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Water flow would help ponds.

Byline: SCOTT MABEN The Register-Guard

The stagnant Delta Ponds north of Valley River Center would be infused with fresh river water under a proposed environmental restoration project to benefit spring chinook salmon, the Western pond turtle, red-legged frogs and other wildlife.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and city of Eugene have teamed up to connect the series of former gravel pits to the Willamette River and enhance the flow of water between the ponds, which support a variety of birds, fish, reptiles and mammals along Goodpasture Island Road and Delta Highway.

The work, scheduled for mid-2003, could top $5 million. The federal agency proposes paying two-thirds of it from an aquatic habitat restoration fund. The city would pay the remaining third from stormwater fee revenue or possibly state matching funds.

Officials hope re-establishing the flood plain across roughly 120 acres of the ponds area will create new habitat for young salmon seeking shelter from high river flows in late winter and spring. Juvenile chinook, on the federal endangered species list, seek out backwater refuges to rest and bulk up on their journey to the sea.

"They'll spend as much time as they can in there," said Bill Castillo, a wildlife biologist in the Springfield office of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. "When the temperatures get warmer, they move out."

Such critical habitat for the salmon has become sparse along the river, giving way to development and agriculture.

Eugene Sand & Gravel created the ponds in mining gravel for construction of Delta Highway and other projects in the 1950s and '60s.

Although not required by law, the company reclaimed the site when finished with it. Among other things, it put in culverts to connect the water that collected in the pits. It sold the land to the city about 20 years ago.

The Corps of Engineers, which is in charge of the project, has been assessing the restoration proposal for the past two years. The agency's Portland district office expects to finish a feasibility study on Delta Ponds within two months.

"I'd say this is a really good candidate for moving ahead," said Mark Dasso, project manager for the corps. "We're looking at quite a bit of habitat improvement for the dollars here."

If approved by the agency's headquarters, the project would proceed to final design this year. Construction is tentatively set for June through October 2003.

The project would include the ponds between the river and Delta Highway as well as the ponds east of the highway and south of Goodpasture Island Road. The ponds near the Goodpasture-Belt Line Road interchange would not be included.

Most of the land is in city park ownership but Lane County owns a portion within the Delta Highway right of way.

The ponds would be connected to the river by a pair of culverts that feature flood controls to keep high flows from inundating neighboring roads or development. Water flow between each pond would be improved, and culverts would be built under Delta Highway to link ponds on either side of the busy road.

"I think that will help make the ponds more attractive to wildlife," Castillo said. "A lot of the ponds are fragmented, so we have pieces of the habitat puzzle that may not support as much as they could if they were better connected."

For example, river otter that have been spotted in the ponds are skittish about crossing from one pond to another. "Their security comes from their agility in the water, so they want to stay in the water," Castillo said.

As the river level drops in the summer and fall, the ponds would be drawn down as well, triggering growth of plants that are a vital food source for animals.

"The goal, in essence, is to recreate that floodplain habitat and natural cycle," said Louis Kroeck, principal landscape architect in the city's public works engineering division.

Crews also would taper the steep banks of the ponds to aide in the removal of invasive vegetation, including blackberries and Scotch broom, and help with the reintroduction of native trees and shrubs that support floodplain habitat.

The proposal also calls for placing logs and limbs in the water to create more cover for fish, turtles and frogs. Additional habitat restoration projects for volunteers may follow, Kroeck said.

Up to 10 percent of the project budget may be spent on recreation improvements. Those might include adding parking areas near the ponds, building some footpaths and wildlife viewing areas, and providing restrooms.

"The recreation portion has to be in character with the restoration project," Kroeck said. "We can't put in intensive-use facilities."

A separate city project, completion of the East Bank Bike Trail, is scheduled to go to construction this spring. The segment, a little more than a mile long from Valley River Center to just south of Marist High School, will parallel the river and pass along the west edge of Delta Ponds.

Permits from several state and federal agencies must be obtained before restoration of the ponds can begin. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Environmental Quality also are being consulted on low levels of zinc and cadmium found in water and sediment samples taken at the ponds.

HELPING THE SPECIES

The Delta Ponds support abundant life, including beaver, mink, river otters, blue herons, ducks, cormorants, songbirds, turtles, frogs and various fish. Sharing the habitat are some non-native species such as nutria, bullfrogs and bass. City, state and federal officials hope connecting the ponds to the Willamette River and other improvements will enhance the habitat, particularly for:

Spring chinook salmon: A threatened species on the federal endangered species list, they benefit from side channels and backwater habitat while migrating downriver.

Western pond turtle: Listed as a "sensitive species" by the state, its habitat largely has disappeared in the Willamette Valley. Reproduction at Delta Ponds is low, partly because bullfrogs prey on hatchlings and partly due to a lack of suitable habitat. Also, red-eared sliders, a turtle once common in the pet trade but now banned from sale in Oregon, compete for food and habitat and spread disease to the native pond turtle.

Red-legged frog: The larger, more aggressive bullfrog also dines on this native "sensitive species." As a result, the red-legged frog fares far better in wooded areas.
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Title Annotation:Wildlife: Eugene and the Army Corps of Engineers consider channeling river water through to improve animal habitat.; Environment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 9, 2002
Words:1054
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