INTER-FLUVE: Vinegar to Vincent Habitat Restoration


Executive Summary

The Vinegar to Vincent Habitat Restoration Project restored vital habitat for endangered salmon, trout, and lamprey populations by transforming a degraded stretch of Oregon’s John Day River into a vast floodplain with a variety of habitat features to support juvenile fish habitat. Since time immemorial, these fish species have sustained a variety of Indigenous groups who call the area home. Salmon are particularly important to local cultures. As the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission notes, “To call salmon a staple of the tribal diet would be an understatement. Historically, the typical tribal member ate almost a pound of salmon every day, but salmon represented much more than a source of nutrition—they shaped our societies and our religions.” However, activities during the past century drove the salmon and other fish of the John Day to the brink of extinction.

The Vinegar to Vincent section of the river was straightened and disconnected from the floodplain by the construction of a railroad in 1916 and further degraded by overlogging and overgrazing. To undo a century of damage, the project team removed the railroad prism, excavated thousands of feet of secondary and tertiary channels, integrated instream habitat features, and planted more than 30,000 native trees and shrubs. This allowed the river to reconnect to colder groundwater sources while more than doubling the amount of available habitat, creating conditions that these fish species will need to thrive in a changing climate. The project was designed by Inter-Fluve and Rio ASE engineers and scientists in collaboration with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon and the US Bureau of Reclamation.

Sophisticated hydraulic modeling informed the elaborate earthwork needed to reestablish natural river processes on such a large scale. This involved the consideration of flow velocities, water depths, temperatures, and other factors under a wide range of conditions. One year after construction, improved floodplain connectivity and thriving vegetation indicate project success, while ongoing monitoring and adaptive management will sustain the project far into the future. Vinegar to Vincent provides an important model for river restoration that respects the site’s cultural significance and advances climate resilience while benefiting endangered species. It exemplifies the potential for habitat engineering to restore ecological, social, and economic value, and shows how rivers can unite communities around a common goal.
Firm: Inter-Fluve

Client: US Bureau of Reclamation

Project: Vinegar to Vincent Habitat Restoration

The one thing you should know about this project is that this might look like a natural scene…

but it is actually the result of decades of collaboration between the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation of Oregon, the US Bureau of Reclamation, and a team of consulting engineers and scientists. Previously, the Middle Fork John Day River was confined between the roadway (on the far right of our display panel) and an unused railroad prism. This ditching completely cut the river off from its floodplain and greatly diminished the amount of habitat. Hydraulic modeling informed the sculpting of thermally varied channels, spawning beds, and woody debris structures across 55 acres of dynamically engaged floodplain to provide excellent spawning and rearing habitat for threaten steelhead trout, Chinook salmon, bull trout, and other species.

Notably, these fish represent a way of life of life the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs and other indigenous peoples of the Northwest. In addition to providing habitat for endangered species, this massive engineering project also helps to preserve a culture that has existed in the John D Basin since time, and immemorial. Guided by traditional knowledge and technical analysis alike, the team launched this ecosystem on a pathway toward renewal.