By Michele Smith

Fish and wildlife habitat improvement plan is underway for Touchet River

Walla Walla and Columbia Conservation Districts are lead agencies for the two- to three-year project


April 11, 2019

DAYTON-The Walla Walla and Columbia Conservation Districts are the lead agencies for a restoration and improvement plan for fish and wildlife habitat on the Touchet River, from the SR 125 bridge at Waitsburg, upstream, into the upper reaches of the North and South Touchet River and Wolf and Robinson Forks.

Landowners potentially impacted by the plan were provided with an overview of the process at meetings held last week in Waitsburg and in Dayton and they were invited to help shape the plan.

Speaking in the Youth Building, at the Columbia County Fairgrounds, Columbia Conservation District Manager Terry Bruegman said the process for the Touchet River will be the same as that undertaken for the Tucannon River in 2011.

Ben Floyd of White Bluff Consulting and Tracy Drury PE for Anchor QEA, presented a geomorphic assessment and habitat prioritization report for the Touchet River, which was prepared for the Conservation Districts, and Drury also discussed the qualities that make river habitat ideal for fish.

"We are really early in the process," Drury said.

"We're trying to mimic the Tucannon process. We identified some places where we could remove levees where they weren't protecting anything, and we found some places where we could set back a levee and provide a farmer with better protection to the area they really wanted to work and give the river more room to work," Drury said about the Tucannon River project.

"That's where I think we're going to end up by the time we end this process," he said.

Drury said there is limited data on the Touchet River and that is where performing a geomorphic assessment comes in, after which, project areas for restoration will be identified.

"We're going to look at the system, look at what makes sense, and work with people who are willing, and want to get involved with some conceptual restoration projects," he said.

Drury said the Bonneville Power Agency has a requirement to mitigate for their impacts by providing for restoration in the tributaries.

"They are looking for opportunities to fulfill that requirement. What that means is they're looking for people to work with, and if they don't find them in this room, they are going to find them in another room," he said.

"We're not doing anything without the cooperation and inclusion of the people living in the valley," Drury said. "We're reaching out to you. If you want us to come out and look at your property, make it known tonight."

"We do value your knowledge of the river, your knowledge of how the river has worked in the past and what the risks are. What is happening up and down and on your property, because that's important information for us," Floyd said.

Landowners at the meeting expressed concerns about flood risk from dike removals, impacts to their property from work that is done upstream, costs to BPA ratepayers, the economic impacts on farmers, and the need for good communication with each other.

Floyd said a conceptual restoration plan should be in place by the end of the year. In the meantime, meetings will take place with landowners and a series of public meetings will follow. The best early opportunities for improvements on the river will then be established and funding will follow, he said.

Floyd said the whole process could take between two and three years.


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