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PACIFIC SOUTHWEST REGION: Dam Removal in Tehama County Helps Landowner and Fish
California-Nevada Offices , December 1, 2014
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An 80 year-old diversion dam on the South Fork of Cottonwood Creek in Tehama County was demolished in September as part of a multi-agency fish passage project.
An 80 year-old diversion dam on the South Fork of Cottonwood Creek in Tehama County was demolished in September as part of a multi-agency fish passage project. - Photo Credit: Tricia Parker Hamelberg/USFWS
The dam removal project has restored access for anadromous fish to an additional five miles of historic holding, spawning and rearing stream habitat.
The dam removal project has restored access for anadromous fish to an additional five miles of historic holding, spawning and rearing stream habitat. - Photo Credit: Tricia Parker Hamelberg/USFWS
Prior to dam demolition, resident fish and other aquatic species near the dam site were relocated. Environmental monitoring, erosion control and planting of riparian vegetation were conducted as resource protection measures, and to comply with the terms and conditions of the environmental permits.
Prior to dam demolition, resident fish and other aquatic species near the dam site were relocated. Environmental monitoring, erosion control and planting of riparian vegetation were conducted as resource protection measures, and to comply with the terms and conditions of the environmental permits. - Photo Credit: Tricia Parker Hamelberg/USFWS

By Cindy Sandoval

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is one of the only government agencies whose mission statement includes “working with others.” The Service recognizes that saving the nation’s wildlife and their habitat requires close partnerships with other agencies and private landowners. One recent partnership with California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and a private landowner near Red Bluff, Calif., helped open an additional five miles of spawning habitat for steelhead by removing a small hydropower dam.

In the 1930s, Harold Hammer’s grandfather built a dam across the South Fork Cottonwood Creek, a 45-mile long tributary to mainstem Cottonwood Creek that is a major tributary of the Sacramento River, to provide power to his rural home. The dam was constructed with cement and readily available material like stream rocks, car bumpers and other pieces of scrap metal. The dam was connected via a 200-foot hand dug tunnel to a powerhouse. With this design, the home was supplied with a reliable power source for more than 7 decades.

However, the original dam design did not take into account salmon and steelhead habitat located upstream. In the 1970s the California Department of Fish and Game identified the dam as a fish migration barrier and the agency’s staff worked with Hammer to build a fish ladder to aid fish in their spawning migration. After years of use the ladder had fallen into disrepair.

With historical data showing that the area upstream of the dam was once significant spawning habitat, the Service set out to find a way to open the area to fish once again while still ensuring that the landowner was able to meet their power and water supply needs.

“We wanted to provide additional spawning habitat for fish and after talking to the landowner, Mr. Hammer, we found out he was very interested in helping fish as well,” said Tricia Parker Hamelberg Fisheries Biologist for the Service.

With the landowner willing to help, the next step in the ambitious plan was designing a solution that would supply Hammer with power and water in the dams’ absence. The rural location of the property presented Service biologists with a unique dilemma: how to get power to an area that lacked access to a power grid and how to divert water with a fish screen that met the current Endangered Species Act regulatory standards? The answer, a Fish–Rite fish screen, energy efficiency upgrades and solar panels.

With funding through the Central Valley Project Improvement Act’s Anadromous Fish Restoration Program, the fish screen, solar panels and other supplies were purchased. In addition, the Service also has funds available to work on fish passage projects through the National Fish Passage Program and the California Fish Passage Forum, a nationally recognized Fish Habitat Partnership. Donnie Ratcliff, a biologist with the fish passage program, explained that “the Sevice’s Fish Passage Program and the Forum help fund innovative projects for landowners who want to help return native fish population to their historic range." "it is a great partnership approach to conservation,” he said.

With the help of CDFW and NHC Northwest Hydraulic Consultants/Cascade Stream Solutions the dam was removed with explosives on September 19th. Prior to demolition, Service and CDFW staff collected aquatic species like frogs, tadpoles and fish from around the dam so the explosion would not affect the animals. The aquatic animals were moved 500 feet upstream above a block net until the dam was demolished. After the dam was demolished, 2600 pounds of scrap metal was collected and removed and the solar panels were installed. And days afterward, a heavy rain storm helped wash out some of the larger pieces of dam debris and opened access for fish to the upper reaches of the South Fork of Cottonwood Creek.

“I was happy to help these salmon return to a stretch of creek that was once their home, and the fact that I could still get the power and water I needed helped me feel alright about demolishing my grandfather’s dam,” said Hammer.

Hamelberg added, “we really appreciate this landowner’s willingness to improve fish habitat on his private property and comply with the modern regulations for proper fish screening at water diversions, the new fish screen will help juvenile salmon or steelhead during their downstream migration”.

Hamelberg served as Project Manager for the past three years through engineering alternatives analysis/design, environmental compliance, permitting and implementation. Hamelberg and the other biologists working for the Anadromous Fish Restoration Program hope that additional landowners will work with the Service on fish passage projects like this one in the future.

Biologists expect that fish will start returning to spawn in the newly opened area as soon as winter rains are sufficient for upstream migration of adult steelhead. Removing a dam is no small task but by reaching out to landowners and working to reach mutual beneficial goals, even dam removals are possible.


Cindy Sandoval is a public affairs specialist at the Pacific Southwest Regional Office in Sacramento.


Contact Info: Cynthia Sandoval, 916-978-6159, cynthia_d_sandoval@fws.gov



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