A River's Last Chance

The first time I saw the Eel River flowing under the remote redwood forest along Humboldt County’s Avenue of the Giants, I saw a dirty, blown-out river that the locals swore to me was home to massive steelhead. I lived in the small city of Eureka for a couple of years in the late 90s, and I never saw a fish in the Eel, largely becuase it was so quick blow brown after a rainstrom that is always seemed perpetually muddy.

But I was wrong about this incredible river. As the video below shows, the Eel might present the last, best chance for salmon and steelhead recovery in the West. Trout Unlimited, along with our partners like California Trout and other groups, have been working to restore the Eel for decades, with promising results. And now, with myriad challenges still lying ahead, it seems like the Eel is at a make-or-break point in its journey to recovery.

The biggest challenge facing the Eel is water diversion for out-of-basin wine and marijuana farming. Other issues include continued logging in the drainage and, of course, a warming climate that, combined with low flows, creates toxic algae blooms and deadly conditions for trout and salmon. But efforts are under way to correct these issues, to work with in-basin stakeholders on sustainable farming and to work with irrigators water-use efficiency.

If TU and our partners, like CalTrout that helped create this film, can find that “sweet spot,” we can ensure a future for the Eel’s salmon and steelhead. Perhaps just as importantly, we can create a conservation and restoration blueprint others can follow to ensure salmon and steelhead recovery can continue all along the West Coast.

— Chris Hunt

By Chris Hunt.