Steigerwald Lake is a US Fish & Wildlife Service National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) situated along the banks of the Columbia near Washougal, Washington, at the "Gateway" to the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area. Steigerwald NWR was first protected in 1987 and now comprises 1,049 acres of wetlands, fields, woodlands, and a "tamed" Gibbons Creek. Since it was established, though, the Columbia River has been cut off from the Refuge by a 5.1 mile levee.
The levee was constructed to provide flood protection, however in doing so it separated the Columbia from its vast historic floodplain. And although the levee protects from flooding from the Columbia River, it also exacerbates internal flooding from Gibbons Creek, which spills over into the Port of Camas-Washougal and other nearby commercial and residential properties. This internal flooding requires the Port to maintain a costly pumping system to handle even moderate rainfall events.
The collaborative Steigerwald Floodplain Restoration Project will reconnect 965 acres of Columbia River floodplain, reduce flood risk, improve habitat for fish and wildlife, and create new trails for recreation at the Refuge.
Over the next two years, the Refuge will see plenty of changes!
We broke ground in summer 2019, when BioHabitats, Inc., a Portland-based restoration company, anchored 84 large wood habitat structures in the Gibbons Creek historic alluvial fan. Some of the wood installed was donated by BNSF Railroad. The structures will provide habitat to a variety of species and help stabilize the area when Gibbons Creek is released into its alluvial fan in fall 2021.
Community members and students have been an active part of the project this fall and winter, planting native trees within the alluvial fan and around the habitat structures. Meanwhile, workers with Ash Creek Forest Management treated invasive species and reforested another 53 acres of the alluvial fan.
Over the next two years—in 2020 and 2021—crews will build setback levees to protect the nearby industrial park and other landowners and remove more than 2 miles of the current levee. Vancouver-based Rotschy, Inc. and LKE Corporation of Washougal will construct these phases of the project.
With Washington Department of Transportation, the project will raise State Route 14 above the 500 year flood stage. Crews will also reconfigure Gibbons Creek, including removing its elevated channel, weirs, and a fish ladder, and create over 115 acres of wetland, along with extensive replanting with native species.
During fall 2021, once the trees and shrubs planted by students, volunteers, and crews throughout the alluvial fan are well-rooted, Gibbons Creek will be released from the confinement of its elevated channel and redirected onto the alluvial fan. The established plants and the wood structures will provide immediate cover and refuge for fish, herptiles, and birds. The project will also include a new parking lot and amenities, viewing platforms, and add more than a mile of trail to the Refuge’s trail system, offering visitors a more “natural” path than the current linear trail, which follows the levee.
Over the three years of construction, the project also creates 503 local family wage jobs and provide opportunities for thousands of local students and community members to volunteer and contribute to the project.
Actual Miles Restored