2011-12-13 "New Willow Creek Bridge Helps Salmon, Prevents Flooding" by Stewards of the Coast & Redwoods
The dedication of a new bridge over Willow Creek, as it winds through parklands in a remote west Sonoma County valley, drew an appreciative crowd of state and local officials last Friday.
Ruth Coleman, the director of California State Parks and Charlton H. Bonham, the director of California Department of Fish and Game, along with officials from the NOAA Restoration Center and other organizations, assembled to celebrate the construction of the Willow Creek 2nd Bridge. The new bridge will open the watershed of Willow Creek to migrating coho salmon and steelhead, and eliminate the annual flooding that created problems for residents, State Parks and the popular Pomo Canyon Campground.
Prior to the new bridge installation, Willow Creek had changed its position in the valley; instead of flowing under the historic bridge, it passed through a series of 3-foot culverts located under Willow Creek Road. Over time, sediment and debris had blocked the culverts, impeding passage for migrating fish and resulting in frequent road flooding. The dedication is the culmination of a 10-year process involving several nonprofit and government agencies.
“When this project began, folks were looking for a simple solution to open up historic coho habitat and to stop Willow Creek Road from flooding,” said Bonham, who had previously been involved in the project as California Director of Trout Unlimited. “But studies revealed a complex problem, compounded by historical logging and farming practices and poor road and bridge design.”
Coho salmon are listed as endangered in the Russian River watershed. Willow Creek was historically a vibrant coho stream, and there are indications that steelhead (listed as threatened in the watershed) also spawned in the creek.
“Restoring passage to this watershed, by replacing the culverts with a clear-span bridge, allowed us to release 11,000 juvenile coho salmon raised through the Coho Broodstock Program at Warm Springs Hatchery into Willow Creek this past fall,” said Joe Pecharich, a biologist for the NOAA Restoration Center. “We are very hopeful that we will soon see adult coho salmon and steelhead returning to the creek.”
In developing a watershed management plan and channel restoration feasibility analysis, California State Parks (which owns Pomo Canyon Campground and much of the Willow Creek watershed) joined forces with Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, NOAA Fisheries, California Department of Fish and Game, Sonoma County Department of Public Works, Trout Unlimited, LandPaths, Mendocino Redwoods Company and Prunuske Chatham, Inc. Four years of research and planning led to the long-term, sustainable solution of allowing Willow Creek to flow in its new channel. This required the removal of the culverts and the installation of a new 43-foot span bridge.
“Once we had a restoration plan, we were really excited about the opportunities for coho, (which historically lived in Willow Creek) but we needed funding,” said Michele Luna, executive director of Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods. “It took ten years, and a lot of sweat, persistence and wonderful partnerships, but we pulled together several partners to fund the $1 million project.”
Funders for the bridge project include the Department of Fish and Game, NOAA Restoration Center’s Open Rivers Initiative, NFWF California Environmental Management Fund and a pass-through grant provided by Trout Unlimited from the Sonoma County Water Agency.. Other funders for planning and prior restoration components include Russian River Watershed Project Grant Program (Proposition 13), California State Water Resources Control Board, Russian River Watershed Council, Sonoma County Fish and Wildlife Commission, and the California State Coastal Conservancy.