Collaborative Projects Aim to Aid Salmon

Taylor Hillman Aquaculture, Water

Fish farming
Rather than waiting for government agencies to act on their own, Central Valley landowners and local water agencies are moving ahead with collaborative projects intended to improve conditions for protected fish—and therefore reduce the impact on water supplies.

In one such project, fish-saving modifications to Wallace Weir in the Yolo Bypass near Knights Landing will begin this summer. Participants say the project will benefit fish, add to future salmon populations and fit neatly into farming operations and water supply management needs.

When completed, the $8.6 million project will capture winter-run Chinook salmon straying from the Sacramento River into the Yolo Bypass, where they run the risk of becoming stranded during migration to spawning grounds on the river near Redding. The fish trap will draw salmon swimming upstream into holding structures, where the fish will be collected and loaded into tank trucks for a trip back to the river. This will help reduce the risk of fish stranding and mortality as water in the bypass recedes, participants said.

“I’m optimistic we’ll be able to complete the project within the three and a half months we’ve planned, and we hope to come in under budget,” said Lewis Bair, Reclamation District 108 general manager, who said he anticipates completing construction in the fall. “We’re doing everything we can to move this project along.”

During a media briefing at the project site last week, Bair said funding for the project is coming from state water contractors.

Maria Rea of NOAA Fisheries said there’s an increased number of water districts and private-public partnerships emerging in the Sacramento Valley to work on “really good” projects such as the fish trap at Wallace Weir.

The Wallace Weir project is part of the larger Sacramento Valley Salmon Recovery Program that focuses on ways to improve fish passage and wildlife habitat in valley watersheds and update infrastructure to better meet water supply objectives.

The Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District announced last week that—in partnership with local, state and federal agencies—a gravel restoration project to improve spawning habitat has been completed at the Market Street Bridge in Redding, one of a number of species-protection projects the district has undertaken.

“Tremendous progress has been made on projects that positively impact salmon, but we have more work to do,” GCID General Manager Thad Bettner said.

The gravel project, carried out during the past several weeks, placed about 9,400 cubic yards of salmonid spawning gravel in the Sacramento River, immediately below the Anderson-Cottonwood Irrigation District Diversion Dam and the Market Street Bridge.

Bettner said the project represents a continuing effort to help meet requirements of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, which calls for restoring and replenishing spawning gravel and rearing habitat for salmonids.

The project was a partnership of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Western Shasta Resource Conservation District, California Department of Water Resources, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, GCID and ACID.

The new fish trap and the gravel project are among a number of interagency projects being conducted on the river this year. Experts said there are more than 40 projects on the drawing boards.

Other projects include restoration of two side channels on the upper Sacramento River, installation of an operable gate and false weir in the Tisdale Bypass, replacement of failed crossings with operable gates in the Tule Canal to prevent fish strandings and retrofitting Fremont Weir to connect with the Sacramento River.

River Garden Farms, a diversified growing operation along the Sacramento River, is paying for a pilot project to create “refugios,” habitat structures that will allow sheltering and rearing of young salmon.

“The structures will allow juvenile salmon to hang out and get rest from the river current and get safety from predators,” said Roger Cornwell, general manager of farming operations for River Garden Farms, who estimated the farm will invest between $500,000 and $600,000 for the trial.

The Northern California Water Association is helping coordinate some of the salmon-restoration projects currently underway or planned for the Sacramento Valley, NCWA President David Guy said.

“We have a Salmon Recovery Program we’ve been working on for several years that builds off the NOAA Fisheries plan introduced several years ago,” Guy said. “There’s a lot of creativity and innovation going on.”

Guy said local sponsors undertake the projects.

“Landowners and water agencies are saying, ‘I’ll take this project from start to finish—get permits and get it built.’ In the past, we’ve waited for agencies to do this work. Now, with local expertise like we’re seeing with RD 108’s project, things are getting done,” he said.

There’s a shift in approach to solving issues related to protecting endangered species, said Jack Rice, California Farm Bureau Federation associate counsel.

“There are ways for species and farmers to thrive,” Rice said, noting that many people are now looking at the problems and opportunities inherent in resource management.

“They’re looking for solutions,” he said. “Collaboration is much more effective than coercion for farmers and ranchers. On the Sacramento River, we’re seeing farmers working with water managers, agencies and conservation groups to solve problems and get things done. That just makes sense.”

By Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at Permission for use is granted by the California Farm Bureau Federation.