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$1.4 Million Dig to Aid Chinooks

Sacramento Region, CA (MPG)  |  Story and photos by Susan Maxwell Skinner
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Giant earthmovers relocate gravel in river shallows near Ancil Hoffman Park. The project will recreate natural spawning riffles for endangered migratory fish.

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Water Forum Program Manager Erica Bishop (left) and communications officer Christine Kohn inspect habitat restoration sites in Carmichael reaches of the American River.

SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - In one of the largest movements of American River sediment since the Gold Rush, a Water Forum project is relocating nearly 16,000 cubic yards of gravel in shallows near Ancil Hoffman Park.

Huge excavators, dump trucks and bulldozers have worked against the clock to restore diminished fish spawning habitats before this fall’s salmon run. By November, giant Chinooks will return–hell-bent on reproduction–by the thousands to home waters. Soon after, steelhead arrive for the same purpose. Because Nimbus and Folsom dams curtail migration, spawning must occur in river shallows before these obstacles–or be achieved artificially at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery.  “We have a narrow work window, as specified by the Endangered Species Act,” explains Water Forum Program manager Erica Bishop. “Our work is targeted over a time frame when it’s least likely to affect resident fish.”

Forming a giant alcove upstream from the golf course, the augmented Ancil Hoffman riffle will provide fish increased gravel areas for redd (nest) building.

“Salmon and steelhead have traditionally spawned in this area,” Bishop explains. “Over time, rivers move sediment and these gravel beds have become degraded. Because of the dams, new sediment can’t replace what’s moved downstream. The lower American River is gravel-starved. Fish don’t have sufficient breeding habitat. Some return to their home river and find nowhere to spawn.”

The $1.4 million Water Forum project is one of many restoration programs that support endangered anadromous species that begin and end lifecycles in the American River. Thousands of tons of gravel – sorted to exactly the size preferred by nesting fish – will create an 11-acre alcove at Ancil Hoffman. When temporary levies are bulldozed and water rises, new riffles will accommodate salmon and steelhead breeding. The development includes a rearing inlet to host growing juveniles before their spring swim to the Pacific Ocean. Planting of willows, cottonwood and other native vegetation will bring insects to feed fry. Riverside trails at the Effie Yeaw Nature Center will be improved to allow public observation.

Similar restorations have achieved success at Sailor Bar, River Bend Park, Sacramento Bar and at Nimbus and Sunrise stretches of the American River. “Our surveys count the number of redds in the river and juvenile fish,” says Bishop. “We know restored habitats are being used. Although we have low water flows due to drought this year, our project is focused on long term improvement of river habitat.”

The Ancil Hoffman project is funded by the Bureau of Reclamation. Sacramento City, Sacramento County and local water agencies fund the Water Forum.

Construction areas are off limits for public access. Work-in-progress may be viewed from trails at Effie Yeaw Nature Center preserve. Learn about the Water Forum at www. www.waterforum.org