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BAY-DELTA FWO: Gravel Replenishment Program Helps Maintain Chinook Salmon and Steelhead Habitat
California-Nevada Offices , November 30, 2011
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On the Lower American River near Sacramento. A front-end loader distributes gravel to achieve designed depth and velocity ranges appropriate for salmon and steelhead spawning.
On the Lower American River near Sacramento. A front-end loader distributes gravel to achieve designed depth and velocity ranges appropriate for salmon and steelhead spawning. - Photo Credit: USFWS
Biologist Julie Zimmerman of the Bay-Delta Fish and Wildlife Office in Sacramento, one of the program’s co-leads.
Biologist Julie Zimmerman of the Bay-Delta Fish and Wildlife Office in Sacramento, one of the program’s co-leads. - Photo Credit: USFWS

By Steve Martarano, Bay-Delta FWO

It’s not easy finding new quality spawning and rearing habitat for endangered species such as Chinook salmon and steelhead. That’s why the Central Valley Project Improvement Act’s (CVPIA) Gravel Replenishment Program, implemented by the Department of the Interior (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation) and other agencies, is so important.

“Good quality spawning and rearing habitat for Chinook salmon and steelhead is limited on the Lower American River,” said  Biologist Julie Zimmerman of the Bay-Delta Fish and Wildlife Office (FWO) in Sacramento, one of the program’s co-leads. Bay-Delta FWO staff worked on the month-long project in September on the American River in the vicinity of the Sailor Bar Recreation Area, near Sacramento. There were gravel placement projects on the Stanislaus and Sacramento Rivers as well in 2011.

Every year since 2008, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) and its partners, designed and implemented a gravel addition project in cooperation with other agencies’ involvement. Zimmerman currently serves as a co-lead along with John Hannon of BOR. The other Bay-Delta FWO participant is Hydrologist Craig Anderson, who, along with Zimmerman, is on the American River Gravel Team.

“In general, I lead the program's monitoring and adaptive management,” Zimmerman said, “while the other co-lead, John, focuses more on design and implementation, although we both work on all aspects.”

Zimmerman said that a primary reason for the lack of habitat is the Central Valley Project (CVP) dams (Folsom and Nimbus) block gravel from upriver and don't allow it to move downstream to spawning locations. Zimmerman said they are using gravel “that had been removed from the river during gold mining operations in the 1800s, so we're adding back a resource that was originally part of the American River. “

“In this program we add gravel to the river in a manner that maximizes the area with suitable depth, velocity, and substrate size for spawning Chinook salmon and steelhead,” Zimmerman said. “We monitor spawning in locations where we add gravel. We have seen that salmon really do use the areas with gravel additions, usually in the same year that the gravel was added. It's a great way to mitigate for habitat effects of the CVP dams under the authority of CVPIA, and through monitoring we can tell that it works.”

Zimmerman’s 2011 Gravel Replenishment Program project was on the Lower American River 1.5 miles downstream of the Hazel Avenue Bridge. Over 10,000 tons of cleaned, sorted gravel and another 10,000 tons of larger rock were added to the American River in a designed placement to provide immediate spawning habitat for Chinook salmon and steelhead.

The program is planning to do another project on the American River in 2012, Zimmerman said, adding that details have yet to be finalized.


The American River gravel program team also includes personnel from several state and federal agencies. The team provides input on most aspects of each year's project, including selecting project sites, project designs, monitoring, and adaptive management plans. They provide input to the team leaders, who make the decisions on what is implemented and funded (through the CVPIA).


 


Contact Info: Steve Martarano, 916-930-5643, steve_martarano@fws.gov



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