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Sonoma’s drying creeks cause for concern

Sonoma Creek is drying up. Most Sonomans who live near it or drive over it on one of our bridges can see it for themselves. But just in case you didn’t notice, this month’s newsletter from the Sonoma Ecology Center confirms that observation.

Steven Lee, SEC’s senior scientist, reports “…dramatic changes in water levels and creek flow over the last month.”

“In mid-August, Sonoma Creek had dried to isolated pools lower in the watershed, but at least trickling flow had extended as far downstream as the Agua Caliente bridge. Now, by the beginning of September, those lower watershed pools have continued to recede and dry stretches were found all the way up through and above Glen Ellen,” Lee says.

His report contains one bit of good news however. Beavers have been active on the Asbury tributary of Sonoma Creek and on Sonoma Creek near the SEC office in Eldridge. The dams they built have created pools of water where at least some of the fish and other wildlife that needs water can hold out until fall rains arrive.

The September SEC report reminded me of the simulated beaver dams built in the Scott River Valley in Siskiyou Country several years ago. Residents formed the Scott River Watershed Council (SRWC) and, working with Dr. Michael Pollock, eco-system analyst for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), built dams simulating those built by beavers to create pools that could last through the summer.

The Scott River and Sugar Creek, once a prolific salmon and steelhead spawning resource, was ruined by past gold mining. Then climate change and other factors caused it and its tributaries to dry up during most summers. But a few years ago SRWC began constructing “beaver dam analogues,” which are human-made structures that mimic natural beaver dams, storing water and creating habitat for all kinds of local species, including steelhead trout and coho salmon. Over time, these naturally appearing dams create pools where fish can survive. I visited the valley several years ago and was impressed with how much water they were able to save so that the coho salmon and trout fry could survive the summer. Perhaps something like that project could work on our creeks.

I also got a release from the Golden State Salmon Association this week saying that the temperatures in many of California’s rivers are too warm this year to sustain the eggs that the salmon will lay. Most of the eggs will die. GSSA is the only salmon organization that has acted to address this. Knowing last spring this was likely, GSSA worked with the state to truck all of their baby hatchery salmon to release sites in San Francisco Bay to insure higher survival.

You can support the work of the GSSA by joining. Go to goldenstatesalmon.org for more information.

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