In an ambitious effort to restore watershed and boost native fish species in California, a collaboration between state, federal, and local agencies has been agreed. This agreement sets in motion a plan to reestablish a vital habitat in the North Yuba River for the endangered spring-run Chinook salmon, which have been absent for over a century.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), under the Newsom Administration, the Yuba Water Agency, and NOAA Fisheries are key partners in this initiative. Together, they aim to end years of conflict over water resources and embark on a comprehensive recovery plan for imperiled fish.
The agreement involves a number of important actions including the construction of a new fishway—a channel resembling a natural river that salmon, steelhead, sturgeon, and lamprey can follow. This bypass will be built around the Daguerre Point Dam, managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, giving fish access to more than 10 miles of spawning habitat.
In addition, a modernized water diversion will be constructed at Daguerre Point Dam to supply irrigation water south of the lower Yuba River. This system will protect fish passing the intake. A comprehensive reintroduction program for the spring-run Chinook salmon will also be initiated, aiming to reintroduce them to their original North Yuba River habitat above New Bullards Bar Reservoir as early as 2025.
The agencies have pledged a minimum of $60 million towards the restoration efforts. Part of this funding will be provided by the Newsom Administration and allocated by the California Legislature for river connectivity and salmon benefits.
California’s Central Valley once supported vast populations of spring-run Chinook salmon, contributing significantly to the fisheries and economy of the West Coast. Currently, two federal dams prevent these fish species from reaching their historic spawning grounds. The new restoration plan will address this issue by constructing a fishway around Daguerre Point Dam and initiating a comprehensive program to reintroduce the salmon.
The project is also set to provide more reliable and consistent river flows, which will increase the likelihood of successful spawning and rearing in the habitat. The expectation is to finalize a settlement based on the framework agreement by the end of 2023.
CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham emphasized the transformative potential of the agreement: “This agreement envisions a much-improved big picture of a restored watershed, with surging rivers and healthy fish populations once again.”
Meanwhile, Jennifer Quan, Regional Administrator in NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region, highlighted the importance of the initiative in increasing the resiliency of native Chinook salmon to climate change, while Willie Whittlesey, General Manager of Yuba Water Agency, underscored the value of collaboration and environmental stewardship in advancing the needs of salmon and other native fish species.