Restoring coho habitat in the Garcia River estuary

Since 2015, PCI has been working with the Nature Conservancy, BLM, the Stornetta Brothers Ranch, and many other partners to restore crucial coho salmon habitat in the Garcia River estuary. The complex habitat features that young salmonids need to survive and thrive have been lost from this important estuary over time. PCI designed multiple engineered log jams and connected off-channel habitat so that juvenile coho can find refuge from high flows and find rich food resources while sheltered from predators. The project was installed last year and monitoring shows that multitudes of young fish are already using the new habitat features just as we hoped. The PCI team is thrilled to see many years’ hard work and collaboration coming to fruition! Click below to see TNC’s new video about the project and learn more.


Tricycle Magazine Covers Green Gulch Restoration

Tricycle, a renowned Buddhist journal, has published an essay exploring Green Gulch Farm’s evolving relationship with coho salmon and Green Gulch Creek – a shift in consciousness that sparked restoration efforts designed by PCI in partnership with Green Gulch Farm and the San Francisco Zen Center, with funding from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Green Gulch Creek is a tributary to Redwood Creek in Marin County, one of the last streams south of Lagunitas Creek with a remaining wild run of coho salmon. The stream flows through Green Gulch Farm, one of California’s oldest continuously certified organic farms, and a meditation center operated by the San Francisco Zen Center. Historic realignment and hardening of the stream channel had degraded instream and riparian habitat.

Wood structures for habitat in Green Gulch Creek.

The essay recounts the community’s ecological awakening upon discovery of a male coho spawning in the creek in the historically wet winter of 2004-2005. Author Bruce Byers writes:

The creek had shaped the valley and deposited the soil they were farming; and now, endangered salmon were trying to come back. “Our life as a community didn’t reflect the centrality of the creek to this place,” Sara [Tashker, Farm Manager and Longtime Resident] said. “That led us to a watershed view.”

PCI prepared a stream restoration design and assisted with securing the necessary permits and grant funding. Green Gulch Farm dedicated farmlands to the effort, which allowed the design to include a large meander through historically farmed lands. Without those dedicated lands, restoration efforts would have been limited.

Phase 1, recreation of the natural meandering channel at the downstream end, was constructed in 2014. Phase 2, reconnection of a tributary to flow back into Green Gulch Creek to restore sediment delivery and support summer streamflows, was completed in 2015. The primary focus of the project was providing summer rearing and winter refuge habitat for salmonids hatched in Green Gulch Creek as well as those rearing in the estuary area. The project also included construction of wood structures using redwood logs, rootwads, and trees salvaged onsite and revegetation of riparian and wetland habitat.

PCI is currently designing a streamflow enhancement project to improve summer rearing habitat for juvenile coho salmon in Green Gulch Creek. The project will replace on-channel storage ponds with a new off-channel water storage reservoir, eliminating the need for summer water withdrawals from Green Gulch Creek. The decrease in summer withdrawals for irrigation will provide increased water during critical times for salmonids and other aquatic wildlife. The effort is funded by the Wildlife Conservation Board and supported by Marin Resource Conservation District.

The essay describes these efforts and features a meditation on the myriad ways humans impact their surrounding landscape. Read it in its entirety here

A bird’s-eye view of the creek and habitat-enhancement design upon completion.

A similar view of the creek showing flourishing vegetation in 2023.

Restorationist of the Year – PCI’s Lauren Hammack!

PCI congratulates Lauren Hammack on winning Restorationist of the Year at the 40th Annual Salmonid Restoration Federation (SRF) Conference! SRF first presented the award in 1992 to Bill Eastwood, co-director of the Eel River Salmon Restoration Project, to honor grassroots salmonid habitat restorationists. Since 1998 SRF has honored a restorationist each year with a roast, a toast and a brass sculpture created by sculptor Dick Crane. The title reflects Lauren’s tireless work dedicated to the recovery of salmonid habitat, specifically her geomorphology design and construction work along the Ten Mile River and throughout the Garcia River estuary in recent years. Way to go Lauren! (Scroll to see more photos of Lauren’s award and other PCI shenanigans at the 2023 SRF conference. Note: All PCI-purchased swim noodles used for the skit pictured in the last photo were donated to the Sebastopol Ives Swim Pool Summer Learn-to-Swim program).

PCI at SERCAL and the Salmonid Restoration Federation Conference

PCI will be presenting at the California Society for Ecological Restoration (SERCAL) 2023 conference and the 40th Annual Salmonid Restoration Federation (SRF) conference, and we would love for you to stop by and say hi! The SERCAL conference runs April 13-15, and takes place in Davis, with a hybrid format available as well. The SRF conference is April 25-28 in Fortuna. Our presentations are highlighted below.

California Society for Ecological Restoration (SERCAL)

Saturday April 15

PCI’s Joan Schwan, MA, and Carrie Lukacic will be presenting Stage Zero Restoration Design in the Petaluma River Watershed. The presentation is part of the session: Restoring Floodplains: Thinking Outside the Channel and will take place at 11:15 am in the Flowing room.

See the SERCAL website for a full schedule.

Salmonid Restoration Federation (SRF)

Tuesday April 25

PCI’s Christopher Woltemade, PhD, will speak as part of the Flow Enhancement Workshop, presenting “Water Budget Modeling Methods: Applications to Assessing Flow Augmentation Strategies for Salmonid Recovery in California.” The workshop will delve into the science and tools available to inform the practicality of whether a flow enhancement project will deliver on long-term flow objectives given hydrogeomorphic properties and other underlying watershed conditions that contribute to inadequate summer flows.

Thursday April 27

PCI’s Justin Bodell, RLA, PC, will speak on the Mill Creek Fish Passage Project: Design, Construction
& Lessons Learned. His talk will take place in the Steelhead Room. This session on Fish Passage Design and Implementation is coordinated by PCI’s Lucas Walton, PE, as well as representatives from ESA and Michael Love and Associates. 

PCI’s Lauren Hammack will speak on the Garcia River Estuary Enhancement Project along with The Nature Conservancy’s Peter van de Burgt. The talk will cover The Nature Conservancy’s approach to
Restoration on the Mendocino Coast and will take place in the Chinook Room.

PCI is proud to be a conference co-sponsor for the Salmonid Restoration Federation conference. More information about the conference is available on SRF’s website.

PCI is hiring!

Join our talented, multidisciplinary team of designers, planners, scientists and restoration technicians in finding ecological solutions to human challenges. PCI is seeking applicants for several positions; follow the link below for more information.

Careers at PCI | Prunuske Chatham, Inc.

PCI Collaborates on California’s First Two SERP Approvals

PCI Civil Engineer Jasper Rice-Herdt documenting bank erosion along Lakeville Creek on Sonoma Land Trust property, as part of restoration planning for the site. The Lakeville Creek Restoration Project is one of the first projects in the state to utilize the new Statutory Exemption for Restoration Projects (SERP).

Ecological restoration is an essential tool in addressing urgent concerns across California, including reducing carbon in the atmosphere and protecting residents from the impacts of climate change. But regulatory compliance requirements can be significant hurdles that slow the pace of restoration. The State of California has recognized this issue and is working to streamline the regulatory process for strategic, science-based restoration projects. Two projects on which PCI has collaborated are utilizing new regulatory compliance tools developed by the State’s Cutting the Green Tape Team. In fact, these two projects — The Nature Conservancy’s Garcia River Estuary Enhancement Project and the Sonoma Land Trust’s Lakeville Creek Restoration Project — are the first two Statutory Exemption for Restoration Projects (SERP) approvals in the State. Both projects are highlighted in a recent article from San Francisco Estuary Magazine and on the CDFW Statutory Exemption for Restoration Projects (SERP) website. Read the article here, and visit CDFW’s SERP informational page, here.

In September of 2021, Governor Newsom signed Senate Bill 155, which provided a new California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) statutory exemption for restoration projects. PCI, along with partners at the Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, was instrumental in working with CDFW’s Cutting the Green Tape Team to develop the first statewide habitat restoration statutory exemption for the Garcia River Project. That project will increase the extent and value of in-channel and floodplain habitat for salmonids within the Garcia River estuary in coastal Mendocino County.

The Lakeville project in southern Sonoma County, pictured above, will restore ecological form and function that was lost from an alluvial valley due to channel incision, wetland draining, and decades of intensive grazing. The overarching project goal is to create a functioning coastal alluvial fan ecosystem that more closely resembles historic conditions, is self-sustaining, and is more resilient to climate change. The project will provide more diverse plant and wildlife habitat, allow for greater infiltration and storage of water, and increase the likelihood of sustaining wetlands into the future.

State Water Board Permit Will Accelerate Critical Habitat Work

Last month, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted a General Order and Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (PEIR) that will help PCI and our partners streamline permitting and implementation for important habitat restoration projects.

Salmonid habitat restoration projects similar to PCI’s work for the SF Zen Center, shown here, will be easier to implement with the new General Order.

The State Water Board adopted the General Order and certified the PEIR for Restoration Projects Statewide on August 16.

Previously, the State Water Board issued a general Water Quality Certification for small habitat restoration projects. Projects could only qualify if they did not exceed five acres or a cumulative total of 500 linear feet of stream bank or coastline. Larger restoration projects often had to obtain individual water quality certifications and/or waste discharge requirements, and securing individual authorization was time-consuming and increased the cost of regulatory compliance.

The adoption of the new General Order and accompanying PEIR was eagerly anticipated according to PCI Principal Environmental Planner/Project Manager Carrie Lukacic.

“The General Order not only makes it easier and less cumbersome to secure a permit from the Regional Water Board, it may provide CEQA compliance for restoration projects,” she says. “We are excited to work with our local folks at the Regional Water Board and look forward to introducing the use of available permitting efficiencies to others not as familiar with the use of the tools available for permitting restoration activities. We now have a method to permit both large- and small-scale restoration, which should help increase the pace and scale of critical habitat improvement needs.”

The General Order will provide coverage for the following kinds of restoration projects:
-Improvements to Stream Crossings and Fish Passage
-Removal of Small Dams, Tide Gates, Flood Gates, and Legacy Structures
-Bioengineered Bank Stabilization
-Restoration and Enhancement of Off-Channel and Side-Channel Habitat
-Water Conservation Projects
-Floodplain Restoration
-Removal or Remediation of Pilings and Other In-Water Structures
-Removal of Nonnative Terrestrial and Aquatic Invasive Species and   Revegetation with Native Plants
-Establishment, Restoration, and Enhancement of Tidal, Subtidal, and Freshwater Wetlands
-Establishment, Restoration, and Enhancement of Stream and Riparian Habitat
-Upslope Watershed Sites

A bird’s-eye view of the habitat-enhancement design for the SF Zen Center.

Before/After at Napa Creek

Before/After is a series where we highlight the long-lasting impact of our restoration work.

Instream elements that PCI installed with Proven Management shortly after construction.

Vigorous willow growth and a notable uptick in wildlife recently covered by the Napa Valley Register are two indicators that Napa Creek – a project PCI worked on in 2013 – is becoming the revitalized, healthy waterway that project engineers envisioned two decades ago.

PCI was hired to work with Proven Management to assist with instream elements of the project, under Proven Management’s contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. PCI worked with Proven Management to install rock rootwad revetment structures, bank log pockets, log barbs and rock V-weirs throughout the creek in downtown Napa.

Construction underway after dewatering.
Logs being prepared for use.
The rock rootwad revetment structures.

The City of Napa has historically been prone to destructive and deadly flooding events. According to FEMA, a total of 19 floods caused more than $542 million in residential property damage between 1961 and 1997; that total doesn’t include economic losses in the tourism industry, environmental damage, or loss of life. The Napa River/Napa Creek Flood Protection Project was voted into reality by the passage of Napa County Measure A in 1998. The half-cent local sales tax levy provided a funding mechanism for the local share of the project cost and funded flood protection, drainage improvements, dam safety, and watershed management projects, and helped to strengthen a partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Project engineers envisioned a healthy waterway as the centerpiece of Napa; PCI’s work in 2013 helped to make that vision a reality.

Fast-forward ten years, and the project area is thriving. PCI Principal Engineer Lucas Walton recently visited the site and observed that while the weirs haven’t changed, the rootwad revetment is no longer visible because the willows have grown so vigorously

“It is pretty amazing to see how the site has changed and how the local ecology is thriving as a result of the project,” he says.

See the before/after images, below.

A view of the rock weir, rootwad revetment structure and willow plantings shortly after construction, then in 2022.

Another view of the rootwad revetment structure, then the same spot blanketed by willows in 2022.

Before/After at the Oken Property

Welcome to Before/After, a series where we showcase the long-lasting impact of our restoration work.

In 2017, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District (Ag + Open Space) proposed a riparian restoration project on its 76-acre Oken property. The property is located on Petaluma Hill Road, along the northeastern edge of Rohnert Park in Sonoma County. The grassland supports grazing and acts as a bowl for several drainages running down from the surrounding hills. Erosion wasn’t historically a problem, but housing development, the routing of a small stream through roadway culverts and open grazing of the tributaries in recent years had combined to channelize the waterways that cut across the property, creating several steep head cuts.

Before, with active headcuts and erosion

PCI’s biology, design, engineering and planning teams worked together to prepare a plan that would restore the waterways. Their collective vision involved bioengineered repairs, rock grade control, an arch culvert livestock crossing, wildlife firefly fencing and an abundance of willows.

Before urbanization, intermittent tributaries like the ones at Oken would have formed a series of distributary channels that would fan out as they exited the foothills, storing sediment and recharging groundwater. Despite the erosion, an alluvial fan still existed on the property, but it was incised with particularly prominent headcuts. Designers envisioned a willow “sausal” transition for this area (sausal means willow in Spanish, and refers to a thick willow grove). The eroding bank would be re-contoured with soil fill and the disturbed area would be covered with coir blanket and coir mat over native grass seed. A willow thicket would stabilize the slope and allow flows to continue fanning out through use of a bioengineering technique using living willow brush sills and wattles before draining into the main channel. Willow poles would be planted to create the thicket above the sills. At the toe of the slope, along the main channel, two brush sills would be placed with willow wattle anchors.

Willow sausal after construction

PCI’s design plans also called for the construction of three rock stabilization structures. A drop inlet at the downstream end of the swale in the southwestern corner of the property would be protected with a rock basin. Headcuts in the southern end of the property and in main channel toward the center of the property would be repaired. An incised channel segment upstream in the main drainage would be restored with soil fill to create a stable channel bed.

Willow sausal in May 2022

As part of the design process, PCI looked at potential opportunities for additional habitat enhancement, and provided recommendations for wildlife-friendly grazing infrastructure and management of invasive plant infestations.

Construction was completed in 2021; Hanford ARC was the contractor, and PCI’s planning team secured all necessary permits. About 1,000 plugs of native rush and sedge were planted along the newly fenced out creeks by Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed (STRAW), a program of Point Blue Conservation Science that brings ecological education and opportunities to participate in restoration to local schools.

Willows planted as part of the sausal restoration will be assessed each year for five years after planting. In summer, survivorship and growth of willow plantings will be recorded and general observations of plant health noted. In May of 2022, the sausal area appeared lush and green, and the stabilized waterway showed no signs of erosion.

PCI’s construction crew continues to care for the property by removing invasive thistle, mowing firebreaks, and weedeating around the plantings. When crew members arrived on-site in May of this year, the property’s inhabitants — and original weedeaters — insisted on checking out their equipment.

PCI is hiring!

Join our amazing team of designers, scientists and restoration technicians to take an active role in restoring our natural world. PCI is seeking applicants for several positions, follow the link below for more information.

Careers at PCI

PCIers on the Mill Creek site