Cottonwood Creek is the largest tributary to the North Fork John Day River, and is prime spawning and rearing habitat for Mid-Columbia steelhead. The Cottonwood Creek Basin is approximately 77,000 acres in size, with approximately 89% ( 68,462 acres) being private lands and 11% ( 8,542 acres) public lands. Cottonwood Creek actually begins as Fox Creek in the uplands above the focus area and becomes Cottonwood Creek shortly after it enters the Monument SWCD boundaries. The portion of the Cottonwood Creek Basin that will be included in the Focus Area will be the Middle Cottonwood Creek and the Lower Cottonwood Creek. Cottonwood Creek proper is approximately 22 miles long, and there are approximately 130 miles of perennial and seasonal tributaries to Cottonwood Creek. Predominant agricultural use of the basin is for livestock production, with the majority of acreage being used for grazing. The upper reaches of Cottonwood Creek Basin additionally produce merchantable timber. The lower 4 miles of the basin contain the majority of irrigated land, which is mainly used for hay production.
This basin was chosen to be the focus area primarily because of Cottonwood Creek's significance and importance for steelhead spawning and rearing habitat, but also because of the significant amount of private land in the basin where conservation practices are often allowed to be implemented. Many projects have been implemented in the basin, including a significant amount of riparian fencing and planting, irrigation efficiency improvements, upland spring developments, juniper control, and diversion modifications to improve fish passage. The Monument SWCD is currently working with several landowners to improve irrigation efficiencies, improve fish passage on irrigation diversions, and improve stream flows through juniper control.