Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Campbell Creek limbo: How low will it go?

Ecology scientists help keep water flowing to 450 homes

The Cowlitz County city of Ryderwood is facing dangerously low water supply caused by the drought we’re experiencing in Western Washington. To help water managers, our scientists have installed a stream gage to help make decisions about residential water conservation measures.

Ryderwood's water system serves 450 homes
Campbell Creek is the only source of water for Ryderwood’s municipal water system. Approximately 450 homes rely on the system for their residential water needs. In southwestern Washington’s severe drought conditions, Campbell Creek’s water flow has slowed to a trickle.

A history of low stream flow

Even in non-drought years water availability can be scarce by late summer. Last year, Campbell Creek did run dry. That forced emergency water restrictions where people limited their time in the shower and brushed their teeth without running the tap. Water managers were on the verge of having to truck in water when a rainstorm got things flowing again.

Our water scientists say that officials have tried to drill wells in the past, but they’ve been unproductive. The only other available water source would be the Cowlitz River. That would mean pumping water from over five miles away through rugged terrain – a cost-prohibitive option.

Campbell Creek is nearly dry
Part of the problem with water availability lies in Campbell Creek’s source, the Willapa Hills. This low-elevation coastal range doesn’t get snow pack like the higher Cascade or Olympic Mountains. Springs and rainfall are the only sources of water for the creek.

Providing valuable data

Thanks to funding from our Water Resources Program, we were able to have our scientists install a stream gage (Read the story of why it's spelled gage and not gauge here.) on Campbell Creek this summer. The gage will provide water managers with real-time data on stream flow and water and air temperature. This information will help to more accurately predict when the stream might go dry, giving water managers more lead time to implement water conservation measures.

A town with two histories

Ryderwood has a unique background and has been called the “town with two histories.” The first history, refers to its time from 1923 – 1953 as a company town created by the Long-Bell Lumber Company. They called it the “world’s largest logging camp” and it provided a variety of services including a theater, bowling alley, drugstore, and school.

By the early 1950s, the trees and the loggers were gone, and that ushered in Ryderwood’s second history which runs from 1953 to present. The entire town was sold for $90,000 and became what is believed to be the earliest “planned community for retired persons” in the United States.

Critical funding for our communities

Scientists Andy Bookter and Tyler Buntain installing the gage
The Campbell Creek stream gage story is just one of hundreds like it across Washington. An astonishing 70 percent of our budget is passed through to local communities like Ryderwood. From toxic cleanup to stormwater retention ponds, we’re making a big difference both for people and the environment.

By Jeff Zenk, Southwest Region communications manager

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