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McKenzie Watershed

McKenzie River

The McKenzie River watershed extends from the ridge of the central Cascade Mountains to the floor of the Willamette Valley, and includes 1,300 square miles. Precipitation within the watershed ranges from approximately 45 inches annually near Springfield to 130 inches (much of which falls in the form of snow) on some of the higher peaks. Elevations range from approximately 375 feet at the confluence of the McKenzie and Willamette rivers to 10,358 feet at the summit of South Sister. Main tributaries include the Mohawk River, Blue River, South Fork of the McKenzie, Gate Creek, Quartz Creek, Horse Creek, and Lost Creek.

There are 351 square miles of federally-designated wilderness areas in the McKenzie Watershed. Thirteen miles of the McKenzie River are under federal "Wild and Scenic" protection, and approximately 16 miles of the river are designated as "Oregon Scenic Waterway."

Sahalie Falls at the headwaters of the McKenzie river

Sahalie Falls at the headwaters of the
McKenzie river (Willamette National Forest)

Anadromous fish in McKenzie include spring Chinook salmon and summer steelhead. Other fish found in the watershed include cutthroat trout, bull trout, white fish, rainbow trout, brook trout, sculpin and suckers.

The river (and State Highway 126) pass through several small towns including Nimrod, Vida, Leaburg, and Walterville. The river flows from one of the most remote and rugged parts of the Cascades to Oregon's second largest metropolitan area, Eugene-Springfield. The McKenzie River and its watershed are the source of drinking water to approximately 200,000 area residents.

Approximately 34,000 acres of the McKenzie Watershed is in agricultural use, 9,000 acres is in residential use and 1,000 acres is in industrial use. The majority of the remaining 800,000 acres is in forest uses, including private and public land and wilderness areas.

The filbert (or hazelnut) is the top horticultural crop in the watershed, covering approximately 1,200 acres.

Six major dams have been constructed on the McKenzie River for water storage and power generation, including Cougar Reservoir.


McKenzie River Watershed Council

Recreation in the McKenzie River Valley

Compiled by John Ame, Science Writer (2007)