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Big Sky Watershed Corps Project Support: Low-Tech Stream Restoration in the Ruby Watershed

Overview:

The Ruby Watershed has a history of placer and hydraulic mining that has altered many tributaries throughout the watershed. The California Creek, a tributary of the Ruby River, has had significant alterations to its riverscape/riparian area. The channel has been degraded and destabilized, causing high levels of erosion that contribute to sediment pollution and reduced water quality in the creek and the Ruby River. California Creek has also lost its natural connection to the floodplain. The Ruby Valley Conservation District (RVCD) and Ruby Watershed Council’s 2021 Big Sky Watershed Corps member, London Bernier, applied for and was awarded Big Sky Watershed Corps Project Support funding from the MWCC Watershed Fund to reduce sediment pollution and help reconnect the creek to its floodplain using low-tech, process-based restoration (LTPBR) methods. The project included installing post-assisted log structures (PALS) and beaver dam analogs (BDAs). These structures will help with the promotion of groundwater recharge and elevation of the water table, which will provide water in later months of the summer. The structures will also help restore floodplain connectivity and encourage meandering, which decreases the velocity and power of water in ripping sediment from streambanks. 

Accomplishments:
  • 35 stakeholders engaged, including 
    • 21 Community Volunteers
    • Stakholders including FWP, BLM, TNC, NRCS, Ruby Watershed Council, Local landowners (2)
  • 1 conservation practices were implemented:
    • In-channel habitat improvements
  • 0.7 acres made more resilient including wetlands, riparian and upland 
  • 0.22 miles (1,146 linear feet) of the stream and riparian area improved
  • 19 number of restoration structures installed
    • 17 instream
    • 2 upland sediment traps
How will this project improve water quality and other natural resources in the Ruby Watershed?

There are many benefits to water quality that result from the low-tech, process-based restoration. These structures will help raise the level of the creek to aid in the restoration of the creek to its original floodplain and promote meandering, which will reduce the stream’s slope and the transportation rate of sediment. Over time, the structures will deteriorate and promote complexity and other benefits throughout the creek and watershed. For example, fresh willow cuttings used to build PALs and BDAs could break loose and take root downstream, which will help reinforce banks, reduce erosion, and contribute to floodplain development. When the structures break down the woody debris is released which increases the complexity of the channel, stabilizes banks, creates habitat, and can play a role in trapping sediment. 

Impacts of the Watershed Fund: How has this project helped build capacity for the Ruby Valley Conservation District and Ruby Watershed Council?

“The Watershed Fund provided the monetary support to get the project off the ground,” London, said. “It also allowed us to purchase tools and equipment for not only this project, but projects in the future.” This project also allowed RVCD to test different structures, see which techniques are most efficient in the watershed, and improve their efficiency for the next project. 

Impacts of Big Sky Watershed Corps:

Audra Bell, the Stewardship Director for RVCD, said that hosting London and other BSWC members “expands the capacity for the [Ruby Watershed Council] to complete restoration projects, maintain long-term Stewardship programs, and educate the community!” RVCD has hosted many different BSWC members throughout the years, and they continue to bring new perspectives on stewardship in the Ruby Valley. Through working on this project, London has gained valuable skills that will help her in the future. These include grant writing and permitting, as well as field skills and building LTPBR structures. 

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