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Reecer Creek floodplain restoration nearly complete

By Barb Owens
Ellensburg Daily Record

Stream and levee reconstruction, excavating and other major work for the Reecer Creek floodplain restoration project is done, but crews and volunteers still have their sleeves rolled up as they finish planting more than 5,000 potted plants and thousands of live stakes along the banks of the creek today.

The $786,629 contract with Belsaas and Smith for its work on the project officially closed last week. Everything checked out during a final walk through, said Rebecca Wassell, Yakima Basin program manager with the Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group, one of the project's funding partners.

As part of the restoration project, crews moved 3,700 feet of Reecer Creek, a Yakima River tributary, into its re-contoured floodplain and gave it a more natural path. About 6,000 feet of length was added to the stream channel, creating nearly a mile of trout, steelhead and salmon rearing habitat.

New levee

Before crews broke ground last fall, Reecer Creek went under Dolarway Road, through the floodplain and straight to Interstate 90. Now the steam meanders through the floodplain.

A new levee was built east of the creek using material removed to make way for the new creek channel.

The project was several years in the making and was initiated after the flood of 1996, caused by rapid snowmelt, which put nearly everything west of Dolarway Road underwater. It took the next 14 years to secure the more than $1 million needed for the project, and the money came from a variety of partners. The project is a model for collaboration.

"We can't even fit all the logos on the bottom of a poster," Wassell said, as she drove down the new levee toward a group of community volunteers Wednesday.

Fish and plants

Four AmeriCorps groups were volunteering in the project area, including a group from Sacramento, Calif., and a group from Issaquah. The Issaquah group was electrofishing - using electricity to stun fish so they can be moved. They came across lots of little trout and sculpins, a bottom-dwelling fish. On Tuesday, a crew found a large coho salmon and identified two coho redds - a depression in the ground where females lay their eggs.

Brenda Nass, stewardship coordinator with Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group, was leading a team of five community volunteers along the banks of the south end of Reecer Creek.

They were planting potted plants and live stakes - long hardwood cuttings without roots. The stakes are straight pieces of branches or stems that will grow new plants. Water-loving plants are being planted closest to the creek and dry land plants are being planted farther away from the stream, Nass said.

It mimics what would naturally occur, she said. An irrigation system will be installed in the spring and the new vegetation will be irrigated for the next two or three seasons to give everything a good chance at survival.

The area has been seeded with native dry land grasses to help discourage weeds, which could be a challenge, Nass said.

Several volunteers showed up last Saturday, including students from Central Washington University and Ellensburg High School, and community volunteers. Today crews are back at the project site for the last planting party of the season. Additional planting is planned next fall, Wassell said.

The levee was built to eventually tie into the Irene Rinehart Riverfront Trail to the south and the John Wayne Pioneer Trail to the north. The city of Ellensburg plans to eventually pave the levee and install interpretive signs along it.

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