Tag Archives: Russian River

Dams be damned: California rebuilds the salmon habitat it destroyed

Monica Heger, YES! Magazine, for TRUTHOUT

A consequence of the creek being confined to its channel is that, over years, the water has dug away at the creek bed — or substrate — making it deeper and narrower, and increasing the speed at which water flows. This has decreased the chances that water will spill over the banks. The larger substrate materials that made the creek bed stable — boulders, gravel, and logs — have been washed out, but are not being replaced. Instead, the creek bed is becoming ever finer and more prone to being further incised. In this environment, salmon eggs are more likely to be washed away.

Wander out the back door of the tasting room at Truett Hurst Winery in Sonoma County, California, and follow the dirt path to the red Adirondack chairs next to Dry Creek. Look just downstream to the side channel that splits off the main waterway. You will see sets of interwoven logs and overturned trees with roots that splay along the banks. These aren’t the result of a particularly rough storm — they are there by design. As Dry Creek rushes by, these logs and root beds point the way to a newly excavated side channel — prime habitat for spawning and juvenile salmon.

In freshwater waterways along the coast from Marin to Mendocino counties, agencies are restoring salmonid streams to create habitat diversity, areas that provide deep pooling, predator protection, and side channels of slower-moving water. California salmon are in dire straits. Decades of dam building and development have destroyed or altered salmon habitat, eliminating the diversity of habitat these fish need.

As a result, salmon populations have plummeted. The number of coho salmon that return to the California waterways from the Pacific Ocean each year has dropped from around 350,000 in the 1940s to less than 500 in 2009. Although they’ve rebounded slightly, numbers are still 90 percent to 99 percent below historic levels, and many scientists are worried that California’s historic five-year drought followed by an exceptionally rainy winter could wreak further havoc.

Salmon provide enormous environmental and economic benefits. They are an integral component of marine and freshwater foodwebs and play a role in transporting nutrients from the ocean into rivers. In California, salmon are the backbone of a $1.5 billion commercial and recreational fishing industry.

The Warm Springs Dam, which crosses Dry Creek, is one of two drinking water sources for around 600,000 customers in Sonoma County, but the year-round flows it produces are a problem for salmon.

“Dry Creek is a tremendous misnomer,” says David Manning, environmental resources manager at the Sonoma County Water Agency. “It flows so quickly that it doesn’t provide habitat for steelhead and coho,” and young fish are often washed downstream. To combat this, Manning and others are building “off-ramps” that will allow salmon to exit the Dry Creek freeway.

Read more at: Dams Be Damned: California Rebuilds the Salmon Habitat It Destroyed

Filed under Habitats, Water, Wildlife

New report says California’s ‘iconic’ native fish facing extinction in 50 years

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The “Fish in Hot Water” report includes a road map for addressing the threats to California’s native fish, including restoration and protection of critical habitats, such as spring-fed rivers, flood plains and estuaries as well as river system headwaters.

Read the report here: http://www.caltrout.org/sos

On a tree-shaded bend in Dutch Bill Creek at Monte Rio, three technicians from the Sonoma County Water Agency huddled on a gravel bar to examine the day’s catch, all in the name of science and a sustained campaign to restore one of California’s most endangered fish.

Retrieving 163 coho salmon smolts, or young fish, from a wooden fish trap set in knee-deep, clear flowing water, the crew bathed the four- to six-inch salmon in a bucket of Alka-Seltzer solution, briefly numbing them for easier handling.

The technicians measured, weighed and counted the year-old, hatchery-bred fish before releasing them to continue a perilous journey to the nearby Russian River and out to the Pacific Ocean.

If the young coho, swimming mostly by night to evade predators, make it to the ocean and grow to adulthood, they may in about 18 months return to the Russian River and be counted once again before they spawn and die.

There’s a lot riding on the coho completing their short, human-assisted life cycle.Nearly half of California’s native salmon, steelhead and trout — 14 out of 31 species — are facing extinction in 50 years under current conditions, according to a scientific study released last week.

Another nine species are likely to vanish in 100 years unless steps are taken to address threats such as low water flows, pollution, urban growth, dams and degraded habitat, exacerbated by the recent drought and climate change, the 106-page report by the conservation nonprofit California Trout and the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences said.

Read more at: California’s ‘iconic’ native fish facing extinction, with climate change a major cause | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, Water, Wildlife

Fate of Russian and Eel River flows rests in big fight over small hydroelectric project

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Even the record rainfall that dowsed the North Coast this winter, filling reservoirs and streams, will not be enough to head off a looming clash over the water that courses down two of the region’s largest rivers, the Russian and the Eel.

Together, they drain a swath of territory, including cities, forests and vineyards, that stretches from central Sonoma County to Fortuna, in Humboldt County — an area larger than Connecticut.

A key link between the two rivers, a small powerhouse more than 100 years old, is now the focal point in a fight over the water that flows down these rivers. It’s a standoff with many of the main players in western water wars — farmers, environmentalists, water districts serving urban customers and fishermen. And it raises many of the same questions: Who benefits and who loses from water taken for decades from one river — at over 20 billion gallons a year — and funneled into another river?

In this case, it is the Eel River that has been tapped, its water sent down a milelong tunnel through a mountain in Mendocino County, into a PG&E powerhouse and ultimately into a fork of Russian River, which flows down through Sonoma County.

Water drawn from the Eel River sustains Lake Mendocino, the main source of drinking water for residents along the Russian River from Redwood Valley down to Healdsburg.

Turning off that supply could devastate agriculture and diminish that primary water source for thousands of people, according to interests on one side of the tug-of-war.

The vast majority of the more 600,000 North Bay residents who depend on the Russian River for drinking water are unaware of the plumbing arrangement and the controversy that has long swirled around it and two related dams on the Eel River, where once-prolific runs of salmon and steelhead trout have dwindled amid various human impacts, water diversion among them.

But for the partisans — the water managers, environmentalists, public officials, ranchers and scientists — the dilemma of parsing out this water between competing interests, between people and fish, between town and country, is revving up again over the relicensing of the PG&E powerhouse, called the Pottery Valley Project.

“It’s a critical moment,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, the San Rafael Democrat whose North Coast district spans the adjacent watersheds.

Read more at: Fate of Russian and Eel River flows rests in big fight over small hydroelectric project | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water, Wildlife

Russian River’s future draws diverse crowd to conference

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The supervisor’s goal in drawing together diverse interests from the public, private and nonprofit sectors is to “drive toward creating a one-watershed plan,” he said.

Environmentalists, bureaucrats, public officials, Native Americans and a patron of the arts gathered Friday to plot a future for the Russian River, the waterway they all consider a foundation for communities throughout the North Bay.

The river, which snakes 110 miles from the Mendocino County highlands near Willits to the Pacific Ocean at Jenner in Sonoma County, is a magnet for boaters, bird-watchers, swimmers and anglers, a water supply for 600,000 North Bay residents and the main artery of a 1,500-square-mile watershed.

It also faces a host of challenges over poor water quality and competing demands to support endangered fish, tourism, water storage, flood control and human needs ranging from raw thirst to pure inspiration.

Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore convened the Russian River Confluence, which drew about 220 people Friday to Santa Rosa Junior College’s Shone Farm, located about 2 miles east of the river in the Forestville area.

Read more at: Russian River’s future draws diverse crowd to conference | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water

Russian River “Low Flow E.I.R.” 

RUSSIAN RIVERKEEPER

In 2003 Riverkeeper engaged residents and activists in the Lower Russian River when the public learned about plans to drop the summer flows in the river by up to 80%.

In 2008, the Russian River Biological Opinion (RRBO) was approved by NOAA Fisheries in order to mitigate negative impacts from the operation of the two Army Corps dams, water supply operations and flood control activities. The RRBO section titled “reasonable and prudent alternatives” stated that salmon would benefit if we cut summer flows by 70% in an attempt to improve estuary conditions for juvenile salmon by maintaining a closed estuary. The rationale was that lower flows would help maintain a closed estuary but over the last several years it is clear that goal will be difficult to meet due to natural ocean conditions.

At that time, Riverkeeper stated that cutting flows would increase nutrient concentrations and end up harming juvenile salmon in the estuary by growing too much algae, which affects dissolved oxygen levels. Fast forward to last summer and we had flows in the 70 cubic feet per second range that is close to the proposed 70% reduction and we had our first ever toxic algae outbreak that killed at least two dogs.

At the same time, our understanding of fish population dynamics supported by many fishery biologists is that food production in the river above the estuary would be negatively affected by cutting flows by up to 70%.

The Draft EIR was released from the Sonoma County Water Agency in mid-August. Read the EIR here.

Russian Riverkeeper is concerned with likely water quality problems if flows are allowed to stay below 100cfs throughout the summer months. One of our goals is to ensure water saved from reduced flows is not put up for sale but reserved to mitigate potential water quality impacts.

The comment period for this Draft EIR ended on Friday, March 10.  The Sonoma County Water Agency now will read all the comments and questions, and will reply to all of them.  They hope to have the Final EIR done by the end of 2017.  Then it goes to the State Water Resources Control Board for final approval.

Click here to read Russian Riverkeeper’s protest letter to the State Water Resources Control Board:   RussianRiverKeeper Protest Pet12497a 9Mar17

Source: Russian River “Low Flow E.I.R.” | Russian Riverkeeper

Filed under Uncategorized

Russian River Fish Flow Project EIR public review extended

SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

The DEIR and the errata sheet are available online at http://www.scwa.ca.gov/fish-flow/.

The Sonoma County Water Agency has extended the public review period for the Fish Habitat Flow and Water Rights Project (Fish Flow Project) Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) to 5 p.m., March 10, 2017. The 204-day review period began on August 19, 2016.

The comment period was extended to allow for additional time to review a recently released errata. The errata was issued after resource agency staff asked a question about a specific water temperature figure in Appendix G to the DEIR, which resulted in Water Agency staff reviewing the figures again. The errata corrects temperature and dissolved oxygen figures in the appendix of the modeling results. The errata does not change the DEIR impact analysis. The DEIR errata do not add significant new information or data regarding the project or environmental setting and would not substantially increase the severity of an impact or create a new significant impact.

“Because there are a large number of pages in the errata, we felt it was appropriate to provide agencies and the public with additional time,” said Water Agency Environmental Resources Manager Jessica Martini-Lamb. “By extending the comment period end date to March 10, we are providing people more than a month to review the errata.”

The Fish Flow Project would lower minimum instream flow requirements in the Russian River and Dry Creek to benefit threatened and endangered juvenile salmon, change the hydrologic index to better reflect watershed conditions and secure the existing rights to 75,000 acre feet of water used to provide drinking water to 600,000 residents in portions of Sonoma and Marin counties. The DEIR describes the proposed Fish Flow Project, the purpose of the project, why it is necessary and the potential environmental impacts of the project.

The DEIR and the errata sheet are available online at http://www.scwa.ca.gov/fish-flow/ and at Sonoma and Mendocino County libraries. Hard copies of the DEIR are available for purchase at (707) 547-1900 or at the Water Agency’s administrative office.  All written comments can be sent to fishflow-eir@scwa.ca.gov or to Sonoma County Water Agency, Attn: Fish Flow DEIR., 404 Aviation Boulevard, Santa Rosa, CA 95403 by 5 p.m., Monday, March 10, 2017.

Photo Comparison of the Russian River flows from Upper Russian River to Lower Russian River 

Source: Russian River Fish Flow Project EIR Public Review Extended

Filed under Water, Wildlife

Dry Creek Rancheria seeks to restore Russian River tributary for fish, water supply

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Tucked away among rolling green hills off the road leading up to the River Rock Casino near Geyserville, a once-beleaguered creek is springing back to life.

Situated at the bottom of a slope ravaged by a landslide in the 1980s, part of the creek bed and its immediate surroundings were for years covered with asphalt and used for parking. Now, with recently planted shrubs and trees taking root, the area is a testament of what could be in store for the entire mile-and-a-half-long waterway running through the Dry Creek Rancheria and into the Russian River.

The Dry Creek Band of Pomo Indians has already begun restoring one segment of the creek and applied for about $3.5 million in state grant funding to extend its work to the rest of the unnamed tributary to the Russian River. The tribe hopes to make the creek more hospitable to steelhead trout, a threatened species, while improving the health of the Russian River watershed and fortifying the water supply.

“Of course it’s important for us to be good stewards of this land,” said David Delira, the tribe’s public works manager. “Our stumbling block has always been funding.”

The tribe’s creek restoration dovetails with another project, on Dry Creek, where the tribe has been involved with efforts led by the Sonoma County Water Agency to restore a six-mile stretch of fish habitat, a multimillion dollar bid to ease effects tied to dam development and other human-caused harm to Russian River salmon and steelhead.

Read more at: Dry Creek Rancheria seeks to restore Russian River tributary for fish, water supply | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water, Wildlife

Public hearings set for Russian River low-flow plan

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Public hearings:

Wednesday, Cloverdale Veterans Hall, 205 W. First St. at 6:00pm.

Thursday, Guerneville Veterans Memorial Building, 16255 First St. at 6:00pm.

More information: scwa.ca.gov/fish-flow/

Written comments can be submitted until 5 p.m., Feb. 14, to fishflow-eir@scwa.ca.gov or to the Sonoma County Water Agency, Attn: Fish Flow DEIR, 404 Aviation Boulevard, Santa Rosa, 95403

People who want to give feedback about a plan to cut summertime flows in the Russian River and Dry Creek will have two opportunities to do so in person this week at public hearings.

The sessions, in Cloverdale on Wednesday and Guerneville on Thursday, are being hosted by the Sonoma County Water Agency, which is in the midst of environmental review for a series of proposed changes to water releases from Lakes Mendocino and Sonoma.

The proposals, if approved by state water regulators, would permanently drop stream flows during summer to improve habitat for imperiled juvenile coho salmon and steelhead trout.

But summer is also peak season for river recreation, raising fears about the impact on business and tourism, particularly among communities on the lower river, where seasonal flows would be cut by nearly half, even in wet weather years.

Many critics also believe reducing reservoir releases will contribute to the kind of warm, stagnant conditions that have produced toxic algae blooms in the Russian River and other water bodies around California during the past two summers. Low-flow conditions can also concentrate pollutants from runoff and other sources, reducing water quality.

Among those challenging the wisdom of the proposed changes is the Russian Riverkeeper advocacy and stewardship group, whose leaders contend that even cutting the river flow will not be enough to keep the river estuary closed for young salmon in summer, given ocean dynamics that shift the sand bar at the river’s mouth so often.

Read more at: Public hearings set for Russian River low-flow plan | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water, Wildlife

New $12 million Russian River fish ladder offers glimpse of salmon recovery efforts

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

[The new viewing gallery] will host visits by about 3,000 school children a year, and the Water Agency will offer free tours of the Mirabel facility from 9 a.m. to noon Nov. 12 and Nov. 18. People can register for one of the tours at www.scwa.ca.gov/tours.

A massive concrete structure, built to withstand floods and earthquakes beside the Russian River near Forestville, is the latest step toward restoring the river’s beleaguered salmon and steelhead populations.

The 600,000 Sonoma and Marin county residents who get their drinking water from the river paid for most of the $12 million fish ladder, which includes both a video monitoring system so scientists can count the migrating fish and a viewing gallery that will give the public a glimpse as well.

Grant Davis, general manager of the Sonoma County Water Agency, which developed the facility, said it offered a unique, submarine vantage point in California to watch wild salmon make their way upstream.

“This is open-heart surgery that we accomplished in our river system,” he said.

At a formal ribbon-cutting attended by about 150 people Wednesday, state Sen. Mike McGuire hailed the fish ladder as “a legacy project.”

“The Russian River is who we are in Sonoma County,” he said, noting that the river’s once-abundant salmon and steelhead long fed the region’s Pomo Indian tribes.

Chuck Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, lauded the project as a pivotal one for salmon recovery in California.

Describing the annual migration of river-born fish to the ocean and back to their own spawning grounds, Bonham said, “What journey is more inspiring than that one?”

Read more at: New $12 million Russian River fish ladder offers glimpse of salmon recovery efforts | The Press Democrat

Filed under Habitats, Wildlife

River float brings ideas to surface

Tony Landucci, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

Almost 100 people took part in the Splash Mob event over the weekend, the conclusion of a nine day trip down the Russian River, starting at Lake Mendocino. Conservation nonprofit LandPaths and Russian Riverkeeper hosted the Headwaters to Ocean Descent with Supervisor James Gore.

In the cool morning air at the beach in Monte Rio the first half of the two-day Splash Mob launched kayaks and several canoes into the chilly water as vacationers and beach goes watched. On Sunday, many faces were familiar but new people replaced the ones who could not ride for the whole paddle.

The stream of about 40 boats cruised the water down to Casini Ranch  Family Campground in Jenner where many camped before the final day of paddling to mouth of the river. While the trip was almost entirely manageable for beginners, strong winds pushed back on paddlers as they powered their way under the Coast Highway bridge near where Highways 1 and 116 meet. The day went without incident and everyone made it to the shore safely.

Along the way, conversations were held as long as boaters could stick together. As skill levels and stamina were tested, the groups mingled, drifted apart and came back together. Backgrounds varied but many on the trip were in someway connected to the river through their jobs and education or were just interested in what the event had to offer. Biologists answered questions about ecology while water district workers explained regulations and policies, among other conversations.

Read more at: River float brings ideas to surface – Sonoma West Times and News: News

Filed under Local Organizations, Water, Wildlife