Tag Archives: stream restoration

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

Fallen trees in Sonoma County creeks add to salmon habitat

Nick Rahaim, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

“There’s not a lot of information out there about how to protect habitat in watersheds,” Green said. “Many people don’t realize fast-flowing, unobstructed creeks are not how this area evolved.”

Walking along the shaded banks of Dutch Bill Creek outside Occidental, geomorphologist John Green and environmental scientist Derek Acomb are satisfied with the winter that just passed. A deluge of water swelled thirsty watersheds, and strong winds knocked down an untold number of trees throughout the Sonoma County.

“It’s been a good year for trees coming down,” said Acomb, with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “It’s all about context; it’s all about where you are.”

While falling trees are a threat to both life and property, they create healthy habitats for coho salmon and steelhead trout. As much as dams, logging, agricultural runoff and overfishing throughout the decades have contributed to the collapse of salmon and trout populations, clearing creeks and rivers of downed trees and upended roots has been a major driver, too, Acomb said.

With more than 90 percent of the county’s watershed in private hands, the onus is on landowners to protect riparian habitat on their property. Before an individual can alter downed trees, logs and other forest material in waterways on their property, they must first receive a free permit from Fish and Wildlife — unless there is an immediate threat to life and property. The Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District can also assist in the process, said Green, the lead scientist and program manager there..

There are times when property owners call Fish and Wildlife, afraid debris in a nearby stream might flood their property or their homes. While there are serious emergencies, he said, most trees don’t pose an immediate threat.

“When they call, they’re in a survival state-of-mind,” Acomb said. “Then the following day the water has subsided and they see they’re going to be OK.”

Until the late 1990s, flood protection was the primary focus when managing creeks, streams and rivers, not habitat protection, said Green, overlooking a creek flowing through Westminster Woods where he has devoted a decade of work. The faster the water flows, the more quickly it can drain water when the rivers hit flood levels.

But without the protection from pools created by debris shaping the creek beds and slowing down the flow of water, juvenile salmon and trout are vulnerable to predators like river otters, raccoons and blue herons, Green said. Pools created by fallen timber also provide a place for coho to wait out a long, dry Californian summer before they finally venture out to the ocean in the winter months, he continued.

“With a little less flood capacity you can have a huge increase in habitat,” Acomb said, standing on the mossy bank next to Green. While the two work for different agencies, they have partnered to restore habitat in west Sonoma County.

Read more at: Fallen trees in Sonoma County creeks add to salmon habitat | The Press Democrat

Filed under Habitats, Water, Wildlife

Baby salmon trickle back to Russian River waterways after a long absence

Stephen Nett, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After an absence of more than a decade, a trickle of salmon are finally finding their way back to Sonoma County streams, thanks to private landowners and a coalition of conservationists.

Roughly 22 million years ago, the fish we know as salmon evolved the complicated biology they needed to commute between inland freshwater streams and the open salty ocean. Thus began one of the most remarkable life cycle journeys known on the planet.

Two million years ago, on the ancient California coastline, the salmon would have found a perfect cold and clear waterway emptying into the Pacific near the mouth of today’s Russian River. Running a hundred miles back among high ridges and dense redwood forest, its widely branching network of creeks and tributaries made ideal habitat for the spawning fish and its young.

And that paleo-Russian River has been the salmon’s home ever since.

So it came as a shock in 2001 when naturalists, fishermen and the community discovered that the number of coho salmon counted returning to the Russian River, once totaling 100,000, had dwindled to only 5.

It was found that throughout the watershed, the populations had crashed, and the salmon were disappearing, stream by stream. By 2004, only 3 of 39 tributaries and creeks in the entire watershed held any coho at all.

This past December, in a quiet event out of public view, red-flushed mature coho salmon were once again found spawning in the tree-shaded upper reaches of Mill Creek west of Healdsburg, where they had been virtually absent for decades.

That small, exciting homecoming was no accident. It came after more than 10 years of study and planning, captive breeding and painstaking stream rehabilitation by a smorgasbord of local, state, and federal agencies, private groups, academic institutions, community coalitions and concerned individuals.

And the vital key and the unsung heroes of the salmon rescue, according to those involved, are some of the private landowners whose property surrounds Mill Creek. In a scene that’s playing out along hundreds of miles of streams and creeks across Sonoma County, individual landowners are proving to be the crucial link in bringing the salmon home again.

Read more at: Baby salmon trickle back to Russian River waterways after a long absence | The Press Democrat

Filed under Habitats, Water, Wildlife

Sonoma County to spearhead plan to restore Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After living along the Laguna de Santa Rosa for decades, Joe Aggio and his family have grown accustomed to having their land swamped with water, as has been the case this year, the waterway swollen to its greatest extent in more than a decade.

But the floodplain around their dairy farm also has become much more of a nuisance over the years.

Aggio, 32, said the wetland around his farm between Occidental Road and Guerneville Road used to be manageable and clean, flooding in the winter before draining off so his family could grow crops to feed their cows. But the waterway has become increasingly plugged with sediment, invasive Ludwigia plants, garbage and other discarded items like shopping carts and couches, he said.

“It no longer flows. It no longer drains. It’s just a stagnant mess,” Aggio said. “We’ve lost crops because of it. We haven’t gotten crops in because of it … It’s become increasingly difficult to farm the land.”

So Aggio’s hopes were raised recently when Sonoma County Water Agency officials secured a grant to move forward with plans that could eventually help alleviate the challenges faced by his farm and other landowners along the 22-mile waterway.

With funds from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Water Agency and environmental groups are embarking on a massive planning effort to revitalize the watershed that stretches from Cotati north to Windsor and takes in rural areas east and west of Santa Rosa.

The watershed, which includes Mark West and Santa Rosa creeks and many other smaller streams and wetlands, has been altered significantly over generations by agricultural and urban development.

One result of its transformation is the Laguna now fills with more sediment than it once did, at times hampering its ability to drain floodwaters into the Russian River.

“If this happens over a very long period of time — we’re talking hundreds of years — that eventually will get to a point where it could back up drainage back into Santa Rosa, Cotati and Rohnert Park,” said Mike Thompson, assistant general manager of the county Water Agency. “This is well beyond our lifetimes, but if it keeps filling up like that, the storage and flood protection of the Laguna that naturally occurs is being taken away.”

Armed with $517,000 in state grant funds, the Water Agency and other groups expect to spend the next three years developing a comprehensive restoration plan for the watershed. Project partners include the San Francisco Estuary Institute and the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation.

Read more at: Sonoma County to spearhead plan to restore Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed | The Press Democrat

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Habitats, Land Use, 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

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

New Laguna de Santa Rosa trail shows an ecosystem in recovery

Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A group of two dozen people on Saturday got the first official look at a multimillion-dollar restoration effort along a 1.7-mile stretch of the Laguna de Santa Rosa, the broad freshwater wetland that flows into the Russian River.

A guided morning hike of the new Southern Laguna Discovery Trail outside Rohnert Park revealed a renewed ecosystem that is showing signs of recovery after decades of abuse and neglect. Steelhead trout and river otter populations are recovering, native plants and saplings are taking root and natural predators are returning.

“Check this out, it’s bobcat scat,” said Kevin Monroe, executive director of the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation, as a group of hikers gathered around him and cheered the discovery. “Seeing a top predator in this habitat is just wonderful. We still have much further to go, but this is a sign that some health and functionality is being returned to this ecosystem.”

Spearheaded by the foundation, and the Sonoma County Water Agency, restoration efforts along the middle reach of the Laguna de Santa Rosa have been underway since 2012. Just four years ago, the waterway that flows from Cotati and past Sebastopol before spilling into the Russian River was surrounded largely by grassland. Most of the native trees and shrubs were ripped out during the early 1970s, and the meandering waterway was straightened to help prevent flooding in Rohnert Park.

Runoff from urban areas and dairy farms led to other problems, spurring an explosion of invasive plants that choked off oxygen in the waters, leading to significant declines in wildlife populations.

Some of those issues have been stemmed by conservation efforts.“It’s a big experiment, but all of the plants and animals are starting to come back,” said Wendy Trowbridge, director of restoration and conservation science programs for the foundation. “And 20 years from now, this will be like walking in a lovely forest.”

Read more at: New Laguna de Santa Rosa trail unveiled outside Rohnert Park | The Press Democrat

Filed under Habitats, Land Use, Water, Wildlife

Napa County strings together a ‘living’ river

Amber Manfree, CALIFORNIA WATER BLOG

In the historic heart of Napa Valley, a moderate climate and the alluvial soils deposited by the Napa River create perfect conditions for world-class cabernets. An acre of vines here sells for around $300,000, or 25 times the state average for irrigated cropland.

Yet a group of landowners have ripped out 20 acres of these prized vineyards to make room for river restoration, with levee setbacks, terraced banks and native plants.

The project runs the length of Rutherford Reach, a 4.5-mile stretch of the Napa River between St. Helena and Oakville. Landowners say the changes will bring economic benefits over the long term by reducing crop losses from floods and plant disease. Most of all, they feel good about giving back to the river that has brought them so much.

Rutherford Reach is one several sites undergoing major habitat and flood control improvements on the Napa River. Some projects started more than 40 years ago. Others are just getting off the ground.

Far from postage-stamp restorations, these efforts are steadily transforming a huge swath of wetlands in a very lived-in area, re-establishing geomorphic function at the landscape scale.

Innovative funding, inclusive planning and adaptive management power these projects and offer lessons for river restoration elsewhere.

With the completion of ongoing projects, tens of thousands of acres and about 60 percent of the Napa River’s length will have been rejuvenated with improved habitat, intact geomorphic function and reconnected floodplains. Map by Amber Manfree/UC Davis

Here’s a closer look at three major flood control and river rejuvenation projects on the Napa: Rutherford Reach, downtown Napa and the lower Napa River:

Read more at: Napa County strings together a ‘living’ river

 

Filed under Land Use, Water

Wildlife returns to rehabilitated Colgan Creek

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa officials celebrated the completion of the first phase of the ambitious restoration of Colgan Creek on Thursday with a tour of the newly widened waterway.

The majority of work on the half-mile section of creek just east of Elsie Allen High School wrapped up last fall, with workers widening and reshaping the channel to increase its flood capacity, restore a more natural course and improve the riparian habitat.

The channel will now be able to handle a 100-year-flood instead of the 25-year event for which it was designed, city environmental specialist Sean McNeil explained to dozens of people who turned out for the event.

Wildlife already is returning to the creek. Western pond turtles were discovered in the area soon after major work completed last fall, said Steve Brady, a city’s environmental specialist. And a green heron was spotted Thursday hunting near one of the few remaining pools that haven’t yet dried up this summer.

Colgan Creek long has run dry in the summer, and the project won’t change that.

“This is not going to be a steelhead creek,” McNeil said.But it will create a more natural environment for a variety of wildlife, including winter habitat for fish species moving up from the Laguna de Santa Rosa, he said.

Read more at: Santa Rosa officials show off rehabilitated Colgan Creek | The Press Democrat

Filed under Water, Wildlife

Highway 37 crossing for wildlife in the works 

Eloísa Ruano González, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A busy stretch of road that runs along San Pablo Bay just south of Sonoma Raceway is considered a hot spot for roadkill.

Highway 37, which connects Novato to Vallejo, slices right through major habitat for jackrabbits, deer, coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions. The high speed limit and heavy congestion makes the four-lane highway an extreme peril for animals wanting to cross.

“For animals, it’s bad news,” said Fraser Shilling, co-director of the UC Davis Road Ecology Center.

With wetland restoration going on at Sears Point, he said, more animals will be drawn to cross the highway to get to the newly restored marshes to the south for food and habitat. They currently don’t have much of an option except bolting across the road, where an average of 37,000 vehicles travel a day, Caltrans said.

“A road like that with that much traffic makes it difficult for animals to move,” said Julian Meisler, baylands program manager with the Sonoma Land Trust.

The Land Trust is working on creating a safer wildlife passage under the highway. It has teamed up with groups such as the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge and Point Blue Conservation Science’s Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed program, known as STRAW, to restore the creek that flows through a decades-old cattle underpass. They’re planting willows, oaks, coyote brush and other plants to make the culvert more attractive for wildlife to use.

Animals avoided the underpass, about three-quarters of a mile west of the intersection of Highways 37 and 121, because of the lack of trees and shrubs to serve as cover, said Don Brubaker, manager of the wildlife refuge, which owns and manages the land to the south of the highway.

“We need to advertise this as a way to go (across) that wildlife understand,” Brubaker said, adding the best way to do so is by creating desirable habitat for animals.

Read more at: Highway 37 crossing for wildlife in the works | The Press Democrat

Filed under Sustainable Living, Transportation, Wildlife