Tag Archives: steelhead

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

Sonoma County vintner Steve Kistler to pay more than $500,000 to settle creek pollution case

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A Sonoma County vintner has agreed to pay $579,700 to settle water code violations stemming from the release of muddy pond water into a Valley Ford creek that supports spawning fish, state officials announced Thursday.

Steve Kistler (Kistler Vineyards) became the focus of enforcement action after officials traced the April 2013 sediment discharge to Bodega Highway property the longtime vintner owns east of the historic Watson School.

Officials said Kistler directed an employee to pump water from a partially constructed pond into a second, smaller pond, which then overflowed, spilling an estimated 739,910 gallons of turbid water into a tributary of Salmon Creek.

The water appeared so milky that officials with the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board and other investigating agencies at first surmised that the source had to be a dairy, said Stormer Feiler, an environmental scientist with the water board’s North Coast region.

He said the environmental impacts may have lasted as long as six days and likely killed juvenile coho salmon and steelhead trout living in the creek.

Read more at: Sonoma County vintner Steve Kistler to pay more than $500,000 to settle creek pollution case | 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

New multispecies plan provides roadmap to salmon and steelhead recovery

October 13, 2016, NOAA FISHERIES

NOAA Recovery Plan for Chinook and Steelhead

Millions of wild salmon and steelhead once returned to California’s north and central coastal watersheds. Development over the last 100 years and the conversion of forestlands to urban and agricultural use led to the decline of these populations. From 1997 to 2000, California Coastal Chinook salmon, Northern California steelhead, and Central California Coast steelhead were listed under the federal Endangered Species Act as species threatened with extinction.

chinook-in-eel-r_cathy-myers

Chinook salmon in the Eel River. Photo: Cathy Myers

Today, NOAA Fisheries released its final plan to recover these species by addressing the threats they face and restoring the ecosystem on which they depend. The recovery plan strategically targets restoration efforts to the needs of salmon and steelhead throughout each of their life stages, from their time as juveniles in freshwater habitat, through their maturation in the ocean, and their return to streams to spawn. Using this framework, the plan seeks to improve estuarine and riparian habitat conditions, restore floodplains and stream channels, enhance stream flows and improve fish passage across 8 million acres of California’s north and central coast.

With science at its foundation, the plan provides for the biological needs of fish. A technical team of scientists, led by NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, developed criteria that will ensure the species persists over the long-term. The criteria address such attributes as population size and reproductive success rates, as well as sufficient geographic distribution and genetic diversity. The idea is to target on-the-ground actions to the needs of fish throughout their life cycle to restore robust populations across the landscape.

Read more at: New multispecies plan provides roadmap to salmon and steelhead recovery :: NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region

Filed under Habitats, Water, Wildlife

Sonoma County signals possible extension for comment on Russian River flow plan 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Interested parties appear likely to get the extra time many have requested to review and comment on some 3,600 pages of study for a plan to permanently reduce summertime flows in the Russian River and Dry Creek to benefit imperiled fish species.

Sonoma County officials announced Friday they would discuss an extension at the Oct. 4 Board of Supervisors meeting and may schedule additional public hearings on the flow rate in lower and upper river communities.

The plan has raised concerns among some business representatives and river residents about the reduced flows’ effects on recreation and water quality.

Board Chairman Efren Carrillo said Friday he’s “highly confident” fellow supervisors will agree to additional time for public feedback.

“We still need formal action,” Carrillo cautioned. “I don’t want to be presumptuous.”

The notice came three days after a standing-room-only crowd appeared before the Board of Supervisors to address a six-volume draft environmental impact report that envisions significant changes for how Russian River flows are managed by the Sonoma County Water Agency.

Read more at: Sonoma County signals possible extension for comment on Russian River flow plan | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water, Wildlife

Critics of proposed low-flows for Russian River blast supervisors 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Critics of a permanent plan to curtail summertime flows in the Russian River blasted Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday, with many saying the long-anticipated shift in water management would devastate lower river communities and economies dependent on recreation and tourism.

A string of speakers implored county officials to rethink their strategy or risk increased nuisance and toxic algae that could severely impact quality of life throughout the county. About 80 people attended the public hearing at the supervisors’ chambers, the only one planned as part of an environmental impact report scheduled for release later this year.

Others Tuesday night challenged the science behind the move, questioning the rationale of a 2008 federal opinion by the National Marine Fisheries Service that instructed the Sonoma County Water Agency to reduce artificially elevated summertime flows in the river and in Dry Creek as a way to improve habitat for threatened and endangered salmonid fish. At issue is a proposed overhaul of the agency’s management under which releases have been made from Lake Mendocino into the Russian River and from Lake Sonoma into Dry Creek, which joins the river near Healdsburg. County supervisors serve as the agency’s board of directors.

“Nothing good will come out of a low-flow proposal,” said Linda Burke, whose family has operated Burke’s Canoes in Forestville for two generations. “This is draconian. It’s unheard of. It’s sad, and it’s disgusting.”

The plan is informed by the 8-year-old federal decision that deemed existing operations a potential threat to the habitat and survival of struggling coho salmon, chinook salmon and steelhead trout, all of which are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Federal fishery experts say juvenile fish need low-velocity streams in order to thrive while feeding, resting and building up strength to go out to the ocean. It’s also believed reducing flows would encourage maintenance of a freshwater lagoon at the river mouth near Jenner, enhancing the survival of young steelhead trout.

Reserving a cold water pool in Lake Mendocino for release each fall also would benefit migrating chinook salmon adults as they come in from the ocean and head upstream to spawn, agency personnel said.

Read more at: Critics of proposed low-flows for Russian River blast supervisors | The Press Democrat

Filed under Habitats, Water, Wildlife

Russian River plan calls for lower summer flows

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Environmental Impact Report and related information are available online at scwa.ca.gov/fish-flow, and the comment period ends October 17.

A long-awaited report outlining plans to permanently reduce summertime flows in the Russian River and Dry Creek to benefit imperiled fish species was unveiled Friday, kicking off a public comment period that’s expected to feature ample disagreement and controversy.

The blueprint formalizes water releases that have already been made for years at Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma, the region’s two main reservoirs, which supply drinking water to more than 600,000 and maintain year-round river flows for people and fish.

The new, six-volume environmental impact report is meant to bring the region’s water management into official compliance with federal guidelines for the Russian River’s beleaguered salmon and steelhead trout species.

But it also would nearly halve minimum summertime flows in the lower river — even during the rainiest years — a policy that triggered questions and angst well before Friday about potential impacts on recreation, water quality and other aspects of the watershed’s health.

“Our community is concerned about the state of the fish habitat, but also concerned about any impacts making low flow permanent will have on our water quality, our tourism industry, and of course on the health of our residents and pets,” Monte Rio Community Alliance President Chuck Ramsey said. He alluded to the death of a dog, which last year ingested toxic algae during a trip down the lower river. Such algae can develop in still, warm and shallow water — conditions that can accompany low flows.

“There needs to be a balance that allows us to achieve the best outcomes possible,” Ramsey said.

Read more at: Russian River plan calls for lower summer flows to protect fish | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water, Wildlife

Sonoma Creek watershed conservation grants ease vineyard erosion

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Replacing three culverts on his 28-acre Sonoma Valley hillside vineyard won’t boost the yield or increase the price of his merlot, sauvignon blanc and zinfandel grapes, John MacLeod said.

“It’s hard for me as a farmer to spend money fixing this,” he said.

But with a grant from the Santa Rosa-based Sonoma Resource Conservation District footing 75 percent of a $26,000 conservation project to reduce erosion on his land, MacLeod is quick to acknowledge the nonfinancial benefit.

“It makes us better stewards of the land,” he said, standing amid the 20,000 vines planted since MacLeod’s family bought the ranch along Sonoma Creek in 1974.

MacLeod Family Vineyards is one of four Sonoma Valley vineyards that has qualified for a total of $250,000 in grants funded by the Coastal Conservancy aimed at improving water quality in Sonoma Creek. The other three are Jack London Vineyard, Wildcat Mountain Vineyard and Santo Giordano Vineyard.

The local resource district has an additional $663,850 in grant funds authorized by the State Water Resources Control Board available to vineyards in the 170-square-mile Sonoma Creek watershed that extends roughly from Kenwood to San Pablo Bay.

The watershed is a “high priority” for remedial projects because Sonoma Creek, which flows 33 miles from its headwaters in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park to the bay, is designated by the state and federal government as impaired by excess sediment, said Valerie Minton, program director at the Sonoma RCD.

Sediment washed into Sonoma Creek, an important stream for steelhead trout, settles in gravel beds, potentially suffocating eggs and filling in pools where juvenile fish must spend the summer, she said.

Read more at: Sonoma Creek watershed conservation grants ease vineyard erosion | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Water, Wildlife

Op-Ed: When a right goes wrong: Vineyard frost protection, river flows and salmon

Richard Morat, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Richard Morat is a retired federal fishery biologist, pursues a  conservation vocation and advocates for ecosystem sustainability.

An extreme frost in 2008 drove managers of budding vineyards to dewater reaches of the Russian River overnight. Water spray protects buds from freeze damage. Many juvenile salmon were killed by the dewatering. These salmon are protected by the Endangered Species Act, which requires that this not happen again.

The event spurred public resource agencies and other well-meaning organizations to rush to the rescue with plans for offstream storage that would reduce the need for simultaneous and cumulatively massive direct diversions from the river. The concept of diverting and storing water during wetter periods was sound, but it is not being carried out properly. Public agencies and organizations were too accommodating to the diverters and have made a bad situation worse.

The problem in implementation was in not defining “wetter periods.” To growers wanting to reduce costs, wetter periods means any time flow is in excess of the bare minimum that must be left in the channel. Unfortunately, this means that flows needed to maintain salmon populations will become less and less frequent and eventually all that will be left is an operation of extremes — either minimum flows or infrequent large flood flows. Minimum flow standards were not meant to be a long duration steady-state condition, but on the Russian they have become the norm.

Growers quickly realized that the offstream storage originally justified as an emergency frost-control measure could also be used for irrigation and heat control, further reducing wet season flows required for salmon. Many applications for changes in water rights to divert flows to offstream storage have been filed. Some have been approved by the state Water Resources Control Board. Likely many more applications will be filed in future years as growers seek to reduce costs. The challenge is balancing the expansion of water rights with the protection of other beneficial uses. Coming to grips with limits to growth is the challenge for all of us.

The answer to this dilemma is quite simple — require permits for offstream storage whereby the diverter can take only water that is surplus to the reasonable needs of other beneficial uses. For diverters to capture surplus water they need to take big gulps when the flows are well in excess of the minimum flow standards. This means investing in bigger pipelines and pumps to increase diversion rates and fill storage quickly during high flows when excess water is available.

We can accommodate growth in the wine industry without killing salmon in the Russian River, but it requires good faith on the part of the wine industry and a willingness to pay what is required to protect the environment.

Read more at: Close to Home: When a right goes wrong: Vineyard frost protection, river flows and salmon | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Water, Wildlife