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Alexis Brickner, restoration program manager for the Rogue River Watershed Council, walks along Little Butte Creek in Eagle Point Friday. This section of the creek is part of an effort to redirect it toward its pre-flood meander toward the Rogue River through city of Eagle Point property west of Highway 62. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]

Curing the creek

EAGLE POINT — Lower Little Butte Creek could be on the cusp of shedding a lingering headache from the 1997 flood, when the creek jumped its channel and started eating a dirty path toward trouble.

The Rogue River Watershed Council is about to embark upon a quarter-million-dollar effort to redirect the creek toward its pre-flood meander toward the Rogue River through city of Eagle Point property west of Highway 62.

The creek now cuts a tight dog-leg right and is scouring out the bank, adding extra sediment to the creek that neither wild coho salmon juveniles nor Medford water drinkers want to see.

Little Butte Creek is a main player in recovery efforts for wild coho in the upper Rogue River Basin, and the creek flows into the Rogue a short distance out of the intake where the city of Medford draws water for summer municipal use.

It's also powering its way toward lower Antelope Creek, already 100 yards closer than its pre-flood path and only 95 feet away at one point, where it threatens to overrun the smaller creek should water in the two streams meet.

"A big portion of this is connecting the creek back to the floodplain and alleviate some of these issues we've been seeing," says Alexis Brickner, restoration program manager for the Rogue River Watershed Council.

Plans are to install four large and strategically engineered log jams to buttress against the water and rob it of its powers of erosion while also providing hiding space for young coho fleeing high winter flows.

Another upstream berm — likely a remnant of 1930s mining here — would be breached to redirect water there, and a seasonal side-channel would be restored to full-time flows, another wild coho benefit when Little Butte runs high, fast and turbid.

"It would be really nice to create some off-channel habitat for coho in Little Butte," said Brian Barr, the council's executive director.

The project would cost an estimated $255,000, with the lion's share —$161,090 — possibly coming from an Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board grant request scheduled to be considered next month, Brickner said.

"I feel like it's a pretty reasonable ask from them," Brickner said.

Another $50,000 grant application awaits a partnership of local and federal agencies that provide drinking water in the region, Brickner said. The remainder would come from in-kind donations from the city of Eagle Point, the federal Bureau of Land Management and the Medford Water Commission, she said.

Both OWEB and the drinking water partnership in late 2016 helped fund the $70,000 study and design work done last year, Brickner said.

The lower section of Little Butte Creek, particularly as it flowed through and beyond Eagle Point, took a beating in the New Year's Day flood of 1997, flooding creekside homes and banks. When it subsided, the former meander west of Highway 62 literally took a turn for the worse, and the creek has been scouring the high banks here and dropping huge swatches of sediment into the stream.

The creek already violated water-quality standards for sediment, bacteria, pH, dissolved oxygen, chlorophyll, temperature and aquatic weeds, yet it still produces wild coho and wild steelhead.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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