Westlands, DWR Complete Delta Restoration Project

  • by Westlands Water District
  • Nov 18, 2020

As contemplated by California EcoRestore, which was launched in 2015 to advance 30,000 acres of critical habitat restoration and enhancement in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and Westlands Water District (Westlands) completed construction of the Lower Yolo Restoration Project (Project).

In partnership with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the United States Bureau of Reclamation, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Project restored and enhanced approximately 2,100 acres of former cattle pastureland in the Lower Yolo Bypass into tidal marsh, riparian, and upland buffer habitat that will provide new sources of food and shelter for native fish, including smelt and salmon.

“The completion of this project shows the importance of collaboration when it comes to water management,” said Ted Craddock, DWR Deputy Director of the State Water Project. “When multiple organizations can work as partners in managing how we deliver and move water throughout the state, finding solutions that benefit humans, native species and the environment are possible.”

The Lower Yolo Restoration Project has four primary objectives:

  • Provide ecosystem functions associated with the combination of Delta freshwater aquatic/tidal marsh/floodplain/seasonal wetland/lowland grassland interfaces that existed historically,
  • Enhance regional food web productivity in support of Delta smelt recovery,
  • Provide rearing habitats for out-migrating salmonids,
  • Support a broad range of other aquatic and wetland-dependent species, including Sacramento splittail and Swainson’s hawk.

To restore and enhance the habitat, the Project removed or modified a number of water control infrastructure and agricultural irrigation structures, excavated new tidal channels and swales to connect the restored and enhanced tidal marsh and riparian habitat areas to nearby tidal water and to the neighboring Yolo Flyway Farms Tidal Habitat Restoration Project. In total, the Project comprises:

  • 1,682 acres of tidal marsh restoration
  • 364 acres of transitional upland buffer habitat
  • 47 acres of enhanced existing riparian habitat
  • 35 acres of existing tidal marsh enhancement

“Westlands Water District has long believed that restoration of water supplies for large areas of California requires that we address all of the factors that limit the abundance of native, at-risk fish species in the Delta,” said Tom Birmingham, Westlands’ General Manager. He added, “Completion of this project is a significant step in that direction, and it represents collaboration among numerous fish and wildlife and water agencies.”

Westlands purchased the Lower Yolo Ranch property in 2007 with the intention of restoring the property to rearing, breeding and refuge habitats for a number of native species, including smelt and salmonids. Although it took approximately 13 years to plan and permit the Project, the construction work to restore the property was completed in just about three months. Westlands invested nearly $9 million to construct the Project.

In addition to furthering California EcoRestore, the Project helps fulfill the 8,000-acre tidal restoration target outlined by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2008 Delta Smelt Biological Opinion and the National Marine Fisheries Service’s 2009 Salmonid Biological Opinion issued to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and DWR for the coordinated operation of the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project.