Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently asked questions

Responses to commonly asked questions about the project are provided below, grouped by topic. The questions and responses are periodically updated to reflect new information. Union SWCD strives for an open, transparent process that provides opportunities for public comment. If you have additional questions or concerns, or desire more information, please contact us.

Why is this project being considered at this time and this location?

Salmon and steelhead populations in the Grande Ronde River Basin have been declining since the early 1960’s and were listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act in the 1990’s. In 2015 federal and state agencies, stakeholders, and non-profit organizations finalized a geospatial prioritization tool called Atlas for restoration actions directed at reducing the risk of salmon and steelhead moving from Threatened to Endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Catherine Creek from approximately 2.5 miles downstream of the City of Union and upstream to the North and South forks of Catherine Creek is a Tier 1 reach (highest priority as evaluated under the Atlas process). The stream reaches upstream of Union provide the best opportunity for restoration benefits for salmon and steelhead.

The District and project partners work closely with private landowners to improve fish and wildlife habitat conditions while providing for and often improving the landowner’s management needs. When these two components combine as a high priority, then project design tasks are initiated and implementation funding is pursued. Investigation of the Buffalo Flats area is in the beginning stage and implementation funding has not been secured, but due to the location, a project in this area ranks high. Habitat limiting factors (e.g., water temperature, hiding cover, spawning gravel quality, etc.) and potential benefits for local residents and agricultural operators, which could include improved farming efficiency and reduced management costs, will be evaluated during the planning and design phase.

How will the project improve fish and wildlife populations?

Studies in Catherine Creek show that fish populations are limited by poor habitat quality, high summer water temperatures, and reduced water quantity. In the Buffalo Flats planning area, Catherine Creek has been moved and straightened between the hillslope and the Medical Springs Highway (OR203). This straightened channel has resulted in increased flood damage and poor fish habitat. In summer, the existing channel is very shallow during low flow and stream temperatures increase to a detrimental level for fish. In winter, the shallow channel is more likely to form ice and contributes to flood problems downstream. In general, the reach is riffle dominated with a cobble and boulder bed, very few pools, and is not suitable for fish to spawn or rear.

A new channel location being considered for this project would seek to directly increase the area where fish could live and create channel conditions that are critical to fish survival. In addition, the project would seek to provide increased floodplain connectivity within the project area for added fishery benefits while also reducing the risk of flood events for neighboring landowners. Increased floodplain connectivity within the project area would allow for areas of low velocity for fish to seek refuge and for fine sediment to filter out along with nutrients, this in turn would allow for increased establishment of trees and shrubs, thereby reducing erosion and increasing shade along the new channel.

The current alignment and location of Catherine Creek is heavily shaded. Why should we move the stream out of the trees and put it in the open meadow where it will receive direct sunlight?

Water temperature is a concern, but shade from stream-side vegetation is not the only influencing factor. The best alternative will be developed for improving long term stream temperature conditions through improved groundwater interactions, reduced channel width during low flows and rapid re-vegetation. Monitoring information collected at the Southern Cross property located upstream of the project site has indicated that the type of project being considered can be done

without raising stream temperatures in the short term. Moving the channel into a broader floodplain and increasing meandering will allow more exchange of surface water with shallow groundwater. Studies in the Umatilla River have shown that increases in this exchange with groundwater create more areas with cool water seeps (refugia for fish) in the summer and may reduce overall heating of the surface water. An increase in bank storage of water will also promote establishment of a healthy vegetation community along the entire project reach to reduce solar impacts.

If the project is supposed to improve conditions for fish, why are fish being killed at the upstream weir?

In 1995 the State, Tribes, and Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) agreed upon a hatchery augmentation program that would supplement dwindling Chinook populations in Catherine Creek and the Upper Grande Ronde River. The goal of this program was to support wild fish and not replace them with hatchery fish. For this reason, rules were established to control the number of returning hatchery fish that were allowed above the adult fish collection facility (the weir) on Catherine Creek. Data collected since the beginning of the program indicated that hatchery Chinook jack salmon (3-year old fish) were returning to the weir at a much higher rate than wild salmon jacks. Allowing these young hatchery jacks to spawn in large numbers would threaten the wild Chinook salmon population. Therefore, in years when the amount of hatchery jacks returning to the weir exceed a threshold, the extra jacks are removed from the spawning population (this has not happened in the last 6 years).

What entities are involved with this project?

Buffalo Peak Land & Livestock, LLC (landowners) and the Union Soil and Water Conservation District (District) are the primary proponents of the project. Project partners that will aid with technical project development and implementation are the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR), Trout Unlimited (TU), and The Freshwater Trust (TFT). Ancillary partners also include the Grande Ronde Model Watershed (GRMW), Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), and Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (OWEB).

Additional stakeholder groups that will be included in the planning process will be neighboring private landowners where additional project work may occur, Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), Eastern Oregon Livestock Show (EOLS), irrigation companies (State, Prescott, and Swackhammer ditch companies), Union Sportsmen Club, Union County, City of Union and all interested members of the public. The Community Stakeholder Focus Group, which is further described under Question #9 on page 5, will also be engaged in the planning and design process.

What is the source of funding for the project and could it be used for other purposes?

The funding for this project and other fish habitat improvement projects in the Catherine Creek Basin come from a variety of sources which can include BPA, the BOR, the State of Oregon, and many others. Project funding can be broken down into two separate categories (project planning and project implementation). The majority of the funding for planning and design of the project is provided through the BOR. The amount and source of construction funding is yet to be determined and will be dependent upon the selected project alternative. Primary funders for construction are anticipated to be BPA and OWEB and funding is also being sought through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners Program. Other funding sources will be pursued in the future through the Natural Resource Conservation Service, Farm Services Agency, and The Freshwater Trust.

Both the BPA and the BOR are funding habitat improvement work in Catherine Creek and other basins as part of ESA compliance activities required to operate the Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS). BPA funding is from electric rate payers while the BOR funding is appropriated by the U.S. Congress for ESA related activities. The State of Oregon funding is mostly distributed through OWEB and is a combination of lottery funds and NOAA funds for Pacific salmon recovery. These programs have been ongoing since the 1990’s and cooperate closely with local partners like the District. The funding is available to create improved fish habitat and cannot be spent for other purposes.

Who will benefit from this project?

The project is intended to showcase successful outcomes for both ESA-listed salmon and agriculture. The primary restoration funding for the project is tied to improvements for ESA-listed fish; therefore, funds are intended to benefit fish. However, other stakeholders are likely to benefit as the project team will work with all impacted stakeholders to provide effective solutions. Some other potential benefits may include:

  • Improved irrigation infrastructure (i.e. potential for improved ditches, pipes, diversions)
    • Improved highway Infrastructure (i.e. potential for a raised highway, new bridges with better alignment and conveyance, or relocation of the highway)
    • Improved flood control for the highway and City of Union (i.e. potential for new levees, decreased risk of damage from ice flows and floodwater)
    • In addition to some of these potential benefits, other benefits could include direct and indirect expenditure of funds in the local community, along with updated and improved flood hazard maps for the City of Union.

When did project discussions and development begin?

Project discussions began with the first site visit to the property by the District and the landowner in August of 2018. The project scope began development in March 2019 and is in the infancy stages of development at this time. Timeline for major project milestones is listed below.

When will the local community have an opportunity for input to the project design?

The District and project partners intend for the planning approach to be transparent and will inform and engage with community members in several ways throughout the design process. A Project Outreach Plan has been developed and is available at . This plan provides information on how and when the design team will interact and exchange information with the public community. Through this plan the design team provide opportunities for stakeholders and the local community to provide input and voice concerns. At the most basic level of outreach, District staff and the landowners will continue to meet individually with interested stakeholders to discuss questions and concerns.

The District have begun a formal outreach effort by meeting individually with groups that have specific management connections to the project or may be directly impacted. The District has met with groups that include the Union City Council, ditch companies (State, Prescott, Swackhammer, Guild), Eastern Oregon Livestock Show, and the Union Sportsman’s Club. The District continues to provide the Union City Council with monthly project updates.

A Community Stakeholder Focus Group will be formed to include members of the community that represent the different entities and surrounding residents who may be affected or concerned by the project. This group is not meant to be exclusive, but should be small enough to create a meeting atmosphere where project information and input can be exchanged in a productive way. Members of the Focus Group will include participating landowners, City Council members, ditch company representatives, interested and potentially impacted community members, and other concerned citizens. Focus Group meetings will be scheduled at key project milestones, as described in the Public Outreach Plan.

What are the main tasks that will be completed and when will they occur?

This project tasks are completed in two general categories; 1) project planning and 2) project implementation. Project planning will develop a set of conceptual alternatives and a selection process followed by increasingly detailed design of the selected alternative. Draft products will be available for comment from all stakeholders and regulatory agencies at design milestones as follows: at the 15% preliminary concept; the 30% conceptual design, the 80% preliminary design, and at draft final design. The project design team is currently collecting site data and survey information that will aid in the development of the 15% preliminary concepts. Preliminary concepts will be described in more detail in an alternatives analysis document that is anticipated for completion by the fall of 2020 and include a description of the site conditions and a screening process for the selection of one or more preferred alternatives. Stakeholders will have an opportunity to provide comments and suggestions on project alternatives. Additional design milestones are expected to take place at least through 2021 with involvement of the public as outlined in the Public Outreach Plan.

Planning for project implementation at this time is premature and detailed tasks and timelines will not be determined until the project design moves closer to the 80% preliminary design. Experience from past projects dictates that a project of this size would take a minimum of 2 or 3 years to construct, once approved by permitting agencies and stakeholders.

Is the proposed Catherine Creek channel being moved to a location that created the flooding issues of the past? When and why was it moved in the past?

Project concepts are being considered for altering the course of Catherine Creek. Options range from moving the channel entirely to the historic floodplain north of Highway 203, leaving the channel in the current location and adding side channel improvements, or moving the highway and providing more floodplain space for the existing channel. Alternatives will be further developed and analyzed and then presented to stakeholders for an opportunity to provide comments and suggestions for refining the design.

The Catherine Creek channel was in its current location, south of Highway 203, prior to 1937 as can be seen in historic aerial photographs. Old channel formations found north of Highway 203 in the current meadow indicate the channel was straightened and relocated prior to 1932 when Highway 203 was first built, although no specific records of the channel change have been found. In conversations with landowners on Catherine Creek, the District has heard about past attempts to move the channel with mixed results. According to the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers (USACE), it is assumed that most levees on Catherine Creek were constructed to drain wetland areas to improve farming opportunities and none of the levees or channel changes upstream of Union were listed in the USACE flood programs. Even with the past channel changes and levees in place, several large floods have occurred in the City of Union.

Will a new channel with increased width, more meanders, and slower velocity increase ice formation and damaging winter icing events?

Research evidence suggests complex and meandering channels with a variety of physical features, including pools and large woody material, and channels with groundwater inputs will form less ice than straight and simple channels without a groundwater connection (Buffin-Belanger 2013). In addition, shallow groundwater inflow (hyporheic discharge) moderates temperature in the channel surface water with cooler water in the summer and warmer water in the winter (Arrigoni et. al. 2008). Ice will continue to form upstream of the project area and will move downstream in Catherine Creek to the project area. The proposed new channel will be built with a better connection to a larger floodplain (overbank flow into floodplains will occur more easily) and better connection with shallow groundwater. It is anticipated that less ice will form in this reach because of better exchange with warmer, shallow groundwater that will moderate stream temperature in the winter. With a more complex and meandering channel, some of the ice that forms within the project area or is transported from upstream reaches will be forced into the floodplain, rather than move into Union. Ice will continue to be transported by Catherine Creek, but the project is expected to help alleviate some of the ice issues that currently persist within the City of Union.

Will the risk of flooding increase in Union or for the surrounding residents? Could the channel be moved back to the original location if increased flooding or damage occurs?

The design team anticipates that flood risk and potential damage will be reduced by the proposed project. Floodplain restoration in meadow systems has been shown to reduce the flood flow peaks (also known as flow attenuation) by creating more streambank storage (Ahilan 2018).

Alternatives will be evaluated with numerical hydraulic models, using the U.S. Army Corps River Analysis System (HEC-RAS), to predict flood conditions. Concepts that increase flooding risk or flood elevations will be eliminated. If additional flood risks arise, they will be mitigated with physical improvements (floodplain berm) such that flood conditions are either better or no worse than the current condition.

An option to maintain the existing channel as an overflow or relief channel will be considered as part of an alternative. The design process will involve a thorough hydraulic modeling analysis and evaluation of potential changes that may occur from moving the Catherine Creek channel. The selection of a preferred alternative will consider the interests of all stakeholders and specifically the flood concerns of the local community. The selected alternative will not increase the existing risk of flooding and in fact is anticipated to reduce such risk.

Will this project change the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood zone boundaries or maps (Flood Insurance Rate Map [FIRM], Flood Boundary and Floodway [FBFM], and Flood Hazard Boundary Map [FHBM]) in Union?

There are two effective FIRM maps in the Buffalo Flats project area; a 1978 detailed study associated with the incorporated portions of the City of Union, and an older less detailed map for the unincorporated area upstream of Union. The 1978 FIRM defines floodway boundaries for the Base Flood Elevation (100-year flood event), while the less detailed map establishes a regulatory floodplain, but no floodway. The design team does not anticipate changing current FEMA flood boundaries or maps within the City of Union, but the detailed elevation survey data being collected because of the Buffalo Flats project may be used to update the 1978 flood maps if the City of Union chooses. Project alternatives that may change the channel location will be contained within the Buffalo Land & Livestock property and potentially on neighboring properties that willingly participate in the project. The proposed project actions will likely dictate that the entire area within the Buffalo Flats project boundary is re-mapped through a Letter of Map Revision (LOMR) process that will define floodway boundaries. This update to the older and more coarse maps of the unincorporated areas will be reviewed by FEMA and is a benefit to Union County and the City of Union. Therefore, the only changes to flood zone boundaries or maps will be on those properties owned by willing participants in the project.

Who will make a determination on potential changes to flood levels and who reviews the hydraulic modeling and analysis results?

Evaluation of flood conditions that include numerical modeling will be performed by the project design team with expertise in hydraulic modeling. Specifically, hydraulic engineers will build the

hydraulic model using a high resolution of elevation data points and will analyze results using rigorous scientific standards. The City of Union, Union County (or their state representative) and FEMA will review results and any changes for compliance with the National Flood Insurance Program.

How will the project effect the property owned by ODOT, managed by Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, and utilized by the Sportsman’s Club?

The District is coordinating with ODOT, Sportsman’s Club, and the City of Union about possible project actions. Changes and effects to the property are yet to be determined. Greater stakeholder participation in the planning phase will contribute to a project design that takes into account the largest range of options to meet stakeholders’ unique needs.

If project actions cause increased flooding of houses and areas in Union, who will be liable and responsible for costs to repair damage or replace structures?

The design team will not select an alternative that increases the modeled risk of flooding downstream of the proposed project area, nor will an alternative be selected that increases flood risk to land owners adjacent to the proposed project area. It is desirable to increase floodplain connectivity within the project area which should have neutral or positive benefits for downstream landowners and the City of Union.

Have the results from the CC44 Project (Southern Cross and adjacent properties) been positive and is there monitoring information available that will be used to improve the design for Buffalo Flats?

Monitoring results from the CC44 Project Complex (Southern Cross and adjacent properties) have been very positive and have included a reduction in ice formation and a reduction in bank erosion (CTUIR 2018). Other lessons from CC44 about channel form and feature construction have also been learned and will be applied to the Buffalo Flats design for project improvement. Monitoring procedures are in place to measure channel adjustment, flood changes, vegetation recovery, and fish use. Additional monitoring results over the next few years will be used to improve the design as the Buffalo Flats design develops.

Will this project change water rights for water users on ditch networks that are connected to the project area?

  • Irrigation water rights for all irrigators will not be injured by this project. In fact, the project presents opportunities to improve conditions at diversion points and conveyance systems.
  • Certificated Places of Use (POU’s) and diversion rates for water rights in the vicinity of the project site will remain unchanged. Water right holders may have opportunities in the future to restructure aspects of their water rights in exchange for payments from The Freshwater Trust or other entities to improve instream flow.

What effect will the project have on the Prescott, State, Swackhammer, and Guild ditches?

  • No changes will occur to ditches or points of diversion (POD’s) without consent by ditch users.
    • Any changes to the infrastructure, to include diversions, ditches, screens, or access, will be approved by stakeholders (water users or appointed representative) through an alternative design selection process.
    • Ditch users will be involved in design selection and will be provided opportunities to comment on draft design products prior to finalization.
    • If the ditch companies elect to move forward with alterations to intakes or ditch infrastructure as part of this project, the District will assist in pursuing funds for costs of design, permitting, and construction.

How have the ditch companies that may be affected by this project been involved in the process?

The District and landowners have had preliminary discussions with several members of the various ditch companies and are looking forward to engaging in a collaborative process to improve the delivery of water for irrigated agriculture. The project design team is in the preliminary stage of concept development to present to stakeholders, including the ditch companies. As the project progresses into a clearer scope and concepts, the project design team will seek feedback from ditch companies to provide input into project selection.