New video highlights Stanislaus River salmon habitat restoration

December 15, 2014

OAKDALE – A salmon success story is taking shape on the Stanislaus River and a new video shines a light on the key players.

Entitled “Replenishing a River: Stanislaus River Honolulu Bar Restoration,” the 11-minute video uses underwater photography, still images and narration to illustrate an important fish habitat project completed in 2012. The Oakdale Irrigation District and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service split the cost of the $1.1 million project. The work was done over two years by the biologists, engineers and technicians at FISHBIO.

Addressing the steep decline in salmon and steelhead trout populations in Central Valley waterways has been a shared priority of government officials, environmentalists and local water agencies for decades. Fall run Chinook salmon are listed as species of concern by California Department of Fish and Wildlife and steelhead are listed as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Historically, tens of thousands of salmon returned to the Stanislaus River to spawn each year. In contrast, only about 6,000 returned this year. Diminished habitat in the river is a key factor in the decline.

The Honolulu Bar project focused on a 2½-acre site that was part of a larger gravel dredge bar in the river about halfway between Oakdale and Knights Ferry in northeastern Stanislaus County. The intent was to restore and, in some cases, create vital habitat for adults to spawn and juvenile fish to thrive until they begin their journey downstream through the Delta and San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean.

“I think we have to recognize that all these things – water, the resources they provide, the fish, the farming – we all have to live together in a healthy manner. You cannot use river assets and then not work to protect those river assets,” said Steve Knell, general manager of the OID.

The video shows workers using heavy machinery to lower the level of the island at Honolulu Bar, allowing water to flow over it, especially in the spring. Rock and dirt was screened and separated, and the quality material reused. It was part of more than 3,300 cubic yards of gravel used to create spawning beds and juvenile habitat.

Non-native vegetation was removed and box elders, willows and cottonwoods planted to shade the river and support insects that fish eat. A choked side stream on the north side of the island that often suffered from low flows – stranding salmon nests and young fish – was reconnected to the main river.

OID and FISHBIO have worked together on other salmon-related projects. FISHBIO’s employees installed and operate the underwater cameras that record and count every salmon that migrates upstream each year to spawn.

“We created this video with OID to increase public awareness of OID’s leading role in managing Stanislaus River fishery resources,” said Doug Demko, FISHBIO’s president. “People often are surprised that the water district contributes more to our scientific understanding of our local fishery than all the government regulatory agencies combined.”

Though it’s too soon to see a dramatic rise in the salmon population, FISHBIO officials proudly point to the Honolulu Bar project as a successful restoration. They believe the professionally produced video and the attention it generates will help create momentum for other Central Valley efforts.

“Balancing fishery and water resources is complicated,” Demko said. “It’s important that we continue to improve our understanding of fish populations so we can effectively improve their habitat. Doing so will ensure that both fish and agriculture survive.”

Knell said funding the project underscores OID’s long-term commitment to the river and the people and fish dependent upon it.

“The Stanislaus River is the dominant water body that flows through our area,” he said. “We view the river as an asset. … The river just adds a lot of value to our community, both to the agricultural side and the community as a whole.”

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Contact: Erin Loury, Communications Director, (408) 205-7444, erinloury@fishbio.com

About the partners:

The Oakdale Irrigation District delivers water from the Stanislaus River watershed to about 2,900 agricultural customers representing about 60,000 acres in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.

FISHBIO is a fisheries and environmental consulting company dedicated to advancing the research, monitoring, and conservation of fishes around the world. It has scientists, engineers and technicians based in Oakdale, Chico, and Laos.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Anadromous Fish Restoration Program has a goal to double the natural production of salmon and trout in Central Valley rivers and streams on a long-term, sustainable basis.

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