Salmonid Restoration Federation (SRF) is actively engaged in our fourth year of a low-flow monitoring study in Redwood Creek and neighboring tributaries in the South Fork Eel River watershed.
Photo: Bill Eastwood, SRF's Monitoring Coordinator, measures water levels each week by putting a stick in the sand at the creek's edge. This images shows the dramatic decrease in water levels over the past few weeks.
California is still in period of extended drought where rivers are drying up and whole communities are affected by scarce water resources. Under the California Water Action Plan, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has identified five priority watersheds for instream flow projects in California. The South Fork Eel River was identified as a priority watershed because it is key for the recovery of coho salmon and suffers from low summer flows. Cool water tributaries that flow into the South Fork Eel provide critical refugia for juvenile salmonids.
For years now, SRF has been conducting a low-flow study in Redwood Creek, the 26 square-mile watershed that borders the Mattole River and flows into the South Fork Eel River. Tributaries in Redwood Creek include Dinner Creek, China Creek, Miller Creek, Seely Creek and Upper Redwood Creek. These tributaries historically supported coho salmon, steelhead, and Chinook salmon.
This year, SRF’s Redwood Creek Low Flow Monitoring season started in May with higher water levels than we’ve seen over the past few years. At one of our mainstem monitoring sites, Bill Eastwood (SRF’s Monitoring Coordinator) measured last year’s June flows at 140 gallons per minute (gpm) compared to 816 gpm this year. One of the watershed’s lower flowing creeks measured 1.65 gpm last year, but this year we saw 94 gpm.
Water levels began to change dramatically, however, between July and August. On that same mainstem monitoring site mentioned in the previous paragraph, flows were 242.37 gpm on July 15 and then dropped to 6.07 gpm by August 19. While most of our sites had water for almost a month longer than previous years, four of our 12 monitoring sites were not flowing by August 19. We are still observing juvenile salmon throughout the Redwood Creek watershed, but they are confined to small pools that are quickly shrinking.
“This watershed has grown in population and due to logging and human settlement, the forest landscape and natural hydrology of this area has been dramatically altered. Extended drought coupled with unregulated water diversions has contributed to lack of flows and creeks becoming disconnected early in the dry season,” explained Dana Stolzman, Executive Director of SRF.
SRF has been doing community outreach and building capacity for water conservation strategies that would improve flows and serve as pilot projects for other rural communities. With the passage of the California Water Bond and the availability of Proposition 1 funding, there is the opportunity to design water conservation projects that would improve water flows in rural watersheds. SRF has created a low-interest loan program for community members who are interested in building their water storage and forbearing from diverting water in the summer months, where flows are most critical for juvenile salmonids. We also developed a proposal that would add one million gallons of water storage in the Briceland area and are working with landowners to build capacity for community-based water conservation that could improve water quality, fire security, and habitat for threatened salmon.
To learn more about our efforts, please visit www.calsalmon.org