California DWR project to give struggling salmon more room to roam

YOLO COUNTY – California’s struggling salmon are about to have a lot more room to roam.

On Thursday, the California Department of Water Resources officially launched the “Big Notch” project on the Sacramento River, just along the Yolo Bypass. It is the largest floodplain salmon farming effort in state history.

“As part of his job there will be quite a bit of digging so we can encourage people to take a small soil sample,” joked Ted Craddock of the Department of Water Resources. “Because it will also help our construction project.”

The project is an excavation in the old hydraulic infrastructure of the State. The system that directs floodwater away from Sacramento also creates barriers for fish. Thus, the river will be open here, allowing a controlled discharge into the land which will serve as a giant fish nursery.

“This overshoot will allow juvenile fish migrating downstream to use the gate and channel behind us and access the nutrient-rich floodplain of Yolo Bypass,” Yolo County Supervisor Oscar Villegas explained.

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Area along the Sacramento River near the Yolo Bypass that is part of the “Big Notch” project, aimed at helping the state’s salmon population.

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The closed spillway will create a brand new 30,000 acre habitat.

“I will be able to eat more and grow faster,” said NOAA Fisheries’ Garwin Yip, speaking as if he were a young salmon. “And get ready for the ocean. And for the adults, when they come back, this project will provide lower flows, that connectivity. So the adults, we’re talking about the same species, the winter migration, the migration spring Primarily Chinook salmon, rainbow trout and green sturgeon, and access to the Sacramento River.

This is the biggest step of its kind to return land to salmon, and the state says more work needs to be done.

“The development of our flood control system and our water systems,” Craddock explained. “We hit about 95% of what would traditionally be salmon spawning habitat here in the Central Valley.”

Construction of the gate system and spillway is expected to be completed by the end of 2023.

Dora W. Clawson