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Big Canyon Creek Watershed

Physical and Biological Characteristics

The Big Canyon watershed lies entirely within the Nez Perce Reservation and encompasses portions of Lewis, Nez Perce, and Clearwater Counties. Big Canyon Creek, a fourth-order tributary that flows north for 31 miles to the confluence with the Clearwater River 2.3 miles north of the town of Peck. The watershed encompasses approximately 227 square miles (144,995 acres), and includes the major tributaries of Little Canyon Creek, Sixmile Canyon, Cold Springs Creek, Nichols Creek, and Posthole Creek. Holes Creek (13,950 acres) and Long Hollow Creek (18,360 acres) join to form Little Canyon Creek (a 60,170 acre watershed). Elevations in Big Canyon watershed range from 4,639 feet at Mason Butte, located between the farming communities of Craigmont and Winchester, to 950 feet at the confluence with the Clearwater River. Only data from Little Canyon Creek, Holes Creek, Long Hollow Creek, and Big Canyon Creek were collected; therefore, this TMDL will only address these watersheds.

The watershed is predominantly underlain by basalt of the Columbia River Basalt Group and to a lesser extent, weathered granitics of the Idaho Batholith. Streams recharge the aquifer through exposed permeable basalts and via percolation through fractured bedrock in upland areas.

The area is characterized by warm, dry summers and cold, wet winters, with an average annual precipitation ranging from 15 inches at the lower elevations to 25 inches at the higher elevations. The majority of precipitation occurs as winter snowfall and spring rain. Runoff typically occurs during March and April with high volume runoff occurring during spring snowmelt and major rain-on-snow events. The watershed experiences extreme annual fluctuations in flow.

Limited discharge data (< 20 observations since 1965) is available from USGS gauging stations (#13341140 and #13341141) located at the mouth of Big Canyon Creek. Stream flow measured near the mouth in 1993 ranged from 459 cfs in March to 3 cfs in August, with the mean annual discharge estimated at 96 cfs (NPSWCD 2007). Summer is characterized by low flows with some mainstem sections becoming de-watered. This loss of summer flow is attributed to a 1965 flood (maximum discharge of 8,360 cfs), which destroyed sections of the streambed seal resulting in 7 miles of subsurface flow beginning 2.5 miles upstream of Posthole Canyon. This area lacks a well defined channel, and loss of surface water in this section impacts the fishery, riparian vegetation, and groundwater levels.

Land use in Big Canyon Creek watershed is predominantly non-irrigated crops (76%). Other land cover includes forest (5%), and meadow/pastureland (14%). Little Canyon Creek watershed is predominantly non-irrigated cropland (99%). A portion of the town of Craigmont, and the towns of Nezperce (located on Long Hollow Creek) and Peck (at the confluence with the Clearwater River) are located in the watershed. The Nezperce waste water treatment facility discharges to Long Hollow Creek.

The Salmon Recovery Plan (Draft 2007 NOAA Fisheries) names Big Canyon Creek one of the 5 major Spawning Aggregation areas within the Lower Clearwater Basin. The watershed provides habitat for a variety of resident and anadromous fish species. The anadromous stocks include A-run steelhead/rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), naturally reproducing coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch), and spring Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha). Juvenile Chinook salmon were observed during Big Canyon Creek electrofishing surveys conducted in 2003 and 2005 (reference?). Snake River Fall Chinook spawn in the Clearwater River immediately below the confluence of Big Canyon Creek.

Oral histories maintained by the Nez Perce Tribe refer to the Region’s once significant salmon runs. Fish species identified in 2003 to 2006 electrofishing surveys of Big Canyon Creek watershed are listed in Table 1 below. The tribe has also begun a recovery effort for lamprey (Lampreta tridentata), a previously significant species in this drainage (NPSWCD 2007).

 Big Canyon Creek fish species. Table 1

 Nez Perce (Nimiipu) Name Common Name  Scientific Name Origin
He-yey Steelhead/Rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss Native
Naco’x Chinook Salmon Oncorhynchus tshawytscha Native/Reintroduced
K’allay Coho Salmon Oncorhynchus kisutch Native/Reintroduced
Not available Piute Sculpin Cottus beldingi Native
Not available Mottled Sculpin Cottus bairdi Native
Not available Torrent Sculpin Cottus rhotheus Native
Not available Speckled Dace Rhinichthys osculus Native
Not available Longnose Dace Rhinichthys cataractae Native
Muq’uc Bridgelip Sucker Catostomus columbianus Native
Tite’wxc Chiselmouth Acrocheilus alutaceus Native
Qiyex Northern Pike Minnow Ptychocheilus oregonensis Native
Not available Redside Shiner Richardsonius balteatus Native
Lixli·ks Smallmouth Bass Micropterus dolomieu Exotic/Introduced

 

Studies, Plans and Reports

Big Canyon Creek Rehabilitation Project Feasability Analysis (September 1989)
Thomas W. Bumstead, River Masters Engineering, Inc. 

To determine the feasibility of completing a stream channel rehabilitation project on the sections
of the Big Canyon Creek which go dry during the summer, a site visit was completed on
September 28,1988 to the upper section and on September 30, 1988 to the lower section.

Big Canyon Creek Multi-layer Riparian Inventory (April 2003)
USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service

The Nez Perce Soil & Water Conservation District (NPSWCD) prioritized the Big Canyon Creek
watershed for water quality and fish habitat based on fish distribution data (Kucera, 1986) and the
Clearwater Subbasin Summary (Northwest Power Planning Council, 2001).
The NPSWCD identified the need for a reconnaissance level riparian inventory in order to
identify and prioritize riparian areas for treatment. The inventory was completed on 182 miles
of mainstem Big Canyon Creek and its tributaries. Little Canyon Creek and its tributaries were not
included. The inventory was completed through a watershed habitat restoration contract funded
by Bonneville Power Administration’s (BPA) Fish and Wildlife Program.

Farming Practices Survey (February 1995)
USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service Watershed Enhancement Team

The Big Canyon Creek is an 85,000 acre watershed located in North Central Idaho. The Major land
use is cropland. The farming practices survey was conducted as part of a watershed assessment.
The objectives of the study include 1) Determining the present farming practices utilized in the Big
Canyon Creek watershed, 2) Determining the use of practices bty subwatershed, and
3) summarizing the data.

Big Canyon Creek Ecological Restoration Strategy (October 2007)
Nez Perce Soil and Water Conservation District

The Nez Perce Soil and Water Conservation District (District) and the Nez Perce Tribe Department of
Fisheries Resource Management Watershed Division (Tribe) developed this document to guide
restoration activities within the Big Canyon Creek watershed for the period of 2008-2018.
This plan was created to demonstrate the ongoing need and potential for anadromous fish habitat
restoration within the watershed and to ensure continued implementation of restoration actions and
activities. It was developed not only to guide the District and the Tribe, but also to encourage
cooperation among all stakeholders, including landowners, government agencies, private
organizations, tribal governments, and elected officials. Through sharing information, skills, and
resources in an active, cooperative relationships, all concerned parties will have the opportunity to
join together to strengthen and maintain a sustainable natural resource base for present and future
generations within the watershed.

Big Canyon Creek Watershed Ecological Restoration Stategy (Revised 2009)
Nez Perce Soil and Water Conservation District

Hé-yey, Nez Perce for steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss), are a culturally and ecologically
significant resource within the Big Canyon Creek watershed.
Hé-yey of Big Canyon Creek are also within a subpopulation of the Snake River Basin Steelhead
distinct population segment (DPS) listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act The
majority of the Big Canyon Creek drainage is considered critical habitat for this DPS as well as
for the threatened Snake River Nacó’x, or fall Chinook (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha),
evolutionarily significant unit (ESU). The Nez Perce Soil and Water Conservation District (NPSWCD)
and the Nez Perce Tribe Department of Fisheries Resources Management- Watershed
Division (NPT-DFRM-Watershed), in an effort to support the continued existence of these
and other aquatic species, have developed this document to direct funding toward priority
restoration projects within priority areas for the Big Canyon Creek watershed.

Conclusions of the Big Canyon Creek Watershed Study (1992 – 1993)
University of Idaho

Fish Passage Assessment: Technical Report 2004 (February 2004)
Bonneville Power Administration and The US Department of Energy

This report presents the results of the fish passage assessment as outlined as part of
the Protect and Restore the Big Canyon Creek Watershed project as detailed in the
CY2003 Statement of Work (SOW). As part of the Northwest Power Planning Council’s
Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Program (FWP), this project is one of Bonneville
Power Administration’s (BPA) many efforts at off-site mitigation for damage to salmon
and steelhead runs, their migration, and wildlife habitat caused by the construction and
operation of federal hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River and its tributaries.

Data Set Compilation for Little Canyon and Big Canyon Creeks (March 2003)
Idaho Soil Conservation Commision

Road Erosion Survey: Big Canyon Creek Watershed (June 2005)

This report has been prepared to present the results of the road erosion surveys and analysis outlined as part of the Protect and Restore the Big Canyon Creek Watershed project as detailed in the CY2003 Statement of Work (SOW). As part of the Northwest Power Planning Council‟s Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Program (FWP), this project is one of Bonneville Power Administration‟s (BPA) many efforts at off-site mitigation for damage to salmon and steelhead runs, their migration, and wildlife habitat caused by the construction and operation of federal hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River and its tributaries.

Final WEPP Report