News & Stories

  • Project to help salmon in Sacramento River complete

    January 11, 2017

    KRCR News by Haleigh Pike

    REDDING, Calif. - Local, State, and Federal agencies partnered on a project in Redding to help salmon in an area previously uninhabitable by fish.

    The Bureau of Reclamation, in partnership with Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District, Western Shasta Resource Conservation District, California Department of Water Resources, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife, completed a project on January 2, to restore side channel rearing habitat in the Sacramento River, immediately upstream of the Cypress Avenue Bridge on the east side of the river.

    "This project is another example of the important work being made possible by collaborative partnerships in the Sacramento Valley," said Don Bransford, President of the GCID Board of Directors. "Working together we are completing projects up and down the Sacramento River that address all stages of the fish life cycle, helping to improve their chances of survival."

    The Cypress Avenue Bridge North- Side Channel Habitat Restoration and Enhancement Project created salmonid rearing habitat by opening side channel on the Sacramento River that were closed off and had no water flowing through, which made the area uninhabitable for young salmon.

    The project, which started on November 7, 2016, created approximately 1.5 acres of new aquatic habitat. Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District provided the equipment that operators used to work in the channels. In addition to the channels being opened, woody material was placed in the channels to provide cover from predators for the salmon.

    In total, over 15,500 tons of rock, sand and cobble were removed from the channels, 282 small cottonwood and willow trees were planted, and 1.5 acres of land was hydroseeded. The total cost of the project is estimated to be about $400,000. 

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  • Answering Your Questions about the Vaki Riverwatcher

    January 9, 2017

    FISHBIO Fish Report. The Vaki Riverwatcher ( is used to monitor fish movements in more than 300 rivers in countries all over the world, including Canada, China, the Czech Republic, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Scandinavia, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. This robust distribution leads to many users with questions about the device. As the North American distributor for Vaki, FISHBIO often receives questions from current and prospective Riverwatcher users, which inspired us to produce some videos to help answer the most frequently asked questions. The 10 most frequently asked questions and their answers are provided in the video series "FAQs - The Vaki Riverwatcher."

    The Riverwatcher is an infrared fish counter that utilizes an underwater camera and lights to provide a robust record of fish passages, and records information in a database that is organized for efficient and accurate data summary and reporting. As many fish biologists know, scanning endless hours of video surveillance from video monitoring studies or scouring a particular spot in the river for hours in all weather conditions is not only a daunting task, it is also very labor intensive, which increases project costs. Installing an automated fish counter like the Riverwatcher can significantly reduce the time and effort needed monitor fish passage events.

    One of the most frequently asked questions we receive is, "Does the Riverwatcher automatically identify species?" Although the Riverwatcher does not automatically identify species, biologists find that one of the advantages of using the Riverwatcher is that it takes considerably less time to manually identify species when utilizing the intuitive Winari database software.  Riverwatcher users around the world have reported the ability to process 24 hours of data (or about 500 passages) in 15 minutes, which results in budget savings that can be used for other studies to answer questions that are generated after analyzing multiple years of Riverwatcher monitoring data collection.

    Another frequently asked questions is, "How does the Riverwatcher detect fish?" The Riverwatcher uses infrared light to detect fish. In order to accomplish this, fish are directed between two scanner plates that consist of one infrared light transmitting plate and one infrared light receiving plate. As the fish passes between the scanner plates, the transmittance of infrared light between the two plates is interrupted, thereby triggering the Riverwatcher system to record the event as a passage. Subsequently, the system records more detailed information from the passage event.

    Many people also ask, "Does the Riverwatcher work in turbid water?" Yes, this is one of the biggest advantages of the Riverwatcher: you can still detect and identify fish passages during high turbidity events. The scanner plates transmit light to detect fish passages, so as long as the light can be transmitted through the turbid water from one scanner plate to the other, you can efficiently count fish.

    Check out the video series to learn the answers to more frequently asked questions. We hope that you find these videos helpful - and if you still have unanswered questions, or want more information relevant to your specific monitoring challenges, don't hesitate to contact us. We always enjoy answering people's questions because we usually learn from the discussion too!

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  • Inflatable Dam Overhaul Improves Fish Passage on Russian River (CA)

    December 16, 2016

    The Fishing Wire

    Some dams are monumental engineering feats made of steel-reinforced concrete towering hundreds of feet above a streambed. Others are much smaller, constructed with large wood planks, dirt and rock or even rubber.

    But no matter the size, dams often hinder fish migration up or down a stream or river.

    Which is why the recent renovation of Mirabel Dam in Sonoma County is so important. The overhaul of the unusual dam – made of rubber and inflated on a seasonal basis – improves passage of salmon and steelhead up and down the Russian River in Northern California while maintaining a seasonal water source for its users.

    The Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) built Mirabel Dam in the late 1970's on the Russian River near Forestville, Calif., to store water for area residents. The dam now serves a population of about 600,000 – a nearly threefold increase since its original construction.

    When stream flows decline in the spring or summer, the SCWA inflates the dam like a bladder to create a reservoir. The dam raises the water level about 11 feet above the streambed. The SCWA pumps water from behind the dam to overflow ponds that help to recharge the aquifer, and then transports the water to area municipalities.

    When winter storms begin and the river rises, SCWA deflates the dam. The deflated dam remains on the bottom of the streambed. The dam's versatility helps ensure water remains available to the community throughout the year.

    In the 1990s, however, Chinook and coho salmon and steelhead in the Russian River watershed were listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. NOAA Fisheries biologists reviewed water supply and flood management operations on the river as part of a 2008 Biological Opinion assessing impacts on the listed fish.

    The dam has fish ladders letting adult fish pass upstream and a fish screen to protect juvenile fish. NOAA Fisheries pointed out the need for improvements to ensure that both adult and juvenile fish could more easily pass the dam without being inadvertently siphoned into the overflow ponds.

    The SCWA began construction on the improvements about two years ago at a cost of about $12 million.

    "The project actually has a couple of different phases," said Bob Coey, NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region Branch Chief in Santa Rosa. "The first part of the project was to improve the fish screen at the rubber dam location to stop fish from entering the overflow ponds; the second was to reconstruct the fish ladder around the dam; and the third was construction of a viewing chamber, so that agency staff could count fish, and so the community could enjoy viewing wild salmon and steelhead during their annual migration."

    NOAA Fisheries did not call for the addition of the viewing gallery; funding for that part of the project was provided by SCWA, as well as state and federal grants made possible through the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's Fisheries Restoration Grants Program. The viewing gallery allows school groups and others to see migrating salmon during frequently scheduled tours.

    "The new fish screen and fish ladder will create a safer, more effective passage for migrating salmon. Just as important, the viewing gallery will provide a literal window into the Russian River, allowing thousands of school children annually to observe and learn about migrating fish," said SCWA Chairman Efren Carrillo.

    "It's a big deal for the community because it's a place people get to go and see the wild and hatchery fish moving upstream," said Coey. We saw a dozen or so very large Chinook salmon in just the half hour or so that we were there. That's pretty cool."

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  • Stranded salmon found in the San Joaquin River getting transported to Fresno by the truckload

    December 15, 2016

    California Central Valley ABC FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) by Jason Oliveira

    According to biologists, Fresno contains the perfect habitat for fish to reproduce-- most notably the Chinook Salmon.

    So every day for the past two months, Don Portz and his team of fish biologists carefully collect stranded salmon found in the San Joaquin River near the town of Newman and relocate them to Fresno. Otherwise, the fish would end up where there is no spawning habitat available.

    It's all part of the San Joaquin River Restoration Program.

    "The habitat below Friant Dam, those fish can spawn there, produce offspring, and those offspring from February to April may come down through the same section of river as their parents went up the fall before."

    Every year over a million fish make their way past the barrier and are funneled into what's called a fyke net where they are checked on daily by fish biologists.

    "The fish will swim through one cone, into the next compartment, into the next cone to the last compartment. Very difficult for the fish to swim back out," said Portz.

    There are five similar type traps set up further upstream. If not, the fish would get stranded and die.

    Once inside the net biologists collect the salmon in the water to be studied, measured, tagged, pictures are even taken of each fish to be monitored throughout the salmon's life span.

    "The life strategy of a salmon is to go out to the ocean as a juvenile, grow as big as you can, because there's a lot of resources there, and come back to your native stream and lay those eggs, hopefully, in the river that you were born in," said Portz.

    Tagged fish are then loaded into a 600-gallon transport tank and hauled an hour and a half south on the 99 to Fresno to a more suitable habitat where the fish can flourish.

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  • Nor Cal residents take salmon health into their own hands

    December 13, 2016

    ABC 10 Sacramento By Gabrielle Karol (Gary Sprague)

    Salmon haven’t returned to parts of the Auburn Ravine in more than 50 years. But that’s not stopping a small group of residents from trying to bring them back.

    Save Auburn Ravine Salmon and Steelhead, or S.A.R.S.A.S., is dedicated to making the Auburn Ravine more fish-friendly. Dams and diversion systems have made it hard for salmon to navigate upstream, while invasive, water-hungry plant species have sucked streams dry.

    “The fish can’t hold a sign out of the water and say you’re killing me. They can’t do it,” S.A.R.S.A.S. member Robert Hane said.

    The group is starting in members’ own backyards – literally.

    The North Ravine, which flows into the Auburn Ravine, runs through Hane’s Pine Valley Ranch. Hane cleared out invasive Himalayan blackberry plants around the ravine to create a green belt and plant trees that would help cool down the water for salmon.

    Another leader in the group, Gary Mapa, sums up the organization’s perspective.

    “I just believe it’s the right thing to do. Protecting the environment is important, and the salmon and steelhead belong here,” Mapa said.

    S.A.R.S.A.S. works frequently with government agencies like the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Because S.A.R.S.A.S. members are studying the Auburn Ravine so closely, they’re able to identify potential barriers for fish and bring it to the agencies’ attention.

    “It is public efforts like these that leverage the implementation of important actions in the NOAA Fisheries’ Recovery Plan for Central Valley salmon and steelhead,” NOAA fish biologist Gary Sprague wrote in an email to ABC10 News.

    One big focus for the group is Hemphill Dam. S.A.R.S.A.S. says salmon are spawning and depositing eggs at the base of the dam, but the fish are having trouble getting over the barrier.

    California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Andrew Hughan couldn’t discuss timelines for modifying Hemphill Dam. However, Hughan said the agency shares S.A.R.S.A.S.’s goals.

    “We very much would to see salmon run all the way to Tahoe naturally. Is that realistic? Hard to say,” Hughan said. “But certainly, if we can get salmon back into Nevada County, and some counties where they haven’t been for more than a century? That would be fantastic.”

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