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Team Effort: Landowners, State & Local Agencies Restore Habitat

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Team Effort: Landowners, State  & Local Agencies Restore Habitat

By Barry Dugan

A dramatic transformation is taking place along the banks of Dry Creek, a main tributary of the Russian River located west of Healdsburg. The Sonoma County Water Agency, private landowners, state, and restore Habitat federal agencies are all working together to create a series of habitat enhancements in the creek to improve conditions for endangered coho salmon and threatened chinook salmon and steelhead. 

Dry Creek flows for 14 miles from the Warm Springs Dam to its confluence with the Russian River. Historically, the creek would run dry in the summer (hence its name), but in winter the creek could cause devastating floods throughout the valley. Those conditions changed when Warm Springs Dam was completed in 1984. Dry Creek now flows out of Lake Sonoma year-round, and is a key delivery component for the Water Agency to supply water to its 600,000 customers.  


While the dam was designed to provide water supply, flood control and recreation benefits, it has also altered the conditions for fish in the creek. Biologists with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) have determined that the current water velocities in Dry Creek in the summer are too high for the young salmon and steelhead. Under the terms of the Russian River Biological Opinion, the document that lays out a plan for the recovery of threatened and endangered fish species in the Russian River watershed, the Water Agency has undertaken the Dry Creek Habitat Enhancement Project. The project is creating habitat features that include low-velocity areas for juvenile coho and steelhead along six miles of the 14-mile length of the creek. The US Army Corps of Engineers is a partner with

 the Water Agency on the project.

The first mile of habitat features was completed in 2014, with additional features planned for construction this summer. Backwater pools and side channels were built to slow the speed of the water and create refuge for young fish during high summer and winter flows. Riffles and boulder fields were constructed in the creek to slow and vary water velocity. These features are constructed using natural materials such as logs, large root wads and rocks. Bank stabilization features reduce erosion and will provide vegetation cover as plants mature. 

Because most of the land in the Dry Creek Valley is privately owned, the cooperation of private landowners is essential to the success of the project. So far, nearly a dozen landowners have participated in the project and upcoming phases of the project are moving forward with the continued support and interest of property owners.

The Water Agency must also demonstrate to NMFS and CDFW that the project is meeting the requirements of the Biological Opinion. To that end, the Water Agency is monitoring and evaluating the project to demonstrate that the habitat enhancement improvements are effective. Snorkel surveys will determine if the habitat enhancements are improving the production and survival of steelhead and coho salmon in Dry Creek. Other types of monitoring will gauge the summer and winter use of the habitat, and the growth and survival of young fish. 

Planning and designs are underway for the next five miles of habitat enhancement along Dry Creek. Projects along miles two and three are scheduled for completion by 2017. In 2018 the project will be evaluated for success, and the final three miles of habitat enhancement are scheduled for completion by 2020.