How Quickly a River Recovers

I last wrote about the Hemlock Dam located on Trout Creek in Washington state in August, when the dam removal was completed by the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, with funding from American Rivers, NOAA, and numerous other partners. Along with the dam removal, the stream channel of Trout Creek was also redesigned and restored at that time to function as a natural river. Hemlock Dam had to be removed–it served no necessary purpose (previously used as an irrigation dam for a tree nursery) and blocked passage to important habitat for threatened Lower Columbia Steelhead.  As a ‘High Hazard’ dam it was also a significant liability for the Forest Service given the significant risk that it could fail and flood downstream areas.

It’s always hard to know when a river is really restored back to the most natural conditions possible–a good indication that Trout Creek was that much closer to being a natural stream again was when the first week after dam removal, an adult steelhead swam upstream of the previous dam site, no doubt eager to explore over 15 miles of newly accessible habitat.  And recently it has become clear that Trout Creek is recovering more quickly than some might think. check out this Flicrk slideshow to see photos of the site before dam removal and photos taken by the Gifford Pinchot Task Force after the dam has been removed, with high streamflows in Trout Creek this fall.

It’s pretty exciting to see a cold water river now where there was once a flat, warm reservoir before.  When people ask me if restoration is quick or even worth it, it obviously depends on the river, but I would say that seeing how Trout Creek has responded, river restoration is sometimes quicker and more worth it than many people may realize.