East Fork Lewis River Restoration Project Grants

Following the success of its Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge habitat restoration project, the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership has set its sights on another historic project. This time the organization is focusing on the East Fork Lewis River, specifically the Ridgefield Pits – an area encompassing nine abandoned strip mines about 4 miles upriver from La Center.

On Monday, the State Recreation and Conservation Office awarded $7.74 million to the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership to help ensure the survival of salmon in Washington. A total of $76 million in grants has been awarded through the office’s Salmon Recovery Funding Council for 138 projects in 30 counties. Clark County received the second largest share behind Jefferson County.

“This is incredibly important work,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a news release Monday. “The projects will help restore salmon statewide. This means more salmon for our endangered killer whales, more jobs for people and industries that depend on salmon, and improved habitat that can better protect us from flooding and the effects of climate change.

People also read…

According to Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky, communications associate for the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, the bulk of the grants — $7.05 million — will go to the East Fork Reclamation Project.

“It’s similar to Steigerwald – a very big project, a very expensive project but has enormous value for salmon, flood risk reduction, erosion control,” Zimmer-Stucky said.

While the Steigerwald Project was the largest habitat restoration project on the Columbia River, Zimmer-Stucky said this project would be the largest such effort on the East Fork Lewis River.

The group’s other projects include a regional assessment of barriers to fish passage and the development of an online mapping tool; final design for part of the projects also on the East Fork Lewis River which removes a hardened bank and reconnects two tributaries; the final design of another part of an East Fork Lewis River and Mason Creek project; and final designs and permits for restoration of Woodard Creek in Skamania County.

The need for the East Fork Reclamation Project arose from the floods that occurred in 1995 and 1996.

“The river changed course during a flood. Mining had been done there since the 1950s, so it was a fairly well-established mining area with abandoned pits, said Elaine Placido, executive director of the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership.

In the nearly two decades since the flood, Placido said, the river has yet to recover. Although the organization could continue to wait, she said it could take some time.

“If we chose to ignore the problem, it could naturally recover, but it could take over 100 years to do so,” Placido said.

In the meantime, salmon and rainbow trout spawning has been eliminated and farming opportunities have been drastically reduced, she said.

“Hot water ponds (created by surface mining) block fish access to the upper part of the watershed, and warm water ponds benefit salmon-eating fish,” Placido said. . “It’s a pretty inhospitable area for salmon in that part of the river.”

“Places like this are really rich in creatures – fish, wildlife. It doesn’t look like that anymore,” said Paul Kolp, lead restoration ecologist for the organization.

Before the flood, Kolp said, the river meandered around the mining pits; after the flood, he crossed them directly.

“We’re really trying to restore natural alluvial processes (where the river would move) back and forth and have been able to support cold water species like salmon and rainbow trout. Today that is not the case,” Kolp said.

To restore the riverine habitat, the mine pits will be backfilled with on-site materials and approximately 300 acres of floodplain will be regraded. Kolp said the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership will also attempt to preserve existing features or areas that already support cold-water species.

“It’s going to be a big floodplain reset,” Kolp said. “There’s also a mile to 1½ mile of side channel work that we’re going to be doing, and we’re going to be removing some fish passage barriers.”

With the total cost of the project estimated to be between $12 million and $15 million, the grants awarded on Monday will cover about half of the tab. Placido said the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership will need to secure additional funding for the project, which he hopes will go through the Legislature.

“For this, we are seeking support from the Floodplains by Design program with the Washington Department of Ecology,” she said.

Placido said the Legislative Assembly should determine the amount of funds that will be allocated to the program during the 2023 session.

“If the Legislature backs the program at $70 million, then the East Fork Reclamation Project will be funded,” Placido said.

However, if the Legislative Assembly decides to allocate less than $70 million, the project will not receive any funding under the Floodplains by Design program.

“It’s more effective and efficient if we go big on restoration projects to ensure that all the benefits of our projects are achieved…instead of trying to lump together many different small projects piecemeal,” she said.

Placido hopes the organization’s success with the Steigerwald Project, which received funding through that same program, will help move the project forward.

But for now, he will have to wait — somewhat impatiently, Placido said — for the Legislative Assembly to convene in January.

Comments are closed.