“Watershed” moment: successes in wetland restoration and regenerative farming in Douglas County

Douglas County shares the sunny skies, rolling hills, and vast acres of farmland that define much of Central Washington. Home to many locals with longstanding connections to the land, the county stands out as a bright example of environmental stewardship developed hand-in-hand with its community.

A small green and brown frog held in someone's hand.

A frog found at Foster Flats, the site of an upcoming FCCD water quality project funded by an Ecology grant.

“People’s relationship to the landscape is strong here — for the Colville Tribe, for generations of farmers, and for communities living throughout this county," said Becca Hebron, district manager for the Foster Creek Conservation District (FCCD).

Restoration efforts in Foster Creek have been underway since 2015, beginning in the creek’s western headwaters as a collaboration with the Colville Tribe and Ecology. 

FCCD is bolstering their work with a new round of grant funding from Ecology. Scheduled for completion by 2025, the new projects help build toward FCCD’s goals to restore the watershed, monitor water quality, and improve soil health.

Let’s take a tour of FCCD’s hard work. Their progress helps ensure future generations can enjoy all the abundant beauty and natural resources Douglas County has to offer.

Starting from the ground up: promoting healthy soil

Since 2016, FCCD has partnered with Ecology to transition over 750 acres of farmland from conventional tilling to direct seed.

A small channel worn out by water in cracked, white soil. Short, dry grasses are in the background.

Soil erosion at the Chalk Hills project site, seen in a channel hollowed out by water from right to left.

Regenerative agricultural practices are critical for thriving farms, clean water, and robust ecosystems in the face of a warming climate. Compared to conventionally tilled lands, these practices cultivate richer, healthier soil. That soil can trap more carbon, retain more water during droughts, and grow more food.

Healthy soils also prevent erosion, a top concern FCCD is addressing through its grant projects. Air quality suffers when dust from erosion rises into the air. Sediments can enter streams and prevent aquatic ecosystems from getting enough dissolved oxygen.

Literally and figuratively, FCCD is getting to the root of the problem. Healthy soils mean resilient ecosystems that can support all living things that call Douglas County home.

Sink or swim: Is lower Foster Creek safe for salmon?

Water flows down a small gray dam. The stream runs between two rocky, gray cliffs covered in green grasses. The sky is sunny and blue.

Foster Creek Dam, built in the 1990s

There is no fish passage beyond Chief Joseph, the state’s second largest dam on the Columbia River. Just below lies Foster Creek, the final upstream tributary on the Columbia River. Its first mile remains accessible to fish before it too is blocked by man-made and natural barriers. 

With support from Ecology, FCCD plans to expand existing water quality and streamflow monitoring here to keep an eye on flow, temperature, pH, and dissolved oxygen. These data will inform what steps are needed to create a hospitable environment for salmon and steelhead exiting the Columbia. The conservation district seeks ways to deliver cool water downstream to this important reach of Foster Creek.

In April, FCCD led Salmon in the Classroom, a program where local children helped release 250 salmon into Foster Creek.

FCCD has our appreciation for their “dam” good work to improve fish habitat!

Ripple effect: ponds, wetlands, and creek restoration

Small trees grow in a still pond. Green grasses and hills stand in the background, and the pond reflects a cloudy sky.

The pond slows the stream of water in Foster Creek. Willow and dogwood trees continue growing in the water after being planted by FCCD staff last fall.

At the Mary Jane Hill project site, FCCD worked with Ecology’s Washington Conservation Corps to construct a new pond. By keeping more water on the landscape, the pond supports shrubs that will grow to provide shade, trap sediments, slow down the flow of water, and raise the creek channel. Water running through the pond will be cleaner and better able to support life downstream. And, by expanding the wetlands, this pond will help sequester more carbon!

Further downstream is the Chalk Hills project site. The area is named for the distinctive mounds of white, chalky soil. Fun fact: they’re salty! If you’re lucky, you might catch deer licking the hills.

A person in a gray shirt and blue baseball cap stands on a hill of white, cracked soil. Grasses and more white hills are in the background.

Julie Conley, the Ecology staffer overseeing FCCD’s water quality grants. In the background are two of the distinctive hills that give Chalk Hills its name.

Between Mary Jane Hill and Chalk Hills, FCCD planted a whopping 1,519 trees and shrubs. Dogwoods and willows make up majority of the trees planted. Already common in the area, willow will penetrate brush in this habitat. By growing to provide shade, new willows will also make room for other species to grow. 

At both project sites, FCCD built several structures designed to help restore the creek by filtering sediments and controlling the flow of water. They’re each constructed out of natural materials available nearby. FCCD placed these structures in 2021 after the Pearl Hill Fire burned the entire area the previous year.

A small creek flows between two small, light gray boulders placed near each side. Grasses stand along the shore on each side.

A “one-rock dam,” which is a structure built one rock high to slow the flow of water. Each of these is hand placed by FCCD, and the rocks are sourced from a local landowner’s quarry.

A brown muskrat swims through water. In the background, dried brown grasses line the creek bank, with a small hole forming the muskrat den.

A muskrat, bottom right of the photo, photographed mid-swim on FCCD’s game camera stationed right along the creek.


From creek to farm: making waves and sowing success

Five people with arms around each other smile at the camera. They stand on a gray gravel road in front of a field and brown hills.

FCCD staff. From left to right: Maggie, Nate, Ryan, Michelle, Becca.

FCCD has achieved outstanding progress on their grant projects in just a short amount of time. And that’s on top of their ongoing and upcoming work in restoration, outreach, and water quality monitoring.

FCCD’s staff has our appreciation for all they’ve done to care for Douglas County’s waters and wetlands, promote sustainable ways to grow food, and show what’s possible through their “watershed” accomplishments in ecological stewardship.