«DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT FOR THE COLUMBIA STOCK RANCH SECTION 536 ECOSYSTEM RESTORATION PROJECT The environmental ...»
1.2. Federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinion In 2008, in response to a court order, the Corps and BPA entered into an agreement to implement projects that would benefit salmonids in the Columbia River basin over a ten year period. The Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS) biological opinion (BiOp) (hereafter referred to as the FCRPS BiOp) includes an implementation plan that outlines a comprehensive program of habitat improvements, hatchery reforms, and hydrosystem operations and improvements to protect Columbia and Snake River fish. The plan outlines a broad array of projects to improve spawning and rearing habitat in order to boost the survival rates of fish listed under the ESA. One of the key actions recommended in the FCPRS BiOp includes improving estuarine habitat and restoring off-channel, floodplain habitats for rearing juveniles salmonids. By directly addressing factors which limit quality habitat, the proposed project would help satisfy requirements of the FCRPS BiOp, specifically Reasonable and Prudent Alternative actions 36 and 37 as amended by a supplemental BiOp in 2010 and 2014 (NOAA Fisheries 2008, 2010 and 2014).
1.3. Purpose and Need The purpose of the proposed Federal action is to restore ecological processes and tidal influence to the floodplain and develop riparian forest habitat to benefit many fish and wildlife species in the lower Columbia River and estuary. Construction of the Deer Island Flood Damage Reduction System (levee) and the Portland & Western Railroad embankment blocked fish passage into the project area and Tide Creek, functionally isolating the property from natural tidal and fluvial processes. The proposed project would improve habitat conditions and provide access/egress to rearing and foraging habitat for 13 Evolutionary Significant Units (ESU) of salmonids listed as threatened and endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 (16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq.), as amended1. The restoration project also would provide for habitat improvements for a variety of waterfowl, raptors, including bald eagles An evolutionary significant unit (ESU) is a Pacific salmon population or group of populations that are substantially reproductively isolated from other conspecific populations and that represent an important component of the evolutionary legacy of the species.
April 22, 2016 Page 2 (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), neotropical migratory birds, reptiles, amphibians and an assortment of mammals, as well as support recovery of the federally endangered Columbian white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus leucurus).
The need for habitat restoration within the lower Columbia River and estuary is predicated upon the significant historic losses of tidal slough and tidal swamp habitats along the lower Columbia River. The original extent of tidal marsh and swamp in the estuary has been reduced by more than half and upwards of 80% of the littoral area of the estuary has been lost (LCREP 1999, NPCC 2002). Throughout the estuary, riparian plant communities dominated by Oregon ash (Fraxinus latifolia) and black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) forest have declined about 86% from historical levels, and forested swamp dominated by Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) has declined about 70% (Graves et al., 1995; Corps 1996). The project area itself is currently a disturbed ecosystem previously altered by diking, drainage, clearing of tidal swamp forest and subsequent agricultural use. Under Section 536, the Corps and BPA are authorized to partner with willing land owners and non-federal sponsors to implement habitat restoration projects in the lower Columbia River and estuary. The CSR project site was identified as a potential project site and restoration of floodplain habitat at this location meets the Action Agencies’ needs in restoring habitat in the lower river and estuary to meet the FCRPS BiOp obligations.
Construction of the railroad and flood reduction levee disconnected the project site from regular tidal influence and seasonal flood events from the Columbia River. This disconnection effectively simplified the remnant aquatic habitats and diminished overall habitat quality and biodiversity. Tidal, estuarine wetlands are one of the most heavily impacted habitats in the lower Columbia River ecosystem and there is a need to restore this priority habitat based on its high functional value to fish and wildlife. Wetlands and riparian habitats benefitting juvenile salmonids migrating through the lower Columbia River and estuary is an important component of regional recovery plans and the successful reestablishment of healthy, self-sustaining populations. The lower river and estuary are critical areas for juvenile salmonids because these areas provide refugia from predators, support foraging and growth, and provide an area to transition physiologically from freshwater to saltwater before out-migration to the ocean.
In deciding whether to fund and acquire necessary real estate interests, BPA seeks a project that supports efforts to mitigate for the effects of development and operation of the FCRPS on fish and wildlife in the mainstem Columbia River and its tributaries.2 It also seeks a project that helps meet its obligations under the ESA, as amended, and a project which helps fulfill commitments under the FCRPS BiOp. Additionally, the project would assist in carrying out BPA’s obligations related to estuary habitat actions contained in the State of Washington’s Memorandum of Agreement (Washington Fish Accord) to conserve salmon and steelhead through improvement of conditions in the estuary.
1.4. Goals and Objectives The primary goal of the proposed project is to maximize restoration potential on the CSR project site by restoring tidal influence and natural ecological processes to the historic BPA is a federal power marketing agency that is part of the U.S. Department of Energy. BPA’s operations are governed by several statutes, including the Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act of 1980 (Northwest Power Act) (16 U.S.C. § 839 et seq.), The Northwest Power Act requires BPA to protect, mitigate and enhance fish and wildlife habitat impacted by the development and operation of the FCRPS in a manner consistent with the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Fish and Wildlife Program (16 U.S.C. § 839b(h)(10)(A)).
April 22, 2016 Page 3 floodplain in the project area while maintaining flood protection to adjacent property owners.
A secondary goal of the proposed project is to maintain necessary access routes for multiple utilities bisecting the property (natural gas, fiber optics, and transportation).
The main objectives of the restoration plan are to:
1. Re-establish hydrologic connectivity between the project site and the mainstem Columbia River, mimicking historic conditions;
2. Restore high quality off-channel habitat;
3. Provide unencumbered access to critical foraging and rearing habitats on the project site for juvenile salmonids; and
4. Restore native wetland plant communities and functions to enhance productivity.
1.5. Project Sponsor and Land Owner The Columbia Land Trust (CLT) is a private, non-profit organization owning the CSR project site. In 2012, CLT purchased the CSR property using funding provided by BPA and has been actively coordinating with the Action Agencies to develop restoration plans for construction.
BPA is the federal sponsor for the proposed restoration project and would be responsible for all land acquisition associated with the proposed project, as well as all operation and maintenance of project features and hydrologic structures following implementation. Deer Island Drainage Improvement Company (hereafter referred to as the diking district)
2. ACTION AREA The lower Columbia River and estuary are defined as the Action Area for all FCRPS BiOp related habitat restoration projects. The CSR project site is located adjacent to State Highway 30 (Hwy
30) between RM 75 and 77, in Columbia County, Oregon.
2.1. Columbia Stock Ranch The project area is between the cities of Rainier and St. Helens, Oregon. The CSR project area is on Deer Island (Oregon) downriver from the Lewis River confluence (Washington) and immediately south of Sandy Island on the Columbia River (see Figure 1). Deer Island is a large island nearly 5 miles long and 2 miles wide, encompassing over 3,000 acres, and is located on the Oregon side of the Columbia River. Directly across the Columbia from Deer Island is Woodland, Washington, and Martin and Burke Islands. Downstream lies Goble, Oregon, and upstream lies Columbia City and St. Helens, Oregon. Just off the east shore of Deer Island lies Goat Island.
The Deer Island Flood Damage Reduction System (levee system) is a system of federally authorized and non-federally operated and maintained flood control levees operated and maintained by the Deer Island Drainage Improvement Company (hereafter referred to as the diking district). The Columbia River Levee is a component of this system of levees, and is operated and maintained by the diking district. The levee system includes six tide boxes (including four freshwater inlets) and a pumping station at Deer Island Slough, protecting a total of approximately 3,920 acres, of which 690 acres are wetlands, lakes and sloughs, and 1,900 acres are agricultural lands. Approximately 19% of the levee system falls within the boundary of CSR.
April 22, 2016 Page 4 Figure 1: Deer Island and the CSR project site April 22, 2016 Page 5 The CSR project area consists of two parcels of land totalling 935 acres. Approximately 460 acres consist of floodplain and riparian habitats adjacent to the Columbia River, with 1.5 miles of frontage to the river. The remaining 475 acres consist of an upland, mixed Douglas fir and hardwood forest located west and upslope of Hwy 30. The proposed restoration activities would only occur on the lowland portions the property, east of Hwy 30. Prior to construction of the Columbia River Levee, the lower portion of Tide Creek flowed north parallel to Deer Island Slough before entering the Columbia River west of the Deer Island Slough confluence with the river. However, Tide Creek is currently diverted from its historical floodplain and now flows in a constructed channel flowing south and east before entering Deer Island Slough south of the CSR project area. The remnant portion of Tide Creek that flowed through the CSR property is disconnected from both the slough and the mainstem river, fragmenting habitat for aquatic organisms.
3. PROPOSED ACTION AND REASONABLE ALTERNATIVESThe Corps assembled an agency Project Delivery Team (PDT) to evaluate the possible range of actions and refine them into alternatives for consideration. A range of reasonable alternatives meeting the project goals and objectives were evaluated for the CSR project site. Restoration measures facilitating hydrologic connectivity, habitat formation, and continued flood protection were evaluated for implementation. Evaluation criteria also considered public health and safety, ensuring that the preferred alternative would pose no threat to the health or safety of the public and the project would be in compliance with applicable health and safety requirements and guidelines.
In total, six alternatives were evaluated for implementation: the no action alternative and five action alternatives implementing some degree of restoration. Given the unique site conditions and adjacent land use practices (including a state highway bordering the site and an active railway bisecting the property), four alternatives were eliminated from further consideration because they did not meet the purpose and need for action. Ultimately, the PDT narrowed the range of alternatives down to the No Action Alternative and the Proposed Action Alternative.
3.1. No Action Alternative Under the No Action Alternative, the project site would maintain its current status and the site would continue to be used for agriculture and livestock grazing. The project area would be disconnected from the mainstem Columbia River and the existing flood control levee would remain intact. No active restoration methods would be implemented and existing habitats would remain degraded and functioning poorly. Because the project area would not be connected to the mainstem Columbia River, fish and wildlife in the mainstem would have no access to off-channel habitats and the benefits these areas provide. Invasive plant species would continue to occur on the project site and limited (or no) efforts would take place to control and eradicate invasives from the project area.
3.2. Proposed Action The Proposed Action was developed through evaluation of the restoration goals and objectives, as well as its potential impact on the human environment and surrounding areas. The Proposed Action is the Action Agencies’ preferred action to restore the CSR project site.
The Proposed Action involves modifying a portion of the Columbia River Levee to restore tidal influence to the floodplain below the 2-year flood elevation (see ). Following reconnection to April 22, 2016 Page 6 the Columbia River, much of the CSR project site (342 acres) would be semi-regularly inundated by the Columbia River, promoting the exchange of nutrients, minerals, organic material and salmonid prey items between the floodplain and the river. Tidal channels connected to Tide Creek and the Columbia River would be excavated to facilitate inundation of the project site during the tidal cycle, providing juvenile salmonids with increased off-channel rearing and foraging opportunities. Areas adjacent to the tidal channels would be excavated to create marsh and emergent wetland habitat, increasing overall diversity and quantity of wetlands across the floodplain. The Proposed Action for the CSR project site includes the
following project elements (see Figure 2):