PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Planning to float down the Clackamas River soon? Keep an eye out for some construction being done along the shoreline that officials hope will help save the salmon.

The Clackamas River Basin Council is in the process of restoring habitat for young salmon at the confluence of Sieben Creek and the Clackamas River, between Carver Park and Riverside Park. 

The project, called the Sieben-Riverbend Side Channel Enhancement Project, will reconnect a 1,750-foot side channel off the Clackamas River, creating a quieter environment where young salmon and steelhead can mature before entering the main river. 

“It’s sort of like the equivalent of being in the coffee shop rather than being in the freeway,” explained Isaac Sanders, restoration program manager for the Clackamas River Basin Council. 

He said the softer water in channels protects young salmonids, allowing them to get food easier.

These channels are important for the growth of young salmon, but over the last century, many Clackamas River channels have disappeared as the river undergoes changes. 

The Mill Dam upstream on the Clackamas River has affected how much sediment flows downstream naturally and humans have removed large trees from the water over the years, which usually help channels form. Scientists predict these changes could be factors impacting salmon populations. 

“The fish really like that. They really like these large wood structures with a bunch of little wood and root wads and things like that in it in that deep pool. It’s basically like a luxury condo,” Sanders said. 

He said large pieces of wood are an essential material the Clackamas River Basin Council is using to create its channel. 

Crews will scrape away soil to deepen the channel, lowering it closer to the river bottom level, so it can fill with more water during the rainy months. They’re also digging a hole and laying logs and boulders in it, forming a stable base so it won’t wash away during a high-flow event. 

Sanders compared it to an iceberg, saying what people see above the water will only be a small part of the full structure. He said it’s meant to mimic how a natural log structure is formed and will help guide water from the river into the channel. 

  • Sieben Riverbend Project
  • Sieben Riverbend crews create the apex log jam
  • Bank Log habitat structure
  • Channel entrance from the river
  • Large apex log structure at head of side channel
  • Log habitat structure
  • Log structure for habitat
  • Looking up the side channel toward the entrance

During the summer months, the channel might remain dry, but Sanders hopes it will connect to the river from October to May, when the water level is higher. He said these months are an important time of year to allow young fish access to channels. 

The construction began July 15 and is taking place in an area where boaters and floaters frequently pass by. 

Sanders said anyone on the water shouldn’t be affected by the habitat work. It’s happening in a shallow area and anyone on an innertube or in a boat would float by in deeper water on the other side. 

The construction work is about halfway done and should be completed by the end of August. The Clackamas River Basin Council will return to plant native plants near the channel in the winter. 

Sanders said the council thanks the private landowners who own the riverside property for allowing them to do the habitat restoration work. He said they’ve been enthusiastic about the project and are glad to know it will benefit wildlife in the area. 

“Fundraising and support for this kind of work is really important,” Sanders said, “so that we can work on this and hopefully restore these iconic species.” 

The project is funded by the Oregon Water Enhancement Board.