Willow Creek Featured in Bay Nature Magazine

Willow Creek, a tributary to the Russian River’s estuary in Sonoma County, has a distressing but familiar history with respect to salmon and steelhead populations. Logging and agriculture prior to 1900 increased surface erosion; subsequent channel modifications trapped sediment. Today, so much sediment has accumulated that it has buried key habitat for juveniles, eliminating pools and restricting migration routes as fish navigate toward the ocean.

A diverse coalition of federal, state and local organizations is working to bring salmon and steelhead back. PCI has participated in an ongoing, multi-pronged approach to ecological restoration in the watershed since the mid-1990s. Now, a fresh injection of federal dollars will aid in the continued restoration of this crucial habitat, as outlined in this Bay Nature article.

“[Gold Ridge RCD] has received $8.4 million in federal money from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to begin undoing some of the impacts of roads, farms, and logging along two key tributaries to the Russian River,” writes Alistair Bland, author of the article. “The funding comes as part of $491 million now being doled out over the next five years to marine and aquatic habitat-restoration projects around the country.”

PCI is assisting Gold Ridge RCD in designing and permitting this critical work, which may involve restoring off-channel ponds, increasing channel connectivity,  or building wood structures to provide refuge and habitat complexity.

“A year or more will pass before much of this work even begins, as the grant will largely support assessment and planning,” the article states. “[B]ut the hope is to start nudging the needle toward coho recovery.”

Read the full story here.

Bank Softening (aka Using Explosives) to Initiate Channel Widening

PCI has been working with The Nature Conservancy since 2013 to plan, design and implement restoration projects to recover populations of salmon in the lower Ten Mile River watershed. The overarching premise for this series of projects is that off-channel rearing habitat and winter high-flow refugia are often severely limited in alluvial valleys where the channels have become simplified and disconnected from their floodplains, and recovery of salmon populations is dependent upon restoring this habitat and the processes that form and maintain it. Off-channel ponds, side channels, flooded wetlands, low-elevation floodplains, and complex in-channel habitat associated with large wood are the habitat features that provide the low-velocity environment that coho juveniles need to survive and thrive.

A video created by TOPO Collective for PCI follows the first phase of the mainstem Ten Mile project’s formal design and construction. This phase, funded by a private foundation, included several approaches to initiate channel widening and complex habitat development within a narrow, straight channel reach with simplified bed and banks; the banks are roughly 15 feet high, vertical, and locked into place by mature alder trees. One approach: constructing large engineered log jams to pinch the channel and divert flow into the banks. The flow would then scour the banks and cause trees to topple.

“The other approach we took was almost a sarcastic suggestion,” says PCI Principal Geomorphologist Lauren Hammack in the video. “It was, ‘Well, maybe we should just blow the trees up.’” So we did (in a controlled, safe and thoughtful fashion).

The video follows this novel technique, called bank softening, through conversations with regulators around safety, timing and potential impacts to any wildlife in the area, coordination with California Department of Fish and Wildlife blasting specialists, and blasting day itself. Bank softening loosens the soil in the bank while removing the mature trees and their root wads, making the banks more erosive. High flows can then provide more scour. While it might sound extreme, the technique has the potential to provide substantial habitat improvement. Use of explosives kickstarts the beneficial geomorphic processes of bank retreat and channel widening and rapidly recruits large wood into the channel for coho juveniles. Alders are abundant nearby and can regenerate rapidly after disturbance, so felling selected trees will not harm the riparian forest.

“California Department of Fish and Wildlife staff were very excited to try [the approach],” Hammack says in the video.  Our agency partners (CDFW, State Water Board, NOAA Fisheries, NOAA Restoration Center, and the Corps) were all supportive of experimenting with using explosives to soften the channel banks. “Where we’re at right now is that novel and out-of-the-box approaches – they’re willing to consider them and try them.”

Watch the video below.

PCI | Ten Mile Blasting from TOPO Collective on Vimeo.

Lakeville Creek Restoration – Construction Phase Complete

A deeply incised, eroding channel on Sonoma Land Trust’s Sears Point Ranch Preserve and the adjacent Sonoma Raceway property has been restored, marking the completion of the earthwork phase of the innovative Lakeville Creek project, and setting the stage for the next step:  planting the site with over 30,000 native wetland and wet meadow plants.

A new video from SLT features PCI Civil Engineer Lucas Walton explaining part of the earthwork process for the project, which included moving roughly 9000 cubic yards (or about 900 dump truck loads) of soil. Watch the video below!

PCI has been working with Sonoma Land Trust (SLT) since 2020 to design and plan this restoration effort. The goal of the project is to restore a degraded coastal grassland valley and alluvial fan back to its historic wet meadow complex condition by filling the channel. The site is on the northwestern edge of San Pablo Bay, just above the historic bay margin, and extends 4,200 feet up from Lakeville Highway. This restoration approach – known as “Stage Zero” – has returned the valley to its original grade (or close to it), and provided the conditions for natural establishment of a branching network of shallow channels, wetlands, and wet meadow.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) provided funding for the design, planning and the construction efforts. During the planning phase of the project, PCI completed biological evaluations, developed the design, secured ecological permits from numerous agencies, and helped SLT apply for grant funding. Construction was provided by Dixon Marine Services. Sonoma County served as lead agency to complete a Statutory Exemption for Restoration Projects to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act. Many other partners have also contributed to this effort.

SLT Video Features Lakeville Creek Project

PCI has been working with Sonoma Land Trust (SLT) since 2020 to design and plan an innovative restoration effort on SLT’s Sears Point Ranch Preserve and the adjacent Sonoma Raceway. The project is just completing construction by Dixon Marine Services, and SLT just released a video previewing the project, with more footage to come soon.

The goal of the project is to restore a degraded coastal grassland valley and alluvial fan – which has eroded into a deeply incised channel called Lakeville Creek – back to a wet meadow complex. The site is on the northwestern edge of San Pablo Bay, just above the historic bay margin, and extends 4,200 feet up from Lakeville Highway. This “Stage Zero” restoration approach will bring the valley back to its original grade (or close to it), and provide the conditions for natural establishment of an anastomosing network of shallow channels, wetlands, and wet meadow.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) provided funding for both the design and planning phase, and the current construction effort. During the planning phase of the project, PCI completed biological evaluations, secured permits, and helped SLT apply for grant funding.

Watch the video below to learn more about Lakeville Creek and this fascinating restoration approach!

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.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/vmJRJ9RvY7k

 

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.