch of the Methow River, Gregg said.
MSRF initiated outreach with landowners in the Sugar Reach area in 2010 to determine their willingness to allow fish habitat restoration activities. Between 2011 and 2018, MSRF purchased seven properties in the Sugar Reach Project area to facilitate future restoration.
Starting in 2019, a project development team of MSRF, Bureau of Reclamation and representatives of the Tributary Committee (affiliated with public utility districts to protect and enhance salmon and steelhead habitat) began working with design consultants to identify restoration opportunities along the five-mile reach of the Methow River.
MSRF has worked with the Bureau Reclamation, Bonneville Power Authority, the Salmon Recovery Funding Board, and the state Department of Ecology to fund the project.
A separate effort to mitigate flooding and riverbank erosion below the Sugar Levee is being pursued by a partnership of the Yakama Nation and Town of Twisp. The town and Yakama Nation are seeking a state grant to potentially purchase about 9 acres of private property from willing landowners along the right side of the river to convert to a managed flood plain.
The project would remove nine existing structures, including the Community Covenant Church, which has been threatened by an eroding riverbank. The acquired properties would become part of town-owned public land. The grant is being sought through the state Floodplains by Design program, part of the Department of Ecology.
“While this effort is not directly part of the Sugar Reach Project, the work is complementary,” Gregg said.
The Sugar Reach Project is one of four large salmon habitat restoration projects that received a total of $18 million from the state Salmon Recovery Funding Board, a part of the Washington Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO). In addition to Okanogan County, grants were awarded for projects in Kittitas, Walla Walla and Pacific counties.
Restoring salmon habitat is considered essential to helping recovery of endangered Southern Resident killer whales. In addition to the salmon recovery funding from the state, an additional $9.4 million in federal funding was announced this month by RCO for several projects around the state to restore habitat for Chinook salmon, the main food for orcas.
“These grants are for large and important project that will help us take big steps forward in bringing salmon and orcas back from the brink of extinction,” said Megan Duffy, RCO director, in a news release.