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Secondary channels, primary consideration

Here in the Pacific Northwest, secondary channels are common in undeveloped rivers and are a crucial feature for the welfare of native plants, fish, and other wildlife, which is why they are a primary consideration for RRWC ecological restoration.


Secondary channels, also known as side channels, are smaller channels that branch off from the main channel of a river, stream, creek, etc., (just like in the picture below). When many side channels are associated with a main channel, this is considered “braiding,” due to the aerial view of these ecosystems showcasing multiple small channels threading around the main channel.


RRWC-enhanced secondary channels intertwined on Elk Creek's floodplain. Credit: RVCOG

How different streams move across a landscape is unique, and shaped by many factors, including geology, elevation, glaciation, and in some cases human-driven development. It is well understood that more complex stream channels and ecosystems offer greater resilience in climate change. This “complexity” comes in the form of diverse features such as deep pools, large wood structures, gravel bars, and, you might have guessed it, secondary channels.


At the South Fork Little Butte Creek RM 6.2 project, the transmitter radio crackles amidst the beep, beep, beep of large construction machinery, and M&M Services' Todd Marthoski's voice comes across as he excitedly says to RRWC Restoration Biologist, Lance Wyss, "more side channels! These are amazing!"

Reconnected side channel at South Fork Little Butte Creek RM 6.2 project.

Dive Deeper


The process of restoration and secondary channel reconnection is multifaceted. Check out the animated video below to better understand the need for restoration and our strategies to implement effective restoration. Tune in around 0:37 to see how we reconnect and enhance secondary channels!





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