Sturgeon Lake covers 3,000 acres of Sauvie Island and offers winter habitat to 200,000 geese alone. Sturgeon Lake is an important link in the Pacific Flyway for waterfowl and a wide variety of bird species. In addition, juvenile salmon will leave the main river and seek refuge from high flows within the lake and sloughs. They use this time to increase in size and heartiness which in turn increases their likelihood of survival when they reach the ocean. The lake is roughly the size of Manhattan and is the largest tidally-influenced freshwater lake in the United States. In addition to the benefits to wildlife, some 800,000 people recreate on Sauvie Island every year, spending time in the Wildlife Area, hunting, fishing, hiking, using the beaches and visiting farms to buy fresh produce.
West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District (WMSWCD) has been working on Sturgeon Lake restoration since the District was formed in the mid-1990s. By that time, the Bonneville and Grand Coulee Dams were constructed on the Columbia River, denying upriver access to migratory salmon. An 18-mile levee was constructed over three years to protect the south end of Sauvie Island, along with smaller, lower levees built above Reeder Beach.
ODFW purchased land and established the Sauvie Island Wildlife Area in the mid-1990s and it was around this time that sediment starting building up in Sturgeon Lake, decreasing water depth, particularly at the south end. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) channel dredging resulted in huge amounts of dredge materials to be deposited along the Sauvie Island shoreline, creating miles of sandy beaches.
In 1982, the first Oregon State University study concluded that a connection between the Columbia River and Sturgeon Lake was necessary to reverse sedimentation. Dairy Creek at the south end of the Lake was identified as the best option for that connection. In 1985, WMSWCD created a partnership with ODFW and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to explore ways to re-establish the Dairy Creek connection and completed a creek channel redirection in 1989. However, the historic floods of 1996-97 send sand and woody debris to the mouth of Dairy Creek, plugging the channel. Shortly thereafter, many Columbia River salmonid species were listed for federal Endangered Species Act protection.
In 2007, WMSWCD convened a work group to take another look at options to re-open Dairy Creek or find other alternatives. The USACE agreed to finance a feasibility study with WMSWCD as the “local sponsor.” The study recommended replacing the culverts over Dairy Creek at Reeder Road, which were failing; removing the sand plug from the mouth of Dairy Creek and re-configuring the Dairy Creek channel. The project cost will be $6.665 million, of which WMSWCD is responsible for raising $1.665 million as the its share under a matching fund agreement.
Click here to read the Dairy Creek Feasibility Study
Click here to learn more about the Environmental Assessment for Sturgeon Lake Restoration Project.
For more information on the project and funding progress, visit the Sturgeon Lake project page.