Fish Passage Barrier Removal Will Open Up Prime Habitat
Gales Creek winds for more than 50 miles through western Washington County, offering some of the best habitat in the region for two endangered species—winter steelhead and Pacific lamprey—as well as coho salmon, cutthroat trout, mountain whitefish, mountain sucker and largescale sucker. But 12 miles upstream from where Gales Creek joins the Tualatin River, an obsolete concrete structure at Balm Grove has impeded fish passage for decades.
Today, Tree for All partners are poised to remove the structure and restore fish passage to more than 35 miles of prime habitat. Removal of the fish passage barrier at Balm Grove is one of the most important steps that our community can take to directly benefit aquatic life in the Tualatin River Watershed.
Size: 12 acres
Stream length: 1,167 feet
First planting: TBA
For much of the 20th century, Balm Grove was a recreational facility, with a swimming hole downstream from the concrete structure. Over time, it ceased to function as a gathering spot—yet the concrete structure remained in place, creating a fish passage blockage between the stream’s upper and lower reaches.
The obsolete structure is a complete barrier to juvenile and adult mountain whitefish, mountain sucker, largescale sucker and the endangered Pacific lamprey. It is also a major barrier to coho salmon and the endangered winter steelhead, blocking all but the strongest of these species. Clean Water Services, Tualatin Riverkeepers, Tualatin River Watershed Council, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Metro have all declared the Balm Grove site as a top restoration priority.
When the Balm Grove property came on the market in 2016, Tree for All partners pooled their resources, purchased it, and launched into project planning and community outreach. Invasive plant removal began immediately, in preparation for revegetation. A team with expertise on similar projects developed engineering plans to remove the concrete structure and enhance the creek. At a series of community meetings, neighboring landowners shared their perspectives and learned about the project.
After several years of research and planning, the project is ready to break ground, pending approvals from natural resources agencies and the availability of funding. In the meantime, community science and environmental education are taking place at Balm Grove. The Tualatin River Watershed Council continues to conduct fish monitoring, and Portland State University’s Student Watershed Research Project has taken dozens of high school students to the site to learn hands-on water quality monitoring.
Construction could begin as early as the summer of 2020 and is slated to take place over two summers, followed by two years of revegetation. In the long term, partners will monitor conditions in and around the stream, to promote ecological health and stream stability and protect this critical fish habitat for generations to come.