Restoration of a side channel to the Sandy River said to be critical to survival

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO:  - CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: River Design Group Engineer Scott Wright, left, and Metro Scientist Brian Vaughn are pictured while discussing conditions at the side channel inlet. This photo is of the upstream end of the channel along the Sandy River, which is now clogged with sediment. Part of this project includes building a large logjam to divert more water into the channel and improve its habitat value.Juvenile salmon will be happier when Happy Creek and its side channel to the Sandy River are restored.

Phase One of the project begins next week, which means that between Monday, April 1, and Friday, April 5, Oxbow Park will be closed.

A new culvert must be installed under the access road to the park, and there will be no access to the park during the entire week, said Steve Wise, executive director of the Sandy River Basin Watershed Council, which is carrying out this project with the help of several partners.

That culvert will allow Happy Creek, with its year-round flows, to pass under the road instead of making a sharp turn and flowing alongside the road — as it has done for the past 60 years.

“That means the creek was taken out of its natural streambed,” Wise said. “It also lost access to a side channel of the Sandy (River), which has excellent potential for fish habitat.”

That side channel is a focus of this project because its development represents a place where juvenile salmon can go to escape the force of the mighty Sandy during heavy flows.

But even in the summertime, with Happy Creek connected to the side channel, fish will have access to cooler water and better habitat.

The second phase of this project, during the summer, includes building a large logjam near the inlet to the side channel, diverting water into the channel for more of the year than happens currently.

Right now, there’s a large hill of sand blocking the inlet to the side channel, which is nearly one-half mile long. Wise says sand deposits are a natural cycle, but it is affecting the habitat of juveniles who are endangered by the river’s force.

“In the spirit of restoration,” he said, “we’re accelerating the natural cycle to reopen this area and make it accessible to fish.”

This project is focused more on the side channel to the river than it is on Happy Creek, Wise said. The project, which overall costs more than $400,000, will create a sanctuary for juvenile salmon trying to get to the ocean. For the little fish, it will be a refuge and shelter from the ravages of the mighty river.

“When fish are migrating down the river,” he said, “if a storm comes and causes high water, it takes more energy for them to control themselves than otherwise. Juvenile fish need to conserve energy.”

Wise knows that creating what he calls “off-channel habitats” gives the small fish places to get out of the main flow and rest.

Another logjam will be created near the lower end of the side channel to create a place where the fish can hide and feed.

The project’s mission is to help re-establish self-sustaining populations.

“Like much of the restoration work in the Sandy (River),” he said, “we’re generally trying to turn back the clock to a healthier era for the watershed.”

The project requires more than 200 large logs or lower sections of trees with their root wads intact. Project engineers were resourceful, and found some recyclable logs from TriMet’s Portland to Milwaukie light rail project and some from a restoration project in Springfield.

One of the group’s partners is Metro, which has identified five important areas to restore habitat in the lower eight miles of the Sandy River.

Until now, much of the habitat restoration by the watershed council has been in the upper Sandy and its tributaries, where spawning is important.

The fact they are working on the lower Sandy River, Wise said, makes it more challenging because “the river is stronger and more dynamic than its tributaries.”

Besides Metro and the watershed council, funding and other assistance is coming from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, PGE, The Nature Conservancy, Bureau of Land Management, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, which is helping to pay for about 100 acres of native revegetation work.

For more information, call Wise at 503-668-1428 or visit the website at

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