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Salmon and steelhead habitat restoration project

Habitat restoration project map. Click map for larger image.

Salmon and Steelhead Habitat Restoration

Deer Creek is the last tributary on the Yuba before upriver passage is blocked by Englebright Dam. Therefore, the mouth of Deer Creek at the confluence with the Yuba River is a spawning ground for Central Valley Chinook salmon and steelhead. Salmon and steelhead were present at the mouth of Deer Creek in large numbers in the early part of the 20th century. Human activity, including dams, development, agriculture, and water diversions, have resulted in a decline in the amount of suitable spawning habitat. Sierra Streams is engaged in longterm efforts to restore critical habitat through a combination of approaches, including riparian native revegetation, targeted invasive species removal, regularly repeated gravel injections, spawning bed enhancement, and modifications to the management of the watershed. Our efforts are part of a regional effort to reverse decades of steep decline in anadromous fish populations.

Salmon and steelhead require gravels of a specific size range in order to build their spawning beds. These gravels are essential to the viability of the eggs, offering protection and allowing for oxygenation of the water as it flows through the bed. In the Deer Creek watershed, dams have altered the natural sediment transport and deposition dynamics, which has led to the stretch of Deer Creek downstream of Lake Wildwood being depleted of gravels of suitable size for spawning salmon to use. Adding gravels will replicate the natural process currently interrupted by the dam. Sierra Streams is currently implementing a Supplemental Environmental Project, funded by Nevada County Sanitation District #1 in lieu of fines owed to the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board for violations at the Lake Wildwood Wastewater Treatment plant. The funding has allowed us to complete the lengthy permitting process, and to plan for a pilot gravel augmentation effort scheduled for August 2011. Additional funding is being sought for further gravel injections and to develop an annually repeateable plan to inject gravels harvested from Lake Wildwood during the periodic dewatering: gravels that would naturally be transported to the spawning reach but for the presence of Lake Wildwood dam.

gravel spawning bed

Salmon eggs in a gravel spawning bed.. Photo courtesy of Alaska Flyfishing Online.

With funding from Bella Vista Foundation, Sierra Streams is applying for permits to conduct improvements to the gravel composition in the spawning reach. Sierra Streams scientists, along with scientists from UC Davis and CSU Sacramento, have observed several areas that will be suitable for spawning activity with the addition of gravel and the repositioning of large substrates that armor the creek bed in locations otherwise suitable for spawning. Gravel placement will be carefully engineered to create ideal spawning conditions for immediate colonization by salmon and for the macroinvertebrates on which they feed. Concurrent upstream revegetation efforts will ensure that water quality and temperature conditions are suitable for the salmon that make use of the newly created beds. Once permitting is completed, the strategy is a low-cost and high-yield approach that is easily repeatable on an annual basis.

salmon spawning habitat

Salmon spawning habitat in the confluence reach of Deer Creek.

Revegetation is critical to the longterm success of habitat restoration efforts. Sierra Streams has begun the long process of removing invasive non-native vegetation from the creek vicinity and restoring native riparian and upland vegetation. Reintroduction of native trees and shrubs will result in stream temperature reductions, uptake of nutrients, water quality improvements, and a continual supply of woody debris, an important habitat component. The strategy is to target sites throughout the lower watershed, beginning at the most upstream parcel, the Lake Wildwood dam spillway and weir, currently heavily infested with Himalayan blackberry, black locust, and other invasives. Sierra Streams has received funding for its revegetation work from Bella Vista Foundation and from the National Fish and Wildlife Five Star Program.

revegetation and restoration at Site 10

Ongoing restoration and revegetation efforts at site 10.

Central to the mission of Sierra Streams is providing data to governmental agencies that those agencies can use to guide policy. Data provided to Lake Wildwood Association Public Works Department and Nevada Irrigation District guides our collaborative efforts to ensure water quality and minimum flow compliance. Sierra Streams scientists work closely with the Lake Wildwood Lake Committee and Public Works Department to ensure that impacts to the downstream reach are minimized during the periodic reservoir drawdown. Our long collaboration has resulted in modifications to the reservoir management that protect the creek and its habitat. Sierra Streams works with creekside landowners and managing agencies to implement modifications to land use practices, including implementing erosion control measures and keeping grazing animals out of the creek and riparian zone.

Lake Wildwood drawdown release

Water being released from Lake Wildwood during the annual drawdown.