Ames Creek project to open access for steelhead, trout

Sean C. Morgan

A South Santiam Watershed Council project will open Ames Creek to winter steelhead and cutthroat trout.

Before Foster and Green Peter dams were constructed in the 1960s, the South Santiam River would flood the mouth of Ames Creek.

“That would allow pretty consistent fish passage into Ames Creek from the South Santiam,” said SSWC Coordinator Eric Hartstein. It still happens, but it’s not nearly as consistent as it once was.

“Occasionally, when the flows are right, I think they can get up into there,” Hartstein said. In October and November, the cutthroat are often visible jumping but failing to make it over the falls at the mouth of Ames Creek.

The SSWC will excavate the bedrock at the mouth of the creek, leaving boulder weirs behind to create a “natural” fish ladder for the steelhead and trout, Hartstein said. Salmon probably won’t use it, but Pacific lamprey may.

Once the mouth is opened up to the fish, they shouldn’t have any problems moving up the 17 miles of Ames Creek and its tributaries, Hartstein said. There are some road crossings in Sweet Home that are a little problematic, but they are not complete barriers.

“I think they should have a fairly easy time getting past town,” Hartstein said.

This will complement the work Cascade Timber Consulting has done farther up the Ames Creek drainage, he said. CTC has fixed culverts and installed bridges in recent years to open up the creek.

Historically, the stream mainly has had steelhead and cutthroat as well as Pacific lamprey and resident rainbow trout.

Of those, the winter steelhead are listed as a threatened species, Hartstein said. The lamprey are not listed, but “we’ve seen some evidence their numbers are declining pretty rapidly.”

It’s tough to say what impact this project will have on fish populations, Hartstein said. “It would give them more access to more habitat.”

The habitat provides additional refuge and spawning grounds during high flows, he said. The SSWC has had fish traps on Ames Creek in the past, and it will put them out again in the spring to compare numbers.

Hartstein hopes to see more abundance and richness of fish, he said.

The project starts on Thursday and will last approximately three weeks, Harstein said. The Pleasant Valley boat ramp will be closed during that period, but the prime boating season has ended.

The project begins by “de-watering” Ames Creek, diverting the creek through a pipeline around the construction area, Hartstein said. “It’s a lot of water. I think it’s technically challenging.”

The project will cost approximately $150,000.

Funding is primarily through the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and federal timber payments through the county are helping.

For more information about the project or the Watershed Council, call Hartstein at (541) 367-5564.