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Dry Creek 'fishway' project aims to restore salmon habitat

  • Gary Osman works on building a concrete fishway in Grape Creek, under West Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg, on Wednesday, October 17, 2012. The fishway is part of a Sonoma County Water Agency project to improve fish habitat for steelhead and coho. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

An ambitious effort to save fish in the Russian River watershed took another step forward this week with ground-breaking of a habitat restoration project along Dry Creek.

The work just below Warm Springs Dam on the Russian Rivet tributary is intended to provide refuge for endangered Coho salmon and threatened Steelhead, native fish that require pockets of slow-moving water to survive.

"We hope to keep the species from extinction," said Michael Dillabough, U.S. Army Corps acting park manager at Lake Sonoma.

Army Corps Lt. Colonel John Baker described the $1.8 million project along 1,600 feet of Dry Creek as a milestone in the ongoing collaborative effort to restore the fish population.

He said it will be a pilot for the eventual habitat enhancement of six miles of Dry Creek, a project that is estimated to cost from $36 million to $48 million by the time it is completed in 2020.

"It should get us well on the way to recovering this species," said Dick Butler, a supervisor in the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The environmental work is intended to offset the loss of fish habitat created by the construction of Warm Springs Dam three decades ago. The dam helps with flood control and also provides the bulk of water for 600,000 Sonoma County Water Agency customers in Sonoma and parts of Marin counties.

A significant portion of the habitat restoration funding will come from an ongoing tax assessment levied on property owners in Sonoma County that paid for the dam.

Representatives from federal, state, county and Dry Creek Rancheria tribal officials gathered Wednesday to laud the environmental work.

The Army Corps portion involves building a secondary side channel for fish spawning and rearing to mitigate the wide range of flow releases from the dam.

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