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Now, this is how you restore rivers: You do it one stream at a time, one riparian stretch at a time, one neighbor reaching out to another neighbor to protect a precious waterway.

You do it carefully, patiently, building trust and forging relationships that might have seemed unthinkable even a decade ago.

Bennett Hall's story in Sunday's Gazette-Times about the Willamette Model Watershed Program was a shot of good news, as cool and bracing as the waters in which trout like to spawn.

The program is pouring money into targeted restoration projects in key river systems throughout the upper Willamette River Basin. Locally, for example, a project is under way to help restore a 6-mile stretch of Shotpouch Creek in Lincoln County, a stretch of creek dotted with small farms and private timber tracts.

The program aims to improve water quality, lower stream temperatures and generally enhance habitat for fish and wildlife in tributaries of the Willamette. The overall idea is simple and has an elegant logic to it: Improve those tributaries, and eventually you boost the health of the state's most important river system.

It's not cheap work - the price tag for the Shotpouch project is estimated at some $755,000.

And it's not work that gets done overnight, either: The Shotpouch project will take a decade.

In part, that's because the people working on the project took to time to launch it correctly: They spent months engaging individual landowners in discussions about the land and the creek. What would help landowners better manage their property? What would work for both the landowners and the interests of the creek - and the flora and fauna that relies on that habitat?

It's painstaking work, and it's essential: In the end, 18 of the 21 property owners in the Shotpouch Creek drainage were brought into the fold.

We can't highlight enough the importance of those initial discussions to the success of the project. Taking the time to explore the issue in depth, it seems to us, forced the participants to reconsider their initial impressions: As one of the landowners recounted, her initial reaction to the project was to wonder about the hidden agenda. We bet many of her neighbors had the same first reaction.

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But as the discussions continued, the conversations moved past that initial reaction and moved into areas of (literally) common ground: What's best for the land? What's best for the water? And from that common ground, remarkable progress can be made.

Let's hope that's a lesson that catches on as it flows down Shotpouch Creek, into the Tumtum River, into the Marys River and then into the Willamette. What's that bumper sticker say, "We all live downstream"? Turns out that's true.

For more information:

Click here to find out more about the specific techniques that will be used to restore Shotpouch Creek. Click on each description to see more information about each technique.

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