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.”
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.