News & Stories

  • Ghost town remnants make way for Lagunitas Creek salmon habitat

    August 9, 2019

    Marin Independent Journal By Will Houston

    Remnants of the ghost town of Jewell could still be found scattered in the upturned dirt banks along Lagunitas Creek near Olema this past week: a bed frame, a refrigerator door, concrete foundations, old pipes, wiring casings, a rusted oven frame, even old cans of pesticides.

    Over the next few months, these last vestiges of the former creekside subdivision will be plucked from the earth to restore the historic floodplains and channels where the now-endangered coho salmon once found refuge.

    Preston Brown, director of watershed conservation for the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network, or SPAWN, described his organization’s work as “pulling out the wrongs of the past.”

    The creekside views of Jewell’s and the nearby subdivision Tocaloma’s residences and vacation homes came at a cost. When the towns were built in the early 20th century, massive amounts of soil was hauled in to lay the foundation of the homes, fences and swimming pools. This plugged the creek’s floodplains and channels where young coho salmon would rear and grow during their yearlong stay before making their way to the ocean.

    Now when the heavy winter rains come, the young fish have few areas to take refuge when the creek swells into a torrent.

    “The flow is much stronger especially when the dam is overflowing and those fish can’t survive,” said SPAWN executive director Todd Steiner on Thursday as excavators worked behind him. “So we’re creating side channels where the water is quiet and the fish can survive the winter and spring storms.”

    The $594,000 project, which began this week, will remove about 6,000 cubic yards of dirt and carve out new channels and flood plains. About a quarter mile of habitat will be restored along the creek, adding to the three-quarter mile of restored habitat just downstream near Tocaloma that SPAWN completed last year. As with the previous project, native plants will be planted along the new channels to provide shelter and food sources for salmon and other wildlife. Large pieces of living and dead wood will also be placed into the river to provide shelter and shade. Later this winter and spring, native plants raised in local classrooms and SPAWN will be planted along the new habitat.

    The Tocaloma portion of the project has already shown promising results in the past year, with young fish having immediately spread out in the new habitat, Brown said.

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  • Coleman Hatchery expresses optimism for future fish returns

    July 23, 2019

    Red Bluff Daily News By George Johnston

    RED BLUFF—The Coleman National Fish Hatchery is expecting good returns of their fish in the foreseeable future after a few lean years of comebacks.

    Over 12 million fall Chinook salmon and 180,000 winter Chinook salmon were released between March and May, Project Manager Brett Galyean said. Almost all of those releases were in Battle Creek. However, for the fall Chinook, the hatchery decided to take 180,000 fish down to Chico and the Butte City area for a study.

    “I’d say we made our projection goals for the falls and we were a little bit shy for the winters,” Galyean said.

    Scheduling fish releases are dependent on high water levels, storm events and turbidity in the water.

    “It’s kind of like a crystal ball exercise,” Galyean said. “We can’t control Mother Nature.”

    Mother Nature worked with the hatchery this year providing high water levels and spring storms, said Galyean. When nature was not working in the hatchery’s favor was during the recent drought.

    Only 6,000 fall Chinook came back to spawn in 2017; the low numbers were caused by the drought conditions two years earlier. Coleman hatchery employees during that year had to truck the fish to San Francisco Bay because of the lack of rainstorms. Numbers went up in 2018 when 21,000 Chinook returned to Battle Creek.

    “Not a great number, but we were able to make our project numbers off of that,” Galyean said.

    Galyean said he is expecting a good return this year and again in three years when the fall and winter Chinook return as adults.

    “It should be a good year. We are expecting good returns to the Sacramento River system. Anglers should be happy. People who enjoy seeing salmon, the biological aspects of them out there should be happy, and we are expecting a good return to Battle Creek come October.” 

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  • New Yolo Bypass Fish Passage project approved/Work at Fremont Weir will allow salmon to travel between waterways

    July 21, 2019

    Chico Enterprise Record By Jim Smith

    The Department of Water Resources has secured final state and federal approval for a project that will expand a migration corridor for fish to the Yolo Bypass, the Sacramento Valley’s main floodplain.

    The project is part of the largest floodplain restoration action on the West Coast and demonstrates a commitment by DWR, the State Water Contractors, and the Bureau of Reclamation to protect native fish in California, while safeguarding agriculture, according to Erin Mellon, assistant director of public affairs for the DWR.

    The project aligns with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent executive order calling for a Water Resilience Portfolio that creates a suite of actions to secure healthy waterways and ecological function through the 21st century.

    The project, formally titled the Yolo Bypass Salmonid Habitat Restoration and Fish Passage Project, will enhance flood plain habitat for endangered species while protecting current agricultural and flood management uses of the bypass.

    “This is the quintessential multi-benefit project,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “It improves fish survival and habitat while preserving the Yolo Bypass as a vital hub for agriculture and flood protection. We look forward to working with the region’s landowners on this win-win project for people, farms, and fish.”

    The approximately $190 million project will construct a two-way fish passage gateway at the head of the Fremont Weir, a 1.8-mile concrete wall that provides flood protection to Sacramento and surrounding communities.

    The 100-foot-wide gateway, or “big notch,” will open each winter, allowing juvenile salmon to move from the Sacramento River onto the floodplain and then back into the Sacramento River at Cache Slough. Providing fish access to the food-rich floodplain will expand survival rates for native fish on their migratory journey to the Pacific Ocean.

    The project will also allow adult salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon to more easily access the Sacramento River from the bypass.

    “California’s threatened fish species are the result of a water and flood system built before people understood how rivers worked or how fish used them,” said Jacob Katz, senior scientist with California Trout. “This first-of-its-kind, multi-benefit project integrates a 21st century scientific understanding of fish and rivers into water management and allows baby fish onto floodplain wetlands to grow, and adults to re-enter the Sacramento River to spawn. It’s a win-win-win for fish, farms and flood control.”

    This week, the project’s environmental impact report received final approval from state and federal permitting agencies, allowing the project to move forward with final design and permitting before construction begins in 2021. This project is funded by the Bureau of Reclamation and through State Water Project funds supplied by the State Water Contractors.

    “We are very supportive of the efforts to increase fish access to floodplain habitat, a step towards meeting the state’s goals of protecting the natural environment while managing water supply,” said Jennifer Pierre, general manager of the State Water Contractors. “Greater access should help salmon grow bigger and increase their survival as they travel through the Delta and into the ocean, hopefully translating to increased populations.”

    The project meets requirements of the state and federal Endangered Species Act, including the National Marine Fisheries Service 2009 Biological Opinion on the Long-Term Operations of the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project. The project will be a critical component of obtaining the Incidental Take Permit of the California Fish and Game Code for the long-term operations of the State Water Project.


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  • Salmon restoration: Input gathered for 2020 East Sand Slough side channel project

    July 19, 2019

    Red Bluff Daily News By Julie Zeeb

    The first step of getting input from the community on a 2020 East Sand Slough Side Channel Project was held Tuesday with a meeting at the Tehama County Library.

    “This is part of a larger (side channel) reconnection effort in Northern California that has three sites in Tehama County and six sites in Shasta County,” said Brin Greer of the Resource Conservation District of Tehama County, which is the lead agency in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) project implementation.

    The project is a part of the restoration of salmon habitat stemming from the Central Valley Improvement Act and will take place on the left bank of the Sacramento River at the East Sand Slough, running from Agua Verdi Drive down to where it meets up with the Sacramento River below the I-5 bridge, Greer said. It reconnects the East Sand Slough to the Sacramento River during minimal flows by excavating the main channel and entrances.

    The overall goal of the project, according to a release issued by the conservation district prior to the meeting, is to create a functional side channel at lower Sacramento River flows to provide rearing habitat for juvenile salmonids and eliminate stranding pools within the East Sand Slough.

    The secondary objective is to look at what recreation expansion and enhancements the community wants in case future funding does become available, but there is no funding for it in this project, Greer said.

    The good news is there are plenty of grants out there for disadvantaged communities such as Red Bluff, said Nancy Snodgrass, a Department of Water Resources Engineer who co-presented with Greer. While the four-foot depth won’t allow for boating opportunities, it could be used for paddleboards or kayaks, she said.

    The base flow of the side channel, which will be about 20 feet wide, will be one foot deep and during the summer would be as high as four feet, Snodgrass said. The project is specifically geared toward creating habitat for the winter-run Chinook salmon which are “endangered and quickly disappearing,” said Department of Water Resources Northern Region Engineering Studies Section Chief Seth Lawrence.

    Construction will be a ways off with the first step being moving the utilities — estimated to take about three to four months, Lawrence said. There will also be native plants planted in the area to improve the habitat for the salmon. Utility work will hopefully be started in August 2020 with construction on the channel itself to be started around mid-November, Lawrence said.

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  • First reintroduced salmon return to California rivers in a critical step towards recovery

    July 15, 2019

    NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region

    California salmon reintroduced to their historic habitat as juveniles are, for the first time, returning to their home rivers to spawn. Their journey home demonstrates that fish reintroductions can successfully return Golden State salmon to restored rivers and streams in an important step toward their recovery.

    More than 25 threatened spring-run Chinook salmon have returned to the San Joaquin River so far this year, the first spring-run salmon to swim up the river in more than 65 years. On Battle Creek to the north, at least 50 endangered winter-run Chinook salmon reintroduced in 2018 have also returned -- the first to return to the creek since dams built in the early 1900s blocked and damaged their habitat.

    Extensive habitat restoration by many partners on both the San Joaquin River and Battle Creek will help support the returning Chinook salmon, promoting recovery of these species.

    “The return of these fish demonstrates that our collective efforts to restore the river and reestablish Chinook salmon are working,” said Erin Strange, San Joaquin River branch chief in NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region, who has worked toward reintroduction of spring-run salmon to the San Joaquin for 10 years. “While we celebrate this success, we continue to pursue our ultimate goal of a fully restored river with self-sustaining salmon populations. We are one step closer to that today."

    As many as 600,000 spring-run Chinook salmon once returned to California’s Central Valley, making up almost 20 different populations on individual rivers. Then, Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River and other obstacles cut off some 90 percent of their historic habitat. Today, only three wild populations remain, leaving the species threatened with extinction

    The San Joaquin River Restoration Program is seeking to turn that around by improving habitat, restoring flows, and reintroducing juvenile fish to the river. Biologists have released thousands of juvenile spring-run salmon to the river since 2014; those are the fish now returning from the ocean as adults. While monitoring has counted about 25 returning fish, more fish likely have returned without being detected.

    Biologists must truck the returning fish around obstacles in some sections of the river while the program pursues the ultimate goal of a barrier-free river the fish can transit on their own.

    “Reintroduction is our best hope of restoring California’s salmon, and these returns give us confidence that we will again see sustainable salmon runs in more California rivers,” said Maria Rea, Assistant Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries’ Central Valley Office. “Recovery of these salmon populations will support the state’s economy and may ultimately allow more flexibility in managing river flows that are now dedicated to the fish.”

    Last year, biologists released juvenile winter-run Chinook salmon in Battle Creek to “jumpstart” their reintroduction to historic habitat. The releases followed a prolonged and severe drought in California’s Central Valley that severely reduced natural production of winter-run Chinook salmon in the Sacramento River in 2014 and 2015, increasing their risk of extinction.

    The jumpstart release accelerated the timeline for reintroducing winter-run Chinook to Battle Creek to improve the resiliency of the population.

    In addition to the approximately 50 fish that have returned to Battle Creek this year, biologists expect more fish from releases in 2018 and 2019 to return in coming years once they grow and mature in the ocean. The returning fish will help diversify the stock by spreading the risk beyond the single remaining population in the mainstem Sacramento River.

    The construction of Shasta Dam, about 75 years ago, blocked winter-run Chinook salmon from much of their historic mountain habitat, relegating them instead to a low-elevation stretch of the Sacramento River below the dam. That leaves the salmon exposed to high summer temperatures that put eggs and fry at risk. Water managers release cool water from Shasta Dam upstream to help protect those offspring.

    NOAA Fisheries’ recovery plan for winter-run Chinook salmon calls for reintroduction of the fish to Battle Creek and other high-elevation streams such as the McCloud River above Shasta Dam. This will give the fish safer footholds in cool-water habitat as climate change warms the exposed Sacramento where they have spawned since construction of the dam.

    “The key to the recovery of these fish is to reestablish them in waters where they can survive and thrive again,” Strange said. “They have persevered this long, and now they are showing us that they will take advantage of that habitat if they get the chance. We have a lot more work to do, but the returns this year show that goal is in reach.”

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