Watershed Restoration

Before settlement, our stream and river systems were sinuous and marshy, providing highly productive rearing areas for juvenile salmon. Over the past 150 years, many of these areas have been severely altered to accommodate agriculture, logging, and other land development practices. As a watershed association, our goal is to promote land management approaches that are viable for both people and wildlife, using the “working landscape” model. We believe that human activities have a legitimate place in the watershed, and we promote win-win land use practices that are both productive for humans and healthy for fish and wildlife.

CoosWA collaborates with local landowners and community partners to bring back this balance in areas where it has been lost. We strive to create healthy stream habitat through three restoration programs: restoring the channels themselves ("in-stream" restoration), restoring the area along the stream (riparian restoration), and restoring our urban areas that drain into the bay.

In-Stream Restoration

Targeted in-stream restoration has been a pillar of our work since CoosWA was founded.

Riparian Restoration

Healthy riparian zones, or areas of vegetation along stream banks, play a central role in creating habitat for aquatic species.

Urban Restoration

Stormwater is a huge contributor to poor water quality and in urban areas is often pointed to as the biggest threat to nearby aquatic life.

In-Stream Restoration

CoosWA began implementing in-stream restoration projects in the mid-1990s as a way to improve the quality and quantity of coho salmon habitat. In-stream projects typically fall into four categories:

Wood Placements

In-stream wood placements (2)

Trees in the water reestablish habitat complexity

When trees fall into the water naturally, they create a plethora of benefits for streams and wildlife. We can mimic this natural process by placing boulders and large pieces of wood into the water. These “log jams” allow gravel and woody debris to build up, provide habitat for fish to hide from predators, and introduce complexity to the river channel. In turn, this increases the availability of spawning and rearing habitat for salmonids and other aquatic species, such as the aquatic insects that are important food sources for fish and birds.

Fish Passage


Barrier removal reconnects critical upstream habitats

Salmon depend on many different habitats during their journey between rivers and ocean, such as upstream, gravel-lined streams for spawning; lowland, slow-moving tidal areas for rearing; and deep shaded pools and side channels along the way to hide from predators. Barriers such as undersized culverts or tide gates can cut off passage to these critical habitats. We often have the chance to remove these barriers and restore natural stream flow by working with landowners to upgrade, resize, or remove failing culverts and tide gates. In addition to improving fish passage, barrier removal also restores hydraulic function and gravel and debris transportation, which improves the overall health and function of the stream.

Channel Reconfiguration


Re-meandering creates connectivity and capacity

Streams might not seem like something that can be moved, but in the 1900s, it was a common practice to re-route a stream into a channelized ditch to create dry land where the stream once flowed. When this dry land is no longer needed, CoosWA works with landowners to reverse the process: re-digging the original channel and directing water flow to its original path. Re-meandering streams is a way to restore dynamic, natural processes such as sediment deposition and channel scour that greatly improve quality of in-stream habitat.

Sediment Reduction


Sediment reduction improves water and habitat quality

When sediment enters streams in large concentrations, it blankets gravel beds, fills in pools, and has catastrophic impacts on aquatic life. This is especially problematic when a source adds sediment continuously over time, such as a road with poor drainage or limited filtration between the road and stream. CoosWA works to reduce these impacts by building larger vegetated buffers around streams, expanding the number of drainage features (culverts, etc.), and increasing the size of stream crossing culverts to reduce the possibility of plugging and complete failures.

Riparian Restoration

Healthy riparian zones, or areas of vegetation along stream banks, play a key role in creating habitat for aquatic species. A diverse mix of native trees and shrubs along a creek provides shade, lowers stream temperatures, reduces erosion by holding the streambank in place, and acts as a buffer that filters run-off from the surrounding land. Riparian plantings also improve the aquatic food web – leaves that fall into the stream are a food source for aquatic insects, which are in turn a food source for fish and birds.

CoosWA restores functionality to riparian zones through planting and streambank protection. These techniques are frequently combined with other types of restoration, such as in-stream projects, to holistically restore streams.


Riparian planting

Native plants are an essential part of a healthy riparian zone, but they are often outcompeted by quickly-colonizing invasive species. When invasive species establish along a stream, they pose a threat by clogging waterways, reducing stream flow, lowering bank stability, and creating a biodiversity monoculture creating a monoculture (for instance, one invasive species might take the place of 20+ native ones). Our riparian restoration efforts prioritize getting specific mixes of native plant mixes established, reducing the spread of competing invasive species, and wrapping newly established plants in tubing to protect them from elk, deer, and livestock.

Streambank Protection


Animal grazing and foot traffic along the stream bank can cause erosion and make it difficult for native plants to establish. When this is a concern, the CoosWA restoration team works with landowners to build fences between the stream and the rest of the property, typically designed to provide stream access for deer, elk, and other wildlife while keeping livestock in designated areas away from the stream. To further protect the stability of the newly planted streambank, CoosWA spreads certified weed-free straw and grass seeds on any exposed patches to reduce the chances of winter storms washing soil into the stream and creating poor water quality conditions.

Urban Restoration

Restoring ecological function and resiliency to urban areas

Urban, developed areas offer lots of opportunities for restoration and stewardship projects—in fact, some of our most exciting restoration projects happen right in the middle of town, often with the help of students and volunteers. Our goal in urban areas is to improve watershed health through our stormwater education and ecological landscaping programs.

Storm drain medallion-downtown Coos Bay

Stormwater education program

When it rains in urban areas, the water flows across paved surfaces, through storm drains, and into the bay, carrying with it all the pollutants it picks up along the way (oil, gas, sediment, garbage, fertilizer, pesticide, etc.). Unlike the water flowing through a house, which gets sent to a wastewater treatment plant, there is no filter for stormwater. In many areas, stormwater pollution is considered the #1 threat to water quality because of its negative impacts on fish, wildlife, and livelihoods.

Storm Drain Murals

To draw attention to stormwater pollution and inspire our community become part of the solution, CoosWA teamed up with a suite of local artists, business owners, and environmental professionals to create storm drain murals in the downtown Coos Bay area. The murals help make the connection between what goes into the drains (which is often invisible) and the fish and wildlife that are impacted when stormwater enters the bay. The take-away message is that we can all do our part to reduce stormwater pollution by doing simple things like checking our vehicles for leaks, cutting down on fertilizer and pesticide use, landscaping with native plants, and keeping litter and plastics out of storm drains. Click here for a map to the Downtown Coos Bay Mural Walk, or pick one up from the Coos Bay Visitor Center.

Ecological landscaping program

Ecological landscaping is a technique that considers the ecology of a site, such as shade, sun, soil type, history, and plant life. When we construct roads and buildings, we often lose the native plants and wildlife that once thrived there. Ecological landscaping offers a way to build some of that back in, through gardens that are both aesthetically pleasing and beneficial to water and wildlife.


Native Plants

Ecological landscaping involves the use of native plants, which can filter and reduce stormwater runoff, prevent erosion, provide wildlife habitat, and restore ecological function to our urban areas. It also involves removing non-native and invasive species, those that did not evolve here on the coast. For example, ivy and Scotch broom are frequent, persistent, long-term residents of urban areas, and we focus many of our ecological landscaping efforts on their removal from parks and other natural areas. Visit our plants page for more info about native plants, invasive species, and ideas for landscaping near your home or business.

Coos History Museum rain garden 2016

Ecological landscaping in action

One of CoosWA’s ecological landscaping techniques is creating rain gardens and bioswales [https://oeconline.org/reduce-your-runoff-with-a-rain-garden/], which are basins full of native plants that are strategically placed to capture runoff from surrounding areas, such as in a parking lot or alongside a busy street. The basin filters rainwater through the plant roots, helping the water go down (into the ground) rather than out (across the pavement, into a storm drain, and into the bay).

There are some great examples of rain gardens around the Coos watershed, such as the Coos History Museum, 7 Devils Brewing Company, South Slough Interpretive Center, and Oregon Institute of Marine Biology.

Planting native grasses at Coos History Museum