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MailTribune.com
  • Cool waters

    City of Medford partners with landowners to help shade Rogue River
  • RUCH — Fall chinook salmon spawn in the sunny stretch of the Applegate River that runs through Red Lily Vineyards, much to the delight of visitors sipping the winery's signature tempranillo.
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  • RUCH — Fall chinook salmon spawn in the sunny stretch of the Applegate River that runs through Red Lily Vineyards, much to the delight of visitors sipping the winery's signature tempranillo.
    If all goes as planned, future runs of chinook will have it made in the shade at Red Lily to the tune of 28 million kcals. That's the calculated amount of sunlight energy this stretch of Applegate will no longer absorb once Red Lily's former field of Himalayan blackberries is replaced by thousands of tall, native trees casting their protective shadows onto the river.
    And it's not costing vineyard owners Les and Rachel Martin a nickel. The city of Medford is footing the bill, even paying the Martins about $1,000 a year over 20 years for hosting it.
    It's all part of a new and ambitious attempt to offset the warm water released into the Rogue River by the city's wastewater treatment plant near White City by building natural shading elsewhere in the Rogue Basin, with the help of willing landowners such as the Martins.
    The result, project leaders say, will be the creation of a net cooling benefit to the basin's salmon instead of using expensive machines to chill the treated effluent to Clean Water Act standards.
    It's saving green by going green, and the Martins are happy to join.
    "We didn't have to think about it," Les Martin says. "They're improving a section we don't have any use for. Why not do it?"
    It's been less than two years since this so-called Thermal Credit Trading Program was approved as part of the renewal of the state Department of Environmental Quality permit for the city to keep operating its treatment plant, and already more landowners have signed on and more trees have been planted than the permit's strict schedule demands.
    Since November, owners of four properties on the main-stem Rogue and Applegate — a major Rogue chinook salmon-spawning tributary — have signed onto the program, administered by the Freshwater Trust on the city's behalf.
    A fifth landowner along the Rogue near the mouth of the Applegate is set to be signed this month, says Eugene Wier, the trust's project manager here. Another three more Applegate properties are in the pipeline, Wier says.
    Collectively, they represent about five miles of south-side stream shading in the basin that will go toward roughly 30 miles of habitat projects the trust must complete by 2022 to meet the DEQ standards.
    The sites will then be managed and independently audited through 2032 to ensure they indeed offer the stream shade for which they were given credit.
    The city's plant near TouVelle State Park releases about 20 million gallons of treated water per day into the Rogue. Among many updated DEQ standards that treated water must meet is a reduction in temperature by a fraction of 1 degree Celsius, which the plant's configuration could not accomplish.
    The warmer water accelerates incubation of chinook salmon eggs in gravel nests, called redds. If they incubate too quickly, they hatch too early into the Rogue when food availability for them is low.
    Instead of building and running $16 million chillers to cool the effluent, the city in concert with the DEQ created this roughly $8 million program in which the city earns credit against the effluent's temperatures by establishing new riparian shading projects elsewhere in the basin.
    To get there, the city hired the trust to build projects on the south sides of streams under agreements with willing landowners. The trust buys an easement to do the habitat work and monitor it over the 20-year life of the program, but it creates no government or public access to the lands.
    Landowners are paid $100 to $300 per acre, depending upon how the restoration work helps cool the water.
    The cooling effect is calculated by computer models, measuring the impact in kcals. When the projects are completed, they are given a kcal impact that's independently verified and sold by the trust to the city.
    The city is on the hook to buy 300 million kcals worth of these so-called "thermal credits" to meet the permit criteria.
    To ensure success, the trust plans to construct enough projects that collectively block 600 million kcals of the sun's energy from penetrating stream water — a 2-to-1 ratio that serves as a buffer against any project's failing to deliver the shade for which it was credited.
    Using LIDAR aerial mapping technology, stream surveys, maps and other information, trust crews were able to identify several prime lands within the Rogue Basin for restoration.
    The first landowner inked to the program was Bill Leavens, who had a 2,100-foot stretch of land along the southern bank of the Rogue upstream of the mouth of Bear Creek that was targeted early as a restoration candidate.
    "You're always a little hesitant at first, but the more I talked with them, the more it made sense," Leavens says.
    Leavens quickly realized the 14-foot-tall blackberries choking his cottonwoods weren't going to eradicate themselves.
    "It's certainly not something I would have been able to tackle myself," he says.
    Leavens signed an easement for work on 4.14 acres. Contractors cleared blackberries from the stream banks and systematically planted about 6,800 various plants, ranging from cottonwoods and white alders to shrubs such as snowberry and spirea.
    They also installed an irrigation system and returned regularly to keep blackberries from regenerating.
    According to the so-called "Shade-a-lator" computer-modeling program devised by the DEQ, the project will have reduced the sun's warming on that reach of the Rogue by slightly more than 25 million kcals once the plants mature, records show.
    Based on the 2-to-1 ratio, Medford received a 12,547,105 kcal credit toward its 300 million kcal requirement from the work on Leavens' property.
    The plants are taking hold and well on their way to reaching heights needed to qualify for those kcal credits, which will be independently verified throughout the project life.
    "It's a lot more involved than I thought," Leavens says. "To how the plants are taking off is pretty impressive."
    Wier says landowners' interests are piqued once they see Leavens' site and learn what's in store for the Martins' Red Lily land.
    "That's how we really see it happening," Wier says. "People see the good work and they say, 'I want a piece of that, too.' "
    At Red Lily, 3,000 feet of Applegate streamside has been cleared of blackberries and is scheduled for planting in the fall. The project helped entice two nearby landowners into the program, doubling the size of new shade on that stretch of this major Rogue salmon nursery.
    Red Lily's a prime site because of its length and how the sun now beats directly down onto the shallow spawning stretch.
    Plans are to plant a 70-foot-deep buffer of native Applegate Valley vegetation that will eventually shade that stretch enough to cool the Applegate by an estimated 28 million kcals — another 14 million kcals toward Medford's temperature debt.
    Seeing Red Lily's stretch of the Applegate slowly transform from a field of invasive blackberries to a more natural streambank excites Martin.
    "We love the idea," Martin says. "Our whole philosophy with our winery and tasting room is to fit in with the history of the valley.
    "It's going to make this side of the bank awesome," he says.
    Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or email at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.
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