River restoration is good for business, good for farmers, and good for fish

The Problem: In 2010, the regional wastewater utility for the City of Medford in Southern Oregon had a temperature problem. We all take hot showers in the morning, and that warm water passes through the treatment plant into Rogue River. Salmon don’t like warm water, and Medford needed to find a solution to cool water for the one or two weeks a year when wastewater discharges would be warmer than optimal for salmon.

The gray infrastructure solution – diverting water into a holding pond during hot days – came with a $16 million price tag, and partners agreed it wasn’t the best option for the region or for fish.

The Solution: Willamette Partnership and our partners helped build a program for the City of Medford to meet its water quality needs by investing in restoration projects that shade the river. Willamette Partnership adapted its Ecosystem Credit Accounting System to translate the environmental benefit of riparian forest restoration into terms that meet the city’s Clean Water Act obligations.

The program brings together the City of Medford, private landowners, local restoration professionals, and conservation groups. The Freshwater Trust works with landowners, nurseries, and other contractors to design and install the restoration projects, and then sell them to the City of Medford’s waste water facility to meet their regulatory needs.

Results: As of summer 2014, five restoration projects have been verified in the Rogue basin, totaling 15.5 acres and almost two miles of stream length. These projects will result in almost 206 million kilocalories of reduced solar load into the system—the same amount of energy could boil 14,023 bath tubs. Two more project verifications are anticipated in the coming months, and over the next ten years, partners in the Rogue River will restore close to 30 miles of riparian area that will be actively maintained for at least 20 years as the trees mature.