After more than 10 years of researching a "biological opinion" about the best way and best spot to save the last remaining coho salmon and steelhead trout in the Russian River watershed, engineers and officials on Wednesday broke ground on a pilot project along Dry Creek north of Healdsburg that they hope will do the job.
"This is the strongest and the last stronghold for this population [of fish]," said Mike Dillabough, chief of operations and readiness, San Francisco district, of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "By recreating the habitat for the fish, they'll be able to restore the population naturally.
"If we do it here, we'll be able to do it in other places as well," Dillabough said.
"Dry Creek is ground zero for species recovery in the Russian River watershed," added whose district mostly encompasses the project along with that of Supervisor Efren Carrillo. "And we still will be able to supply water for Sonoma County."
Dillabough and McGuire were two of about a half-dozen speakers who addressed a gathering Wednesday of about 45 people in a wooded area along Dry Creek Road across from the Sbragia Family Vineyards.
Following Wednesday's groundbreaking ceremony, contractors will begin digging a channel alongside and parallel to Dry Creek to create a low-flow waterway where young salmon and trout now incubating at the hatchery upstream can avoid being swept away by water releases from dams at Sonoma and Mendocino lakes and take the time to grow bigger and stronger.
If they are allowed to grow bigger and stronger, they are expected to stand a greater chance to avoid prey in the larger waters and rivers downstream and thus have time to complete their reproduction cycles.
The first mile of the ultimately 6-mille-long $1.8 million channel is expected to be completed in about a year.
"Our goal is to strike a balance between human needs and a healthy ecosystem," said Shelli Moreda, president of Sacramento- and Medford, Ore.-based Contractor Services Group, lead environmental restoration contractor on the job.
David Manning, principal environmental specialist for the said the main challenge that took more than 10 years and stacks and stacks of documents was how to enhance the salmon habitat while still supplying water and flood control management to the agency's 600,000 water customers.
"This project will satisfy the requirements of the Endangered Species Act and also enable us to continue with the water supply and flood control management," Manning said.
A "biological opinion," issued in 2008 and spearheaded since about 1996 by Dick Butler of the National Marine Fisheries Service, determined that cold water in a low-flow channel adjacent to Dry Creek would be the best shot at saving the fish species.
"A good biological opinion was of critical imporance," Butler said at the groundbreaking ceremony.
For a more complete understanding of the "biological opinion," click on the PDF attached.
Local private landowners -- mostly those with vineyards or other businesses along Dry Creek -- contributed to the project announced Wednesday and also to an earlier 1-mile-long demonstration project further downstream on Dry Creek at Lambert Bridge.
Sbragia Family Vineyards owner Ed Sbragia and his wine club director Peggy Lord were given special recognition at Wednesday's event, as were Powerhouse Gym principals Catt Tripoli, owner, and Leesa Pavlos, assistant general manager.
Gus Peña, of the said his people have lived and fished on their land along Dry Creek for more than 10,000 years.
The tribe is building a cultural center on what it considers sacred land near the creek, he said.
"This [project] is very important to the tribe," he said. "Loss of a species is a tragedy."
Among the private landowners participating in the 1-mile-long demonstration project, according to Manning, are: Quivara, Dry Creek, Amista and Yellow Dog vineyards, and the Van Alyea, Lipton and Wolmer families.