New Habitat Restoration Project Nurtures Record Number of Salmon Nests by Sacramento County Water Agency Staff Jan 8, 2020 Member Submitted News Kat Perkins, a scientist with the Sacramento Water Forum, poured over an aerial image of the lower American River near Sailor Bar in Fair Oaks, looking for redds—underwater depressions or “nests” created by female salmon to lay their eggs. Part of an annual ritual to systematically count redds first by inspecting aerial imagery and then in person, last year she found zero. This year was a different story—the area teamed with redds—more than 345 this time around. The difference? A new habitat restoration effort completed in fall to protect salmon and steelhead in the lower American River, spearheaded by the Water Forum in partnership with Sacramento County Parks, Sacramento County Water Agency and local water providers, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and other federal, state and local agencies. Over three weeks in September, the project placed more than 14,000 cubic yards of cleaned and sorted gravel into the river and carved out a new side channel to help fish spawn and rear their young. “The results are gratifying,” said Tom Gohring, Executive Director of the Water Forum, a nearly 20-year-old organization that represents a diverse group of local water providers such as Sacramento County Water Agency, environmental organizations and governments focused on safeguarding the lower American River for both drinking water and wildlife. “Salmon were here long before we were. Nurturing their survival is not only important to sustaining a species but to also sustaining our region’s identify and quality of life.” The lower American River is home to 43 fish species, including struggling fall-run Chinook salmon and federally threatened Central Valley steelhead, and is a major water supply source for nearly 2 million people. The river and parkway, which runs 23 miles along the river’s shores, hosts up to 8 million visitors and brings $364 million into the economy each year. The restoration project at Sailor Bar is part of the Water Forum’s ongoing science program that uses cutting-edge techniques to further understand how to improve the river’s environment for fish survival. Over the past several years Water Forum studies have produced detailed information about the conditions salmon and steelhead find ideal for spawning and rearing their young, including: Detailed underwater maps of the lower American River to identify the best locations for enhancing habitat that also won’t impact flood safety. The ideal size of gravel and river flow for spawning. How long it takes for salmon to use a restoration site after construction, and how long they continue to use the site. How cover (woody material, branches or tree roots) in a side channel improves survival for juvenile fish. This year’s effort at Sailor Bar was the region’s ninth project restoring fish spawning gravel beds and improving juvenile fish rearing habitat on the lower American River. Since 2008, the Water Forum and its partners have invested more than $7 million to create over 30 acres of spawning beds and 1.2 miles of side channels. “These projects truly represent what can be accomplished when local, state and federal agencies work together toward a common purpose,” Gohring said, noting that the team responsible for this project includes scientists from Reclamation, the Water Forum, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Additional project partners included the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (SAFCA) and the City of Sacramento Department of Utilities, which provided their crews and heavy equipment to the project. To learn more about the Sacramento region’s habitat restoration work on the lower American River, visit https://www.waterforum.org/the-river/habitat-management/.