Friday March 31, 2023

San Francisco Estuary

After decades of restoration, recent Chinook salmon runs in Putah Creek have reached 1,800, producing young that swim toward the ocean by the tens of thousands. But, says Putah Creek streamkeeper Max Stevenson, this growing population still faces considerable obstacles. 

Putah Creek flows from headwaters in the North Coast Ranges to the Toe Drain of the Yolo Bypass, and was dammed near Winters in the 1950s to divert water for Solano County. Salmon began coming to the creek after settlement of a lawsuit in the year 2000 that stipulated releasing water for fish as well as optimizing spawning grounds. 

Salmon need loose gravel to dig spawning pits, or redds, that are up to six feet across. “They flop over and slap cobbles as big as six inches with the side of their body,” says Stevenson, who the Solano County Water Agency hired almost exactly a year ago as streamkeeper to protect and restore Putah Creek. After spawning, salmon fill the pits back up with gravel to hide their bright-orange eggs from predators. 

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