East Fork Lewis River Floodplain Reclamation Project (proposed)

Washington’s Lower East Fork Lewis River is essential to the recovery of wild salmon and steelhead. It is one of the few undammed rivers that supports five native salmonid species: fall Chinook salmon; winter and summer steelhead; coho salmon; and chum salmon. It also supports Pacific lamprey and other native aquatic and terrestrial species. 

clark skamania flyfishers
Photo provided by the Clark Skamania Flyfishers

However, habitat loss resulting from a former gravel mining operation on the river threatens the abundance of these wild fish and puts homes and other structures at risk of flooding. During the floods of 1995 and 1996, a series of nine abandoned gravel pits four miles upstream of La Center at river mile 7-8, known as the Ridgefield Pits, were overtaken by the river. 

The river now flows through the former gravel mining pits, eliminating what had been very high-quality salmonid spawning and rearing habitat. The pits can become so warm during late spring and summer months that they could prevent the migration of salmon and steelhead into the upper portions of the East Fork Lewis River watershed. The warm water in the pits also support non-native fish species that may prey on juvenile salmon.

Aerial photo Ridgefield Pits
Aerial photo of the Ridgefield Pits, a series of nine former gravel mines on the East Fork Lewis River

This project represents one of the most significant opportunities for large-scale floodplain restoration in the watershed.” Ian Sinks, Stewardship Director, Columbia Land Trust 

 

The proposed East Fork Lewis River Floodplain Reclamation Project is a critical restoration project for both people and wildlife. The restoration of the Ridgefield Pits would be the largest habitat restoration project implemented on the lower East Fork Lewis River. 

Without this project, the next major flood event on the East Fork Lewis River could result in the river channel migrating into an active mining operation, creating catastrophic impacts for the local community, economy, and salmon. 

Project Actions:

The project supports the recovery of lamprey and endangered salmonid species by reconnecting 300 acres of floodplain and restoring 2.5 miles of riparian and instream habitat. Additionally, this project would reduce flood and erosion risks to dozens of homes, a county-owned maintenance facility and a private mining operation. To achieve these benefits, the proposed project would: 

  • Regrade floodplain and fill nine former gravel mining pits;
  • Improve habitat conditions within the former gravel mining pits and over 1.5 miles of associated off-channel areas;
  • Install over 1,000 pieces of large woody debris and other habitat features in the river and floodplain;
  • Revegetate over 100 acres of land with native trees and shrubs;
  • Strengthen an existing flood protection levee;
  • Construct a small setback levee and relocate critical infrastructure behind the new setback levee; and
  • Remove unnecessary and unmaintained levees to restore the channel migration zone.

The Estuary Partnership has nearly a decade-long record of successful habitat restoration projects along the East Fork Lewis River, including the 438-acre La Center Bottoms wetlands and the East Fork side channel restoration projects. The Estuary Partnership is currently designing two other restoration projects along the East Fork immediately downstream of the East Fork Reclamation Project and recently completed a water temperature investigation in the lower river from river mile 4-23. Building upon the success of these restoration projects and six other habitat restoration projects sponsored by partner organizations, the East Fork Reclamation Project extends and connects these sites to deliver high-quality habitat and flood protection.

 

“This project represents the single greatest opportunity to conduct broad scale floodplain reconnection, restoring function to a three-mile long, multi-species reach of the East Fork Lewis River. Increasing habitat capacity and diversity in this high priority stream corridor provides a strong certainty of success for supporting viability improvements for five Endangered Species Act-listed salmonid runs." Steve Manlow, Executive Director, Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board

 

Economic Benefit of the East Fork Lewis River Floodplain Reclamation Project 

The East Fork Reclamation Project is a $19.9 million project that will generate more than 332 new or sustained jobs while adding roughly $43.7-49.7 million in total economic activity; 80% of the economic activity generated by this project is expected to stay in Clark County.

The Estuary Partnership’s most recent large-scale habitat restoration project, the Steigerwald Reconnection Project, demonstrated the economic benefits of habitat restoration and flood-risk reduction projects in Clark County. 

 

"For Rotschy Inc., the project not only was a perfect fit, but an exciting business opportunity. Massive earthworks projects fit easily in our wheelhouse, but the opportunity to construct 1.6 miles of setback levees was an exciting challenge and a strategic addition to our company’s portfolio. As a bonus, the refuge is located a short distance from our main offices; as a family business, projects that allow our employees to return home to their families in the evening rather than check into a hotel are very important to us."  Darin Kysar, Project Manager, Rotschy Inc. 

 

Click here to read the full editorial in the Vancouver Business Journal written by representatives of the Estuary Partnership, Rotschy, Inc., and the Port of Camas-Washougal.

Field trip La Center Bottoms

Community and Student Engagement 

The Estuary Partnership has a robust community and student engagement program to advance restoration activities and ecological knowledge. In previous East Fork restoration projects, the Estuary Partnership engaged more than 1,000 students in the La Center School District in native tree and shrub plantings, environmental education, and water quality monitoring.

If constructed, the Estuary Partnership will host approximately 24 reforestation events at the East Fork Reclamation Project site for local school groups and community members. Similar efforts at prior projects, such as the Steigerwald Reconnection Project, have increased public awareness of environmental issues and provided fun, hands-on science lessons for youth. The Estuary Partnership also anticipates a “citizen scientist” component of this project to collect data tracking the project’s effectiveness.

Recreation

The East Fork Lewis River Floodplain Reclamation Project expands upon the abundant recreation options for naturalists and anglers already available on the river. Located between the popular Paradise State Park and Daybreak Park, the East Fork Reclamation Project represents a key link in Clark County’s Legacy Lands Program plan to develop a trail connecting Paradise State Park to Daybreak Bridge and the East Fork Reclamation.  

Filling in the Ridgefield Pits will also remove boating obstacles caused by the abandoned mining pits and improve habitat and river conditions to increase the population of salmon and steelhead in the river.  

 

wade and float
Photo provided by the Clark Skamania Flyfishers

Funding  

In 2018 funding was made available for development of preliminary designs and in 2021, funding was approved for the development of final designs. Funding for both restoration designs for the project was made possible by a grant to the Estuary Partnership awarded by the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO), Salmon Recovery Funding Board, and the Washington Department of Natural Resources. Support for the grant was provided by the Lower Columbia River Fish Recovery Board – the region’s leading salmon recovery entity. The Estuary Partnership is working through the final design process with Inter-Fluve.  
 
In 2022 the Estuary Partnership applied for construction funding from multiple grant sources. The RCO awarded the Estuary Partnership $7 million for the construction budget. We have applied to Washington Department of Ecology’s Floodplains by Design program for the balance of funding. In August, a ranked list of floodplain projects proposed in Washington was released and the project is awaiting a funding decision as Washington state legislature still needs to decide how much funding the entire program will receive (and how many projects will be funded). If Washington leaders allocate $70 million to the Floodplains by Design program (the amount Washington Department of Ecology is requesting), then the Lower East Fork Reclamation Project, along with ten other projects throughout the state, will be implemented in its entirety.  

 

  • Floodplains by Design information
  • Lower East Fork Floodplain Reclamation in the news
  • Support for the Lower East Fork Lewis Floodplain Reclamation Project

    “This ambitious project will restore a significant reach of the watershed and benefit Endangered Species Act listed salmon and steelhead, restore watershed processes impacted by past and current land uses, and protect important public and private infrastructure. This project represents one of the most significant opportunities for large-scale floodplain restoration in the watershed.”  Ian Sinks, Stewardship Director, Columbia Land Trust 

    “This project represents the single greatest opportunity to conduct broad scale floodplain reconnection, restoring function to a three-mile long, multi-species reach of the East Fork Lewis River. Increasing habitat capacity and diversity in this high priority stream corridor provides a strong certainty of success for supporting viability improvements for five Endangered Species Act-listed salmonid runs."  Steve Manlow, Executive Director, Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board

    "For Rotschy Inc., the project [Steigerwald Reconnection Project] not only was a perfect fit, but an exciting business opportunity. Massive earthworks projects fit easily in our wheelhouse, but the opportunity to construct 1.6 miles of setback levees was an exciting challenge and a strategic addition to our company’s portfolio. As a bonus, the refuge is located a short distance from our main offices; as a family business, projects that allow our employees to return home to their families in the evening rather than check into a hotel are very important to us."  Darin Kysar, Project Manager, Rotschy Inc. Rotschy Inc was the prime contractor for the Steigerwald Reconnection Project, a previous restoration project led by the Lower Columbia Estuary Project and funded by Floodplains by Design; the Estuary Partnership commits to hiring local in the construction of the Lower East Fork Lewis Floodplain Reclamation Project. 

    “The East Fork Lewis River is a gem.  It flows undammed, off the flanks of the Cascade mountains to the lower Columbia River, providing critical habitat to Endangered Salmon and Steelhead.  The East Fork Restoration Project seeks to restore and reconnect a highly impacted reach of the lower river which, if left untreated, could take decades to recover from floodplain mining.  WDFW fully supports this project and looks forward to its timely completion.” Alex Uber, PE, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife 

    “DNR is proud to support the restoration work that the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership has conducted on the East Fork of the Lewis River. Focusing on floodplain reconnection helps reduce the impacts of flooding on local communities and contributes to ecosystem health and recovery of our endangered salmonid species.”  Renelle Smith, Assistant Division Manager, Aquatic Resource Division, Washington Department of Natural Resources 

  • Type

    Habitat


Project Partners
Clark County
Clark Skamania Flyfishers, Washington Department of Ecology, Clark County PUD, Lower Columbia Fish Enhancement Group
Columbia Land Trust
Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife
Washington Department of Natural Resources

Funders
Washington Department of Natural Resources
Washington Recreation and Conservation Office