Cowiche Creek Restoration

Cowiche Creek is a tributary to the Naches River just west of Yakima, WA. The stream provides habitat for steelhead and bull trout, two species listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The stream is also used by coho and Chinook salmon, and by scores of resident fish species.

Mid-Columbia Fisheries has been working with our partners to restore habitat in Cowiche Creek for nine years. Habitat in Cowiche Creek is degraded due primarily to an old railroad grade that parallels much of the lower portion of the creek. The railroad grade functions as an unmaintained dike, constraining the stream and causing scour and erosion. The railroad grade prevents the creek from accessing its floodplain, and reduces the creek’s ability to form pools, support healthy riparian vegetation, and dissipate energy during floods.

Cowiche Creek has been the focus of a multi-agency effort to improve watershed conditions for the benefit of salmonids, and this work is paying off! 2014 saw record returns of coho salmon to lower Cowiche Creek, with surveys documenting 116 redds (or nests).

Key partners in Cowiche Creek include the private landowners, the City of Yakima, Yakima County, N. Yakima Conservation District, Salmon Recovery Funding Board, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Washington Conservation Corps, Cowiche Canyon Conservancy, National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, and more.

2006 Restoration
In 2006, Mid-Columbia Fisheries assisted with a large multi-partner project to protect habitat and restore fish passage at Snow Mountain Ranch. Regional Fisheries Enhancement Group funding was used to support part of the costs of removing an concrete irrigation diversion that was blocking fish passage at the site.

2009 Restoration
In 2010, Mid-Columbia Fisheries removed approximately 500 feet of an old railroad grade that was functioning as a dike near the end of Cowiche Canyon Road. Seven hundred feet of streambank was planted with native trees and shrubs. The contractor reported removing 4,000 cubic yards of garbage and debris from the channel, banks, and floodplain. The project restored floodplain function, while accommodating public access by constructing a small portion of the William O. Douglas Trail along the toe of the bluff and defining parking for the trailhead.

2010 Restoration
This project removed 1,400 feet of dikes and more than 600 cubic yards of concrete to improve habitat and floodplain function on Cowiche Creek downstream of Prospect Lane. One thousand linear feet of stream was planted with native trees, shrubs, and grasses. The project also accommodated public access.

2013 Restoration
In the fall of 2013, Mid-Columbia Fisheries completed a small project on private property to remove approximately 80 cubic yards of concrete from a 500 ft. stretch of Cowiche Creek, re-shape the banks, and plant the site with native trees and shrubs.

Upper left: Contractor removes concrete from the streambank along Cowiche Creek. Upper right: Student volunteers assist with planting trees at a restoraiton site on Cowiche Creek. Lower left: Cowiche Creek streambank lined with concrete.  Lower right: Concrete slabs armor the stream, degrading habitat. Restoration of the sites pictured in the lower pictures is hoped for the future.

Future Restoration
Mid-Columbia Fisheries is making plans to restore a parcel of property near the siphon in 2017.  Unfortunately, stream and floodplain restoration associated with removal of 900 feet of railroad berm in lower Cowiche Creek was canceled in early 2017.  We hope this project and other restoration in the coming years will continue to improve fish habitat along this unique waterway.