The Long Haul to Restore San Joaquin Spring-Run Chinook

12
Oct

The Long Haul to Restore San Joaquin Spring-Run Chinook

When a team of fish biologists was tasked with restoring spring-run Chinook salmon in the San Joaquin River in 2006, none of them quite knew where to begin. The thirsty farms that crowd the river on both sides had taken almost all the water out of it most years since the mid-1900s, leaving a nearly 60-mile long stretch below Friant Dam near Fresno completely dry. The riverbed had been parched for so long that someone even built a house in...
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12
Oct

Rocky Road to a Fresh Enough Delta

Nothing reveals just how much the upper Estuary’s seesaw of tides and freshwater flows is micro-managed than prolonged drought, and the resulting fiddling with barriers, gates, and water quality standards to prevent the ocean tides and salinity from intruding too far upstream. Come summer, managers begin to talk fearfully of “losing control of the Delta” and the dreaded outcome: salt water too near the export pumps that supply tap water for millions of Californians. The ominous language is also reflected...
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12
Oct

South Bay Fish Fight

Two decades after the South Bay’s main water supplier agreed to restore aquatic habitat in the streams that flow from its reservoirs, fish in the region remain in dire straits, and local river advocates say it’s the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s fault. The agency, which serves the taps and toilets of 1.9 million Santa Clara County residents, has made some improvements on fish habitat along miles of stream and increased the amount of water it releases from its reservoirs....
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12
Oct

Resurrecting the Carmel River Floodplain

When the storm hit, it was lucky that my parents had a habit of leaving one car on each side of the Carmel River as they commuted from Big Sur into Monterey each day. The 1995 El Niño rainfall had pushed the Carmel River into hundreds of homes, and destroyed the Highway 1 bridge that connected Big Sur with the rest of the world. Most Big Sur residents were trapped during the week it took the Federal Emergency Management Agency...
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30
Aug

Drought Plan Means Full Lake, Empty River

In the mountains and foothills of California, an enduring drought has depleted the state’s major reserves of water. There is virtually no snowpack, and most of the state’s large reservoirs are less than 40 percent full. But in the central Sierra Nevada, a trio of artificial lakes remain flush with cold mountain water. The largest of them, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, from which millions of Bay Area residents receive water, is more than 80 percent full. This remarkable plentitude is the...
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15
Feb

West Coast Salmonids All Tired Out?

West Coast salmon and steelhead populations have declined steeply in the past century – a plight that biologists have primarily blamed on habitat loss. Dams, for instance, block adult fish’s access to historic spawning grounds, and juvenile survival is impacted by streamside development and water diversions. Now, it turns out, microplastic pollution may be a much bigger factor than anyone knew just several years ago. In 2019, scientists with the San Francisco Estuary Institute and the Los Angeles-based nonprofit 5...
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15
Feb

Big Boulders, Big Benefits to Coyote Creek Fish

As a source of flowing water, upper Coyote Creek is unreliable at best. Though storms swell its banks in winter, Mediterranean-climate summers shrink this South Bay stream to a series of isolated pools by August. “By October right before the rains come, we’re down to these really small pools that have all the fish in them,” says retired U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ecologist Rob Leidy. Leidy and UC Berkeley fish ecologist Stephanie Carlson began monitoring the annual dry-down of upper...
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15
Feb

Sturdy Sturgeon

A 90-year-old Australian lungfish at San Francisco’s Academy of Sciences has received a lot of press lately, but there is a wild fish species living in the San Francisco Bay that has the potential to live that long or longer — or so we think. While one white sturgeon caught in the Columbia River Basin was estimated to be 104 years old, the life expectancy of white sturgeon, Acipenser transmontanus, which includes the Central Valley population endemic to the San...
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15
Feb

The Complexities of Monitoring Steelhead

For more than two decades, steelhead — listed as federally threatened in 1997 — have been monitored throughout the state. However, until recently that monitoring has been a haphazard affair. Each local jurisdiction has established a different system, using different methods with different degrees of intensity, according to a 2018 study examining monitoring within the Central Valley and its environs. In some areas, primarily the Sacramento River watershed, which drains the vast northern part of the valley, data has been...
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23
Mar

Fixing a Dysfunctional Marsh on Sonoma Creek

Restoration projects, like species, evolve. The Sonoma Creek Enhancement Project, originally about mosquito control, has shown itself to be a boon to special-status tidal marsh wildlife as well. More than a decade of adaptive management actions made that happen.  The existing marsh, formed rapidly beginning in the 1960s by deposited sediment, lacked the dendritic channels of a mature marsh. High tides brought in water that pooled in a central basin and didn’t drain out, providing breeding habitat for mosquitos. The...
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18
Nov

Fish passage structures can be improved for the benefit of multiple species, if they are designed to account for differences in behavior, physical ability and size, according to a new literature review.

Historically, most fish passages have been designed to help native salmon return to their upstream habitat and spawning grounds, with little consideration for other migrating species such as sturgeon and lampreys. “There is an assumption that if you just build a fish passage structure, fish will go thorough it, but that is not always the case,” says Department of Water Resources fisheries biologist Zoltan Matica, who conducted the review. “The challenge is to understand that this isn’t only a physical...
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22
Sep

Heavy Lifting for Fish

Ted Frink recalls watching Jacques Cousteau’s television specials when he was growing up in coastal Orange County. “I envisioned myself as Cousteau,” says Frink, a fisheries biologist with the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) now approaching retirement. “My folks encouraged my interest in science. I knew I could be a biologist.” That early inspiration sparked a long and varied career, culminating in his work as chief of DWR’s Special Restoration Initiatives Branch and his role in mitigating obstacles to...
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05
Aug

More than half the water diverted from Central Valley rivers is used to irrigate cattle-feed crops, implicating beef and dairy as top drivers of recent fish declines.

Recent findings, published in Nature Sustainability in March, strengthen the environmental arguments for going vegan while rewriting the familiar narrative that almonds and other high-value tree crops are the top hogs of Central Valley water resources. The study’s authors, led by Brian Richter of Virginia-based Sustainable Waters, focused on the arid West and found that irrigated crops like alfalfa and hay, more than any others, are drying out rivers. The reduced flows are pushing dozens of fish species toward extinction....
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18
Jun

Squeezed by Geography

By Nate Seltenrich In most respects, Marin County is a privileged place. It ranks first in the Bay Area for income per capita and includes many of the region’s priciest zip codes. But its miles of Bay and ocean shoreline and many low-lying towns, positioned to afford easy coastal access and world-class scenery, represent a major liability in the era of sea-level rise. “Marin is the canary in the coal mine in some ways, because almost everything is in that...
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18
Jun

Forty Miles of Creek, Six Adaptation Projects

By Robin Meadows In 2017, a perfect storm hit the City of San Jose in Santa Clara County. Coyote Creek, which winds through the heart of the city, overtopped its banks, flooding businesses and hundreds of homes up to depths of six feet. Thousands of people were evacuated and property damages exceeded $70 million. “If I’ve learned anything in my 25 years here, it’s that you have to give creeks room to move, which also creates more resilience to climate...
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16
Apr

A new project should dramatically improve conditions for endangered steelhead trout in the lower reaches of Alameda Creek.

The project is part of a long-term effort to restore steelhead to Alameda Creek. Last year, for the first time in decades, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission began releasing water from a newly retrofitted dam, effectively reviving an important tributary stream. Also in 2019, the Alameda County Flood Control District began construction of a key fish ladder at the BART line crossing that will allow adult steelhead to access the river’s headwaters. The new fish passage enhancement plan focuses...
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19
Mar

Taking a Break from the Corps

By Robin Meadows Corte Madera creek is an outsized problem for people in Ross and other towns built right up to its banks. “Our peaceful creek turns into a rushing torrent in winter,” says Chris Martin, who grew up in the small Marin County town. Finding a fix has been contentious since 1971, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers put a mile-long concrete flood control channel through Ross. “It disconnected the creek from the floodplains, wrecked the Coho salmon...
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19
Mar

Dam Tweaks Yield Results

By Alastair Bland “After one year of flows, we’re seeing lots of rainbow trout,” says Brian Sak of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC). For the first time ever, cold water is flowing steadily through Calaveras Dam in southern Alameda County, and into the creek canyon below. The return of rainbow trout to Calaveras Creek marks a milestone in an ongoing, multi-agency restoration of Alameda Creek, which drains more than 600 square miles of the East Bay. Since the...
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19
Sep

Clout and Cool Science Push Land-River Connection

By Robin Meadows Statewide, 13,000 miles of levees disconnect our rivers from their floodplains, which once served as nurseries for young salmon migrating to the ocean. California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot wants to help restore this connection. “It’s one of the most exciting parts of my job,” he said in an interview, his face lighting up in a wide smile. “It’s a win-win-win―it’s a way we can reconnect water with land, create habitat, and provide flood protection.” Before all...
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16
Aug

California Sun Podcast Interview with ESTUARY’s Editor Dives into All Things Bay & Delta on the Front Burner Today

This August the California Sun’s Jeff Schechtman interviewed ESTUARY magazine’s editor in chief Ariel Rubissow Okamoto, also a long-time Bay Area science writer, about her personal opinions on the resiliency of the largest estuary on the West Coast, the challenges facing the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, and the potential impacts of climate change and sea level rise on the San Francisco Bay.  Listen to the 20-minute podcast here. Mentions: Nutrients, Toxics, Giant Marsh, Adaptation Atlas, Resilience, Sea Level Rise impacts, BCDC...
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