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Environmental Protection & Preservation

Oregon Trout Unveils New Technology to Accelerate Stream Restoration

Oregon will be the first state in the country to use a new technology designed to accelerate the pace of stream restoration. Developed by Oregon Trout, StreamBank is a web-based tool that landowners can utilize to permit and fund their projects easier and quicker.

Currently in its final stage of beta testing on an 18-project pilot program in ten counties that will finish this fall, StreamBank tool addresses a fundamental problem that frequently stalls or even inhibits the progress of stream restoration work: the permitting and funding process. Indeed, many government agencies and private funders each take up to a year to approve applications. By automating the process, most restoration projects that formerly took years to complete can be accomplished in a matter of months, while ensuring project quality.

"StreamBank is a revolutionary tool that will change the pace at which Oregonians can restore our precious freshwater systems," said Joe Whitworth, executive director of Oregon Trout. "StreamBank can accelerate restoration progress, and it can bring greater landowner incentives and local economic benefits tied to restoring freshwater health."

When the final version of StreamBank is released in 2009, local coordinators working with landowners with stream degradation will be able to initiate a restoration project from their home computers simply by visiting the website and filling in the blanks as the interface guides them through a flow of site-specific questions. The tool then does everything from match their information to each agency and private funder's priorities and eligibility criteria to generating a budget, RFPs for contractors and a list of local resources for further technical assistance.

"Each federal, state and private funding agency has its own biological requirements, funding and eligibility requirements, geographic restrictions and emphases, matching fund components and ratios or costshares, time lines, and reporting procedures. Without a tool like StreamBank, most landowners don't know where to start, much less have the time to manually wade through all the red tape - even with help from watershed council coordinators and other professionals in their area," Whitworth said.

Whitworth went on to say that "the need for a tool like StreamBank has never been greater." The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's 1998 National Water Quality Inventory Report to Congress determined that only 50,000 (44%) of Oregon's 115,000 stream miles qualified as "healthy water." Of the rest, 30,000 stream miles (26%) were assessed as so degraded that they "fail to fully support aquatic life."

"Under the existing system, it would take 300 years to repair those 30,000 miles - and that's assuming there's no further degradation," says Whitworth. "At present, only 200 - 300 stream restoration projects are being completed in the state each year - and it's not for lack of willing landowners or streams that need fixing."

Oregon Trout encountered first-hand the obstacles that have led countless private landowners to abandon critically-needed restoration efforts out of frustration with the slow-moving process. In 2004, Oregon Trout was attempting to correct just one stream mile on Oregon's South Coast. While the project required only 60 hours of actual dirt work, "we were still winding our way through the permitting and funding cycles more than three years after starting the process," said Whitworth.

Providing them with a benchmark to measure StreamBank's effectiveness when it goes into widespread use, Oregon Trout commissioned a state-wide survey of 50 representatives of watershed and conservation districts, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, tribal groups and other non-profits earlier this summer. Conducted by the independent firm, Research 13, the study concluded that the two top bottlenecks to stream restoration efforts in Oregon are funding (73%) and permitting (56%). Three out of five (60%) participants felt that the current system impedes land owners from participation in stream restoration projects. And 82% agreed that simplifying and/or streamlining the process of funding and permitting projects would increase capacity for local restoration professionals to implement more projects.

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