Over the past 10 years, Geos Institute has carved an impressive legacy of river and stream restoration in the Rogue River Basin of southern Oregon through the Freeways for Fish initiative. With the primary goal of allowing salmon, steelhead, and lamprey to reach 1,200 miles of historic stream habitat more easily, Freeways for Fish helped to remove 22 fish passage impediments throughout the basin.
That's not just good news for fish; it's good news for cities and towns throughout the region. Many communities in the West rely on streams and rivers for their drinking water, and these supplies are threatened by a warming climate. Unfortunately, not many towns realize that upstream restoration can be a key component of their larger water management strategy. Through our work improving fish passage, we began to see how restoration’s benefits extend well beyond wildlife, to everyone who needs healthy, functioning watersheds.
Through the Freeways for Fish initiative, we came to better understand how restoring nature’s handiwork is an important bulwark against the negative impacts of climate change. For example, improving fish access to stream habitat allows aquatic organisms to migrate to cool water refugia, and reconnecting a stream with its floodplain slows down flood waters and creates more opportunity for groundwater supplies to be replenished.
In 2013, we began to move toward including municipal water systems as key players in our restoration work. Using the results of a water manager survey and two economic analyses as guideposts, staff began developing partnerships with Oregon communities interested in using watershed restoration to achieve water quality benefits and reduce water treatment costs. By recognizing and quantifying the water quality benefits and cost savings of upstream restoration, we can bolster public support for investing in ecosystem health as a principal solution for adapting to an uncertain future under climate change.