ASHLAND, Ore. -- A restoration project has turned up hundreds of young steelhead and other fish in Ashland Creek in Southern Oregon, showing that years of restoration efforts are paying off, biologists say.
Also in the count were coho salmon, Pacific giant salamanders and the bottom-feeding sculpin. They were recovered while a 300-foot section of the creek was drained for habitat improvement work that included removing a century-old irrigation dam, the Ashland Daily Tidings reported.
State fish biologist Dan VanDyke said the key is "native fish are using Ashland Creek despite numerous challenges."
The creek runs through downtown Ashland and its Lithia Park. It comes off the highest point in the watershed and is a primary source of cold, clear water for Bear Creek, a tributary of the Rogue River.
Among the steps to improve the stream taken in recent decades was the removal of three dams in the 1990s from Lithia Park, where large steelhead can now be seen swimming.
Earlier this month, crews finished reconstructing parts of the channel, and removing the irrigation dam, said Scott English, principal restoration biologist for Northwest Biological Consulting, the Ashland contractor doing the city project, which is expected to cost nearly $250,000.
After removing several tons of sediment that backed up in the stream channel above the dam, crews built a half-dozen horseshoe-shaped barriers made of river rock and root wads to improve the stream's capacity and fish habitat. Work is to resume later this fall, after rains come, when crews will replant the banks with native trees and shrubs.
Among Ashland Creek's challenges, said VanDyke, are several diversions that take water from the creek and have concrete barriers to fish passage.
The stream also gets surface runoff from storm drains and is used to flush effluent from the city water treatment plant. It frequently becomes contaminated with E. coli bacteria in the summer, and it's also the source of the city's drinking water and some hydroelectric power.