Water Quality Improvement

Communities throughout southern Oregon rely on the Rogue River and its tributaries as a drinking and irrigation water source, and as a recreation destination. Cool and clean water benefits a multitude of uses as well as fish and wildlife populations.

The Rogue River Watershed Council works to address issues that pollute and warm the streams in our region. We are developing a collaborative Water Quality Improvement Program that will help us achieve our goal of cleaner water. Specifically, the intent of the program is to address persistent water quality problems that include temperature, dissolved oxygen, sedimentation, bacteria and nutrients.

Projects such as planting native tree and shrub species along streams, converting from flood to sprinkler irrigation, and reducing stormwater in urban areas provide water quality benefits including decreased stream bank erosion, increased shading, and decreased nutrient bacteria entering the stream.

A narrow ribbon of native trees lining the banks of Wagner Creek were revealed. For some landowners, this was the first time they had seen the creek flowing through their back yard. In November 2017, we replaced blackberries with native trees and shrubs.

Wagner Creek Agricultural Water Quality Improvement Project (2016-2018)

Wagner Creek is a tributary to Bear Creek located near the city of Talent. The Wagner Creek valley is a highly productive agricultural area that is rapidly being converted from orchards to small-acreage rural residential agriculture. Agricultural practices leading to altered riparian vegetation, bare ground, and livestock have impaired water quality and degraded fish habitat. Water quality limitations in Wagner Creek that affect native fish and possibly Coho Salmon include temperature, bacteria, nutrients, and dissolved oxygen.

RRWC is working with eight landowners to tackle 12 acres of invasive blackberries along both sides of a near-contiguous 0.6-mile reach of Wagner Creek. By removing blackberries and establishing native riparian vegetation along the stream, these landowners will create lasting shade to cool late summer water temperatures. We will also help landowners install livestock fencing to keep animals out of the creek and floodplain. Unrestricted livestock access can cause erosion, damage habitat, and contribute nutrients and bacteria.

Our contractor, Plant Oregon, began removing blackberries in December 2016 and will finish installing native trees and shrubs in December 2017. Plant stewardship is scheduled through 2023. Funding was provided by grants from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Schwemm Family Foundation, Patagonia Environmental Grants, Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District, and participating landowners.

Before (October 2016)

After (January 2017)







Neil Creek Agricultural Water Quality Improvement Project (2017-2018)

Neil Creek is a tributary to Bear Creek located near the city of Ashland. Like Wagner Creek, Neil Creek is a productive agricultural valley that is rapidly being converted from rural to residential agriculture. Neil Creek is one of the most important salmon-producing tributaries in the Bear Creek Watershed, but poor water quality conditions including water temperature, dissolved oxygen, nutrients, bacteria, and sediment limit salmon recovery.

RRWC is partnering with the Equamore Horse Sanctuary, Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District, and Oregon Department of Agriculture to install best practices to curtail nonpoint source pollution in Neil Creek generated from the Sanctuary. Project elements include: 1) installing a manure management facility to hold manure and waste generated daily by up to 66 horses; 2) improve almost 7,000 square feet of access road to provide reliable access to the manure facility; 3) converting from flood irrigation to gated pipe with a new distribution box to improve irrigation water management; 4) installing a vegetated buffer strip to trap sediment, nutrients; and bacteria; and 5) installing a drainage system to limit runoff into Neil Creek. The project will be put to bid this winter and we expect construction to begin summer 2018. Funding was provided by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District, and Equamore Horse Sanctuary.

The access road to the manure storage area becomes unpassable during wet winter conditions.

Little Butte Creek Floodplain Connectivity at RM 2.2 (2016-2018)

Since 1994, the 12-foot-high cut bank has migrated approximately 330 feet to the south. The highly erodible soils exposed by the erosion smother spawning gravels and contribute fine sediments to the drinking water intake.

Little Butte Creek is a major tributary to the Rogue River near the city of Eagle Point. It contributes seasonal drinking water supply for the Medford Water Commission, which provides drinking water for over 136,000 Rogue Valley residents who live in Eagle Point, White City, Medford, Central Point, Phoenix, and Jacksonville. Little Butte Creek is also one of the most productive salmon-producing streams in the Upper Rogue basin. Impaired water quality, degraded riparian forest conditions, and the lack of floodplain and channel structure in Little Butte Creek impede salmon recovery efforts and compromise local drinking water supplies.

This project seeks to improve water quality and enhance winter rearing habitat for juvenile salmonids along a 0.3-mile reach of mainstem Little Butte Creek by addressing four chronic problems: 1) chronically eroding bank; 2) lack of floodplain and side channel connectivity; 3) channel simplification; and 4) degraded riparian forest conditions. The project site was the City of Eagle Point’s wastewater treatment plant until the mid-1990s when the City transferred to Rogue Valley Sewer Services. The City wants to rehabilitate the property for use as a community park and nature trail.

This portion of streambank was 12′ tall and disconnected from its floodplain. During summer 2018, the bank was recontoured to create a floodplain terrace that provides a place for high flows to spread out and reduce impacts downstream.

Project activities will include: 1) reconnecting Little Butte Creek with its floodplain by selectively breaching a berm, creating a side channel, and re-contouring eroded stream banks; 2) increasing floodplain roughness and habitat complexity by constructing three engineered log jams in the bank and installing 10 small log jams in newly connected floodplain/side channel; and 3) improving streamside forest conditions along a 1,500-foot reach

This project originated with technical assistance funding awarded by the Drinking Water Provider Partnership and Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board. Engineering was completed in November 2017. Implementation funding was provided by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Drinking Water Provider Partnership, and Pacific Power Blue Sky Habitat Fund/The Freshwater Trust. Construction was completed in July 2018 by Northwest Watershed Restoration.

In spring 2019, high flows tested the stability of this project. All components functioned as they were engineered – severely eroding bank stayed in place due to stabilizing log jams; the side channel flowed with slow moving water, acting as a refuge from the high flows in the mainstem; and the new floodplain terrace dispersed flood water, reducing impacts to the banks downstream.

Rogue Drinking Water Partnership (2017-2019)

RRWC is partnering with the City of Grants Pass and Medford Water Commission to form the Rogue Drinking Water Partnership (RDWP). The RDWP is a new coalition of public water suppliers who get their drinking water from surface water supplies in the Rogue Basin. In early 2017, the water providers and partners who support protection of drinking water supplies agreed to begin a collaborative process to protect drinking water sources and address drinking water protection issues common to the group.

The partnership received initial funding through a Drinking Water Source Protection Grant through the Oregon Health Authority. RRWC was contracted to manage the grant. Over the next two years, we will work with Rogue drinking water providers to complete the following tasks: 1) validate and refine updated sourcewater assessments; 2) identify and prioritize areas of concern; 3) implement education and outreach; 4) identify best management practices to protect drinking water; 5) identify opportunities to collaborate on emergency contingency planning; and 6) develop an MOU between partners that identifies a mission, goals, and strategies for the partnership.

Little Butte Creek Water Quality Improvement Plan (2017-2018)

Little Butte Creek is a priority watershed for RRWC’s Water Quality Improvement Program. The creek provides important habitat for native fish and drinking water supply for Rogue Valley residents, yet its water quality is amongst the worst in the Rogue Basin. RRWC is working with the Medford Water Commission to develop a comprehensive plan to improve water quality in Little Butte Creek. We are conducting outreach to stakeholders, compiling historic monitoring data, and building an inventory of past watershed projects in an effort to inform and direct future restoration activities. This project will culminate with a water quality monitoring strategy and water quality improvement plan with benchmarks, timelines, and list of resources needed to implement and evaluate the plan.

Stream Smart

Stream Smart is a web and social media based education and outreach campaign to increase awareness about choicesStream Smart logo we make and the impact they have on water quality. The goal is to change people’s behavior to improve water quality. Individual practices implemented at our homes, farms, and businesses, such as choosing to use phosphorus-free fertilizer, utilizing and managing stormwater and runoff, managing yard, livestock, and pet wastes, upgrading irrigation systems, and properly maintaining septic systems can protect our water quality.

Stream Smart was developed as a joint effort by entities within the Bear Creek watershed working to increase awareness and knowledge by urban and rural residents about our individual impact on water quality in our watershed. The entities involved in this program include: Jackson County; the Cities of Ashland, Talent, Phoenix, Medford, Jacksonville, and Central Point; the Talent, Medford, and Rogue River Irrigation Districts and other partners including the Rogue River Watershed Council, Rogue Valley Sewer Services, Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District, and Rogue Valley Council of Governments with support from the Oregon Dept. of Environmental Quality.

Check out the website: http://www.stream-smart.com/
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West Irrigation Conversion Project (2012)

This project involved converting a 5.8-acre parcel along South Fork Little Butte Creek from flood to sprinkler irrigation. Concerns over high temperature runoff, increased sediment load from erosion, and bacteria entering the West Irrigation Conversioncreek made this an important project. The watershed council partnered with Jackson Soil and Water Conservation District to design an irrigation management plan.

A K-Line sprinkler system using approximately 3.2 gallons/minute was installed in two weeks. This particular system was chosen because it reduces the amount of tailwater reentering the creek. The heads provide water to all sections of the field in 12-hour sets. The landowner can easily move the system without getting wet, and the time previously spent moving hand lines is expected to be cut in half.

Upper Rogue Community Center Stormwater Retention Project (2010 – 2011)

URCC Stormwater RetentionIn 2009, the city of Shady Cove was asked by the DEQ to implement a plan to reduce sediment and nutrient inputs to the Rogue River. As the Upper Rogue Community Center was looking to build a new addition, including a paved parking lot and increased roof area, this site was an appropriate stormwater retention location. A storm water retention system was installed in the parking lot of the Upper Rogue Community Center to capture roof water runoff from the new building addition. Two storage chambers were installed, one chamber of 12,000 gallons was designated for fire protection and another chamber of 8,000 gallons will be used to supplement the landscape irrigation during the summer. During the winter months the Upper Rogue Community Center will manage the storage system by removing water to an adjacent percolation area between storms. By managing storage during winter 20-24 thousand gallons of stormwater will be removed from the storm drains annually and 10-15 thousand gallons will be saved for irrigation.

The storage bladders were installed in July of 2010 as the first phase of the Community Center construction project. In May and early June of 2011 the parking lot was paved and the landscaping was completed. The storage unit will now be managed to meet our goals of removing 20-24 thousand gallons of storm run-off from the Community Center roof.