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Posted 11/25/2013

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By J.D. Hardesty

GEYSERVILLE, Ca. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Sonoma County Water Agency released 2,000 juvenile Coho salmon into the new Dry Creek fish habitat restoration and enhancement areas downstream from Warm Springs Dam Nov. 22.

The fish release was the first time fish have been released in the Dry Creek enhancement areas below Warm Springs Dam and Lake Sonoma.

Other partners who joined in the endangered Coho salmon fish release included the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Dry Creek Rancheria Band of the Pomo, Construction Services Group, landowners and other stakeholders who have collaborated together on a 6-mile project to enhance native fish habitat along Dry Creek in response to the Russian River Biological Opinion.

The Dry Creek area is ancestral tribal grounds for the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of the Pomo Indians. Tribal leaders and elders participated in releasing the fish. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers San Francisco District leased 27 acres to the Pomo where they can hold cultural celebrations on their former homeland.

“This is a project, that, although it doesn’t represent a large dollar value in our overall portfolio of projects, it is a very, very important project,” San Francisco District Commander Lt. Col. John K. Baker told the 85-plus partners and stakeholders who participated in releasing the endangered Coho into the constructed backwater areas of the creek. “About a year ago, a lot of us were here and we did a ground breaking ceremony. So here we are a year later and we are not doing a ribbon cutting ceremony, we are actually releasing fish, which is better than cutting a ribbon.”

The San Francisco District completed the “Reach 15” section of the Dry Creek Restoration Project at Lake Sonoma in August. This 1,600-foot, $1.8 million portion, constructed by Construction Services Group, was built on Corps of Engineers property downstream from the Warm Springs Dam outlet works.

The Russian River watershed was selected as the first Habitat Focus Area under NOAA’s Habitat Blueprint as the organization’s habitat conservation science and management efforts work to meet multiple conservation objectives on a watershed scale.

The overall aim is to enhance Coho habitat which provides low-flow refuge for young salmon to rest and feed between Warm Springs Dam and its Russian River confluence. The fish will be monitored closely in the coming months before they head downstream toward the ocean.
“Hopefully, in two or three years we're going to be back here and watch them return” to spawn, water agency General Manager Grant Davis said.
The majority of land on Dry Creek is privately-owned, so cooperation with landowners is essential to meet the required six miles of habitat enhancement. The two projects completed this summer at the “Reach 15” project and at the Dry Creek Vineyards, as well as a winter-refuge project completed in 2012 at Quivira Vineyards and Winery, will be used to study how the enhancements work on a small scale, prior to construction of the complete six-mile enhancement required in National Marine Fisheries Service’s Russian River Biological Opinion.

“Releasing young Coho salmon into the new habitat enhancements constructed by the Water Agency is a big milestone,” said Sonoma County Supervisor and Water Agency Director Mike McGuire. “It’s a testament to the cooperation and commitment of private landowners who have partnered with us on this project; this would not have been a success without them.”

The district's Russian River Coho Salmon Brood Stock program, located at the Don Clausen Fish Hatchery raises and releases and estimated 175,000 Endangered Coho and 300,000 threatened Steelhead into the Russian River Watershed annually.

For more information on the Dry Creek Restoration Project or the Russian River Coho Salmon Brood Stock program please visit http://www.spn.usace.army.mil/.

For more information on the Dry Creek Restoration Project or the Sonoma County Water Agency please visit http://www.scwa.ca.gov/drycreek.