Restoring Lake Creek flows in Camp Sherman
Last updated 11/10/2021 at Noon
Lake Creek once again flows unvexed from Suttle Lake to the Metolius River.
Once interrupted by irrigation diversions and dams, the creek now flows freely — while local water rights holders still get their water — thanks to a long-term project involving the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, and numerous partners, that removed the last diversion on the creek this fall.
Since 2007, the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, along with the Pelton Round Butte Fund and a variety of other project partners including the U.S. Forest Service, has been working with landowners on screening and fish passage projects on Whychus Creek and Lake Creek in Sisters Country. The results have created an “everybody wins” scenario, where streamflows, habitat, and fish populations have been restored, and recreational opportunities enhanced, while irrigators continue to get their allotments of water — often in a more efficient manner.
The Nugget visited the site of the last diversion removal on Tuesday, November 2, as a Forest Service and Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council (COIC) crew finished up restorative planting where a Forest Service road crew had used heavy equipment to remove a headgate and a push-up dam and pull a roadbed back.
“We were trying to do as low an impact footprint as we could,” said Cari Press, hydrologist with the Sisters Ranger District.
Part of minimizing impact was starting natives in the area to “re-veg” the work area and prevent non-native colonization. The crew, which included a couple of COIC youth workers who Press said “did a great job (Monday) in the rain,” planted approximately 425 starts of alder; dogwood; rose; spirea; nine bark; snowberry; sedge/rush; elderberry; and serviceberry.
When the project started in 2007, Upper Deschutes Watershed Council reports that “there were 24 fish passage barriers and/or unscreened diversions on Lake Creek associated primarily with private irrigation diversions. If these passage and screening barriers are left untreated, fish lost to irrigation systems and blocked from upstream and downstream migration will severely limit the success of (fish) reintroduction.”
The long-term work has been funded by grants from the Pelton Round Butte Fund. Funds for fish screening and passage were allocated in 2006 as part of a relicensing process for the dam.
The Lake Creek project decommissioned a ditch that had been used for decades to bring irrigation water to what is now the Metolius Meadows subdivision. The irrigation system off the creek was comprised of unregulated open ditches that were quite leaky, and diversions that were often just piles of rocks, fence posts, and found objects, according to Project Manager Mathias Perle of the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council.
“This was one of the few diversions on the Lake Creek system that actually had a headgate,” Perle said.
Untangling the multiplicity of water rights, then working with water rights holders and landowners to come up with an acceptable and viable plan, took considerable time and work. Ultimately, the diversion for Metolius Meadows’ water was moved to the edge of the meadow, on private land, and a pump with a fish screen installed to pump water from the diversion to the end users.
Fish passage is the ultimate goal of these projects, and Lake Creek has particular significance in that regard.
“Lake Creek is really significant because it’s the connection between the Metolius and Suttle Lake,” Perle said. “There’s great habitat — we just need to open it up and let fish move through it.”
Historically, the council notes, Lake Creek “provides more spring Chinook rearing capacity than any other stream in the Metolius watershed. In addition, Suttle Lake… was historically an essential part of the sockeye salmon life cycle and is one of only two lakes in Oregon that historically supported native sockeye runs.”
By opening the creek up to fish passage and ensuring the health of native plants and habitat, local landowners, the Forest Service, the Upper Deschutes Watershed Council, and the Sisters and Camp Sherman communities at large are preserving and enhancing a natural gem in the heart of Sisters Country.