Rogue River Watershed Council uses monitoring information to:

  • guide decisions about where we work
  • decide on limiting factors to watershed health on which to concentrate
  • measure the success of our activities

Currently, we monitor water quality parameters in Bear and Little Butte Creeks as they relate to a large-scale irrigation system improvement project (WISE), water temperature in a six-mile reach of Bear Creek, and juvenile fish movement out of the headwaters of Jones Creek (near Grants Pass).

We plan to develop a comprehensive monitoring program by the start of 2016 that will cover our territory and watershed health parameters more thoroughly.

Bear Creek Temperature Monitoring (2015 – ongoing)

The Bear Creek watershed is the most urbanized watershed in Southern Oregon. Mainstem Bear Creek flows through the communities of Ashland, Talent, Phoenix, Medford, and Central Point before joining the Rogue River. Despite urban encroachment and substantial agricultural development, fall Chinook Salmon, Coho Salmon, summer and winter steelhead, and Pacific Lamprey depend on Bear Creek for spawning, rearing, and migration.

One of the biggest factors limiting salmon recovery in Bear Creek is warm summer water temperatures. Water temperatures in Bear Creek can be much higher than the water quality standard (64.4° F). Peak annual water temperatures often exceed 80°F. To survive high water temperatures, fish must seek out and use cool water refuges within the watershed.

In 2015, RRWC formed a partnership with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Rogue Valley Council of Governments, The Freshwater Trust, and Middle Rogue Steelheaders to identify cool water pockets in Bear Creek that might serve as thermal refuges for native fish. Over the past three summers, we placed thermographs to track temperature at 40 likely cool water locations (springs and seeps, tributary stream mouths, deep scour pools, and areas of likely groundwater upwelling) along mainstem Bear Creek and its tributaries.

Our monitoring survey identified twelve potential cool water resources. The cool water resources were located in the upper half of the Bear Creek watershed and originated from both sides of the valley. Restoration efforts historically targeted the southwest portion of the watershed because the snowpack-driven hydrology generates reliable cool, clean water. Tributaries from the east generally have little to no late-summer flows. Our study suggests that further investigation of cool water resources to the northeast may be warranted. Potential sources of cool water generated from the east include irrigation and residential runoff and return flows. Click here to read our findings from 2015 and 2016.

Each spring, our team deploys thermographs by securing the popsicle-sized units to underwater roots and logs. Thermographs are retrieved in October before the rains come. Thermographs record water temperature readings every 30 minutes.

WISE (2015-2018)

Water quality conditions in the Little Butte Creek and Bear Creek watersheds are amongst the worst in the Rogue Basin. Impaired water quality limits salmon recovery, compromises drinking water supplies, and prevents families from safely swimming in creeks. Specific water quality problems include elevated water temperature, pH outside the optimal range, reduced dissolved oxygen, increased nutrient and bacteria loading, and high turbidity.

Our team collected 218 E. coli samples and 68 total phosphorus, nitrate-nitrite, and ammonia samples in Bear and Little Butte Creek watersheds from August 2015 to September 2017. In 2017 we installed chlorophyll-a sensors at our stations in lower Little Butte Creek and Bear Creek. This marks the first effort to collect continuous chlorophyll data in the Rogue Basin.

RRWC is actively partnering with agencies, soil and water conservation districts, irrigation districts, utilities, municipalities, and state and local governments to plan and implement activities that will improve water quality and recover salmon populations in the Little Butte Creek and Bear Creek watersheds. Examples of water quality improvement activities include streamside forest restoration, stormwater management, and modernization of irrigation infrastructure via the Water for Irrigation, Streams, and Economy (WISE) Project.

Our WISE Effectiveness Monitoring Project is designed to document changes in water quality, provide public accountability, and guide future water quality improvement efforts in the Little Butte Creek and Bear Creek watersheds. The first phase of the WISE Effectiveness Monitoring Project is to collect three years of water quality data prior to the anticipated construction of the WISE project.  This “baseline” data is important for identifying and defining changes in water quality that may result from watershed restoration activities. Our monitoring effort focuses on the WISE Project because its impact on water quality is expected to be substantial. This baseline data set will serve as a water quality “yardstick” against which future changes in water quality can be measured. The baseline (Pre-WISE) monitoring phase is expected to continue through October, 2018. Subsequent monitoring phases will include implementation (WISE-construction) monitoring and effectiveness monitoring (Post-WISE). Click here to read our Year 1 data report.

This project is supported by contributions from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Medford Water Commission, Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District, Rogue Valley Council of Governments, Jackson County Watermaster Office, Oregon Department of Water Resources, City of Medford, Rogue River Valley Irrigation District, Medford Irrigation District, and the Talent Irrigation District.

Snorkel Monitoring (2016 – ongoing)

Anyone with a license can fish for salmon in the Rogue basin, but it takes a real fan to swim with salmon. This summer our team of hardy volunteers donned their wetsuits and snorkels, splashed down on their bellies, and ventured up six area streams to document juvenile fish populations. By floating underwater, we can see juvenile fish up close, making it easier to identify them. Snorkel monitoring is a great way for volunteers to observe fish in their natural habitat; learn how to identify various juvenile fish species; and get hands-on experience collecting data that will help RRWC plan and evaluate restoration projects. Our volunteers have snorkeled segments of Wagner Creek, Elk Creek, Quartz Creek, Coyote Creek and Grave Creek.

We are always looking for more volunteers to help us collect this important data. We need both snorkelers and data recorders. The RRWC juvenile snorkel survey season lasts from mid-June through August. If you are interested in learning more about becoming a snorkel monitoring volunteer, contact RRWC’s Brian Barr.


Jones Creek Fish Population Monitoring

We all love the Rogue River, but did you know that some of our smaller, more inconspicuous streams play just as an important role in our fisheries, especially with regard to providing rearing and overwintering habitat for juvenile steelhead?

Jones Creek, east of Grants Pass, is one of these streams.

Once encumbered with various passage impediments, the stream now presents a barrier-free system (see Jones Creek Fish Passage under Instream Habitat Restoration) for upstream migration of spawning adults and both downstream and upstream migration of juvenile steelhead.

For the past ten summers, volunteers working with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (ODFW) Salmon Trout Enhancement Program (STEP) have trapped, identified, and measured juvenile steelhead in upper West and East Jones Creek to monitor the population and their response to the streams’ barriers (or lack thereof). This effort takes place in late spring before the water temperatures rise and the water levels drop, that is, prior to juvenile outmigration.

In 2016, the Rogue River Watershed Council organized volunteer scheduling for the 66 survey days, as well as provided several shifts of volunteers for the trapping effort. In addition to Rogue River Watershed Council staff, board, and volunteers, participants included local fishing guides and volunteers from Southern Oregon Fly Fishers and Middle Rogue Steelheaders. This works aids ODFW in their efforts to monitor area stream conditions for our native fish.