Russian River Fish Finally Have a Way Home
Trout Unlimited, at the invitation of Sonoma County, will attend a long-awaited ribbon-cutting ceremony for Healdsburg Dam Fishway Project
8/9/2001 -- -- August 9, 2001
ALBANY, CALIF. – Trout Unlimited, the nation’s largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization, will be represented on Friday during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Healdsburg Dam Fishway Project on the Russian River at the invitation of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, in Healdsburg, Calif. Forty years ago, the California Dept. of Fish and Game (CDFG) approved construction of the fishway at Healdsburg Dam. Since that time, legal and bureaucratic entanglements have prevented its completion. Today, Trout Unlimited joins with local, state, and federal representatives in applauding the fishway’s ability to allow upstream and downstream passage for Russian River salmon and steelhead, which are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Healdsburg fishway will also allow shad passage.
The Russian River flows 110 miles from its headwaters north of Ukiah, Calif. to Jenner, Calif., where the river empties into the Pacific Ocean. The Russian River flows through Sonoma County, one of the largest and fastest growing counties in the state. The Russian River’s salmon and steelhead fisheries have substantially declined from their past numbers, where tens of thousands of fish historically returned yearly to the river. Russian River coho salmon stocks are listed as threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act, and are presently in danger of extinction. Today the numbers of wild steelhead in the Russian River is unknown, which is in stark contrast to the river’s historical stature as a world-renowned steelhead-fishing river.
“By putting the finishing touches on the fishway project, Sonoma County and the City of Healdsburg are lending a much-needed helping hand to these fish that need all the help they can get,” said Stan Griffin, leading Russian River advocate, and Trout Unlimited Regional Vice President. “Not only will the project ease salmon and steelhead migration and allow it to happen faster, this fishway now opens wider the amount of spawning and rearing habitat available.” Available habitat is a precious commodity because of development throughout the Russian River watershed, particularly in its tributaries.
The Healdsburg fishway, however, did not come free. Trout Unlimited began urging the CDFG to ensure fish passage at the dam in the late 1980s. The Department agreed, but Sonoma County did not. Trout Unlimited (and United Anglers) filed suit in state court in 1987 pursuing passage, because the dam was an artificial barrier that blocked fish movement in violation of Fish and Game Code. The County and the City of Healdsburg legally challenged the grounds for constructing the fishway in the early 1990s. “Trout Unlimited has remained focused during a lengthy period of legal actions, administrative maneuverings, and funding requests with its eye on one goal – fish passage at Healdsburg Dam,” said Charlton Bonham, staff attorney Trout Unlimited. “Restoring salmon and steelhead in the Russian River will lead to restored hope for the future of this great fishery and ecosystem.”
The fishway is comprised of a ladder the will incorporate thirteen concrete steps or “weirs.” The ladder structure will enable fish to migrate the 140-foot wide dam, and the sixteen-foot change in elevation between upstream and downstream river levels. The design creates pools at the base of each step so that fish can rest before moving to the next level. An attraction flow released at a water pipe near the ladder’s entrance will help fish find the structure.
“I am pleased to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony at the County’s invitation,” said Stan Griffin. “Although we might not have always seen eye to eye, Trout Unlimited applauds the County’s commitment to the future of salmon and steelhead represented by this fishway. We look forward to working collaboratively with all local and state agencies to recover these precious fish.”
Charlton Bonham, TU California Staff Attorney : 510-528-4164
Stan Griffin, California Council of Trout Unlimited: 510-528-5390