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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Playing in Mud With Friends

Last fall I went back to Oregon for a visit and was able to spend time with my friend Mark.  We went to college together and have been great buddies ever since.

Mark is involved in the Calapooia Watershed Council and took me on a tour of one of their projects.  It was one of those typical fall days in Oregon - a little rain, a little sun, and a lot of mud.  But it was well worth it because the project really highlights why I love Oregon.

The watershed was involved in restoring the run of the Calapooia River.  In the late 1800s a ditch was built to divert water from the Calapooia River to Thompson's Mills.  The Sodom ditch and dam were greatly effective, and actually began to grab nearly all of the water from the Calapooia.  The Mills became the oldest water-powered grain mill in the state and was operational until the 1970's.  It was then converted to a small hydro plant that produced and sold electricity.

In 1998 the winter steelhead, which is a magnificent gigantic trout that spends part of it's life in the ocean, was listed as a threatened species.  This was a huge deal in Oregon because the steelhead is one of the state's most important game fish.  The perfect steelhead rod is passed down through generations of fishing folk and much debated.  Unfortunately the rod my grandfather gave me broke during the move to Austin.  Dang it.  Once listed, every fish run was scrutinized for viability and improvement.  The Calapooia was reviewed because it branches directly off the Willamette - a main artery through the heart of Western Oregon.  The Sodom dam was a fish barrier on this important habitat.

The state ended up purchasing property and water rights which enabled the removal of the Sodom dam and now allows the Calapooia, and the ditch, to run free, completing over 60 miles of mainstream and tributaries for the steelhead restoration.  Here is a link to their website for more information.

Mark and I walked through the area where the dam once stood.

I couldn't tell where it was until Mark pointed it out.  You can see where some of the bank used to be and where they restored the river.

Whole logs were pile-driven into the bank to help build structure and to prevent the channel from eroding during floods.  Large rocks were also added.

Willows, pines, grasses, and woody shrubs - mostly natives - were planted on top of the restored embankments and were absolutely thriving.

We then jumped in the car and went downstream to visit the actual mill.  It is now a state historic site and was getting ready to be opened to the public.  While we were there the State Parks and Fish & Wildlife were doing a fish recovery.  More on that in my next post.


  1. Very Cool. I just watched a presentation yesterday about using concrete arrays to stabilize creek banks (essentially the same concept as the pile-driven poles - something for the sediment to catch on and then create stream banks).

    1. They had some unusual flooding and it held. It was really something to see. Love stuff like this.