We began work today on Northern California’s Stanislaus River to build several Chinook salmon spawning riffles and juvenile holding areas.
The gravel restoration work is being done by Dennis Hood of KDH Environmental, for whom I’m working as a consultant, and should give the river, which is a tributary to California’s San Joaquin River, a huge shot in the arm from a fishery enhancement standpoint.
Several riffles were built in the river’s upper reaches some years back and they helped bring the wild Chinook population back from near extinction (the run was down to something 200 fish) to a run that now numbers anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 fish annually.
The major obstacle facing the river’s Chinook has long been the lack of suitable spawning gravel. Since New Melones, Tulloch and Goodwin Dams were built back in the 1950’s, the river has been scoured out, channelized and new gravel recruitment has dropped to nil.
Here’s a “before” picture of one of our riffle sites — as you can see, the river is pretty much featureless here, slow and sluggish and there’s not a speck of good spawning habitat. That’s all about to change and I’ll include some “after” shots in future postings.
The Stan has plenty of cold water throughout the summer and fall, so there’s potential for good spawning — if the fish have the proper gravel. Over the next month or so, we’ll be building and enhancing riffles in a 2-mile stretch of river, and, hopefully, things will be all ready to go when this year’s crop of adult salmon returns.
It’s an extremely cool project — and one which has very obvious benefits to the fish. I’m proud to be a part of it and look forward to watching the river come back to life.
I’ll keep you updated as to our progress.