Project Location: Willow Creek is a tributary to the lower Russian River in the estuary near Jenner in Sonoma County, California.
Link to the location of the remediated barrier in the CDFW Map Viewer (BIOS): https://map.dfg.ca.gov/bios/?al=ds69&col=pad_id&val=723186
Passage Assessment Database ID: 723186
Project Description: Lower Willow Creek has been subject to agricultural practices since 1850, degrading a large portion of its’ historic wetland habitat, including clearing of the wetlands for grazing and dredging a ditch to reroute the creek through it. Since California State Parks took ownership of the property in 1996, they abandoned the practice of dredging and phased out grazing operations, which led to significant regrowth of the wetland habitat. The stream channel migrated back to the southern part of the valley and six 3-foot culverts were installed to pass streamflow under the road. These culverts quickly plugged with debris, and fish were forced to swim over the road during high flows, significantly compromising fish passage. The Willow Creek 2nd Bridge Area Fish Passage Project intended to restore fish passage options for adults and juveniles via a 43-foot clear span bridge.
Pre-project conditions/barriers/challenges/background: Prior to the culverts being removed, fish had to swim over the road to attempt moving upstream (see photo to the right) (photo credit: Joe Pecharich, NOAA Restoration Center).
Project actions/deliverables: Removed six debris-plugged culverts and installed a 43-foot clear-span bridge to reconnect the wetlands, reducing flooding and providing coho salmon and steelhead trout with access to seven miles of high quality spawning, rearing and winter refugia habitat. A bridge was preferred over an arched open-bottom culvert because of its greater channel capacity for a given base width and because it would not require additional fill (up to 2’) on top of the structure for the road base.
Fish benefits/ecological value: Coho salmon and steelhead trout now have access to seven miles of spawning, rearing and nursery habitat. Restoring access to the Willow Creek watershed will have an impact on salmon production in the entire Russian River watershed, not only for newly establishing salmonids, but also because of the newly opened passage for juveniles for winter refugia habitat. The project has opened the watershed to spawning migratory fish and has re-opened the wetlands in the lower section of the creek, which serve as important nursery fish habitat to all three listed salmonids in the watershed.
Other benefits: Removal of the culverts helps to eliminate flooding for residents, California State Parks, and the popular Pomo Canyon Campground.
Amount of habitat made available as a result of project implementation: 7.3 miles of historic steelhead habitat and 4.7 miles of coho spawning and rearing habitat for all life stages.
Habitat quality and type characterization: Salmon spawning and rearing habitat as well as winter refugia habitat.
Project partners: NOAA Restoration Center, California State Parks, Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Sonoma County Water Agency, Sonoma County Department of Public Works, Trout Unlimited, Mendocino Redwoods Company, Prunuske Chatham, Inc.
Project cost: $918,608
Project start date: 2010
Project end date: 2011
Monitoring and evaluation: In August of 2013, the Russian River Coho Monitoring Program documented wild coho salmon young-of-the-year, confirming wild endangered coho salmon spawning in Willow Creek, believed to be the first wild spawning since the early 1990s.
Did the project make a difference, and if so, how?
Wild coho salmon and steelhead trout were documented spawning in Willow Creek in the winter of of 2012/13. Juveniles of all three species of listed salmonids have been observed.
Click here to watch a video of wild spawned young-of-the-year coho salmon in Willow Creek in August of 2013.