Practical, Innovative Programs that Restore Critical Spawning and Rearing Habitat for Salmon

Golden State Salmon Association works on the ground to facilitate practical, innovative programs that restore critical spawning and rearing habitat for salmon. Through partnerships, all habitat restoration projects are designed to reestablish functional side channels and floodplains to rivers and streams.

We’ll never reclaim the 80% of historic salmon habitat behind the dams but there is lots of potential for improvement below the dams.

Among other improvements, the salmon rebuilding plan stresses the need to restore areas along the edges of Central Valley rivers where baby salmon can safely feed, grow, and hide from predators.

Side channels, featuring lower velocity flows and overhanging trees and brush where insects cluster, have been lost in man’s effort to tame and hem in the rivers and streams.  GSSA calls for restoration of these beneficial rearing areas.

There is good evidence that well fed baby salmon survive better than hungry, skinny, baby salmon.  Baby salmon able to access remaining flood plains see higher survival and better chances of reaching the ocean.

Aerial photographs make clear that many former parts of the Central Valley river beds, now dried out behind dikes and levees or plugged by gravel, can be restored by moving a little earth.  The greatest opportunities to restore side channels and rearing areas, as called for in the GSSA plan, are in the upper parts of the Sacramento, Feather, American and Yuba rivers. The Sutter bypass, which is basically a flood plain currently available to Butte Creek, and sometimes Sacramento and Feather River salmon, could be made more accessible to runs from the Sacramento, Feather and Yuba rivers with minor modifications.

The Yolo Bypass west of Sacramento holds the greatest potential rearing area in the Central Valley.  Its value for growing baby salmon is so high that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) required state and federal water managers to modify barriers separating it from the Sacramento River to make it more accessible in the 2009 biological opinion. GSSA echoes this call as a very important action identified in our salmon rebuilding plan. Flood control barriers that separate the Sacramento River from the Yolo Bypass can be lowered to allow this.  In addition to rich feeding grounds for juvenile salmon, the Yolo Bypass drains to the western Delta at a point safely beyond the area where the Delta pumps can pull baby salmon off their natural migration course.  This provides a major benefit to baby salmon exiting the Central Valley through the bypass instead of through the Delta.