Metro grant will help endangered fish return to Beaver Creek

July 15, 2014

The existing Cochran Road culvert will be replaced with a fish-friendly passage.

Multnomah County has received a $579,500 Metro grant to replace a culvert that carries Beaver Creek under county-owned Cochran Road with a new fish-friendly bridge passage. The county’s Land Use & Transportation Program has been working for years to improve passage for threatened fish species, including salmonids and steelhead trout, so that they can return to the upper Beaver Creek habitat. The grant announcement was made Thursday, July 10th at a Metro Council meeting at Mt. Hood Community College, a stone’s throw from Beaver Creek.

The county owns three major culverts under roads that cross Beaver Creek: Cochran Road, Stark Street and Troutdale Road. All have been identified as major barriers for fish passage. Funding has already been secured to fix the Stark Street and Troutdale Road culverts. The Cochran Road grant marks a major milestone to improving fish habitat in the creek.

The County’s culvert replacement program began in 2000 when salmon were listed by the federal government as an endangered species. The protected fish included local populations of Steelhead Trout, Chinook and Coho Salmon. This was a trigger for the county to investigate any passage barriers to protected fish.

Multnomah County assessed its culverts, and identified the three as barriers that impede fish from migrating upstream in Beaver Creek. To restore these fish passages, the county received a $1 million grant through the Metro Council’s Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program with the intent to use these funds to leverage additional grant funds to improve fish passage at all three of the lower Beaver Creek culverts.  

Oregon has a state standard for culverts related to fish passage. Culverts become barriers when they require fish to jump too high to swim upstream. When fish are unable to jump up to reach the culverts, they get stuck in one section of a stream. Culvert impassibility causes a halt in spawning and loss of habitat. If one culvert is a barrier, fish are blocked from passing through adjacent culverts as well.

Roy Iwai with the County’s water quality program, says that because Beaver Creek is an urban stream with existing water quality issues, biologists didn’t expect it to be home to many fish.

However, a fish survey of Beaver Creek confirmed that a resilient and diverse fish population exists. The creek is home to native and non-native fish including Steelhead, as well as freshwater mussels and beavers whose dams provide essential rearing habitat for juvenile salmon and trout.

Iwai stresses the importance of coexisting with the natural environment in Oregon. Living and working in such close proximity to endangered species, it’s important to be aware of our changing urban areas in relation to local fish and wildlife.  “We’re restoring the legacy of the salmon,” Iwai says.   

The Metro grant will allow the county to begin design work to replace the existing box-style culvert with a bridge for the Cochran Road crossing, which will be constructed in 2016. The grant comes from Metro’s Nature in Neighborhoods program. The Stark Street culvert also will be replaced with a bridge in 2015. The Troutdale Road culvert will receive enhancements to the existing fishway to improve fish passage.

The road section over the new culverts will include sidewalks and a wider road section that includes bike lanes. The community will also benefit from a healthier ecosystem and  greater access to natural areas. Residents of Multnomah County, especially citizens of Troutdale and Mt. Hood Community College users, will benefit from improved transportation infrastructure that minimizes impact on the environment.

This Beaver Creek habitat improvement is a team effort engaging many different jurisdictions and non-profit entities including Multnomah County, Metro, East Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District,  NW Steelheaders–Sandy River Chapter,City of Troutdale, Mt. Hood Community College, and the Portland Water Bureau.  Along with the streamside revegetation and forest planting, the county’s fish passage restoration is a key part of restoring the health of the stream.