Ecology Center angling to improve creek flows
Stream plan aims to help fish, humans in dry summer months
Anyone living on Sonoma Creek or any of its major tributaries knows that the stream flow drops significantly after the rain (if any) stops in spring. By August and September, there are many spots where the creek bed dries up entirely, making riparian habitat a dicey proposition for breeding fish and forcing those who draw water from the creeks or immediately adjacent, to draw more groundwater.
The Sonoma Ecology Center (SEC), partnering with Trout Unlimited (TU), will start a two-year program to study stream flow and find the principal breeding grounds for the steelhead and salmonids whose existence depends on enough cool water to succeed.
“We’re learning from them,” SEC biologist and assistant director Caitlin Cornwall said of new partner Trout Unlimited. “They are bringing experience with these programs while we have knowledge of this watershed and where the fish are.”
“On Sonoma Creek, as in so many of California’s coastal watersheds, one of the main problems fish and wildlife face is lack of stream flow, particularly in the late summer,” TU attorney Matt Clifford said. “Stream flow is naturally at its lowest between August and October, just when water demand for homes, businesses and farms is at its highest. The result is that neither fish – including steelhead and Chinook salmon – nor people can count on secure water supplies, particularly during times of drought.”
“My job is to get more water for fish,” Clifford said. “The best way to do that is to build projects that work for people, too. We can pass all the laws we want, but it won’t necessarily help fish.”
Starting in May, volunteers will start measuring stream flow, initially by hand and later installing small devices in streams to collect ongoing data year round, with property owners’ permission. Local farmers, landowners, residents and other water users living along Sonoma Creek and its tributaries will be contacted.
“The goal is to gather knowledge and build relationships that will form the basis of a community-developed plan to enhance flows in upper Sonoma Creek,” Clifford said. “The final plan is scheduled to be released in May 2019.”
This program will be highly selective.
“We are choosing where to study based on our knowledge of steelhead populations and where stream flow is scarce, and finding places where making a small difference in water withdrawals over the summer and fall will make a big difference in the survival of steelhead and in reliability of the water sup ply,” Cornwall said.
The SEC, TU, the Sonoma County Water Agency and local staff have been reviewing existing maps and stream flow data and looking at where steelhead hang out in the summer, land use, we