Joint News Release: Agreement reopens Yuba River to salmon and sturgeon, launching ambitious river restoration

Yuba River - North Fork - Downieville, CA (Sierra County)

by California Department of Fish & Wildlife

Upgraded facilities and protections promote the return of Chinook to North Yuba River 

A framework agreement between state, federal and local agencies will reopen miles of habitat to multiple native fish species and promote the return of imperiled spring-run Chinook salmon to their native habitat in the North Yuba River for the first time in more than 100 years, in one of the most ambitious watershed recovery efforts in California.

This collaboration between California through the Newsom Administration’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), Yuba Water Agency and NOAA Fisheries will resolve years of conflict and includes major actions to help recover imperiled fish:

  • Construction of a new fishway – a channel resembling a natural river that salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and lamprey can follow to get around the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Daguerre Point Dam to reach more than 10 miles of healthy spawning habitat.
  • Construction of a modernized water diversion at Daguerre Point Dam to supply irrigation water south of the lower Yuba River that will protect fish passing the intake.
  • The initiation of a comprehensive reintroduction program to support recovery efforts of spring-run Chinook salmon with a goal of returning them to their original habitat in the North Yuba River above New Bullards Bar Reservoir as soon as 2025.

The agencies agreed in principle to the terms, a comprehensive restoration plan and initial funding that will, together, provide the ingredients of a final settlement. The agreement will restore unimpeded access for fish to the full reach of the Yuba River from the confluence with the Feather River up to Englebright Dam for the first time in nearly a century. The parties agreed to future coordination related to ongoing federal license proceedings for Yuba Water Agency’s existing hydropower facilities and to support the agency’s Yuba Accord instream flow proposal. That would provide more reliable and consistent river flows, increasing the chances the species will again spawn and rear in the habitat.

“Where dams once broke up this important habitat, we can now use a holistic approach in returning anadromous fish to this important part of their native habitat in California,” said CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham. “This agreement envisions a much-improved big picture of a restored watershed, with surging rivers and healthy fish populations once again.”

Agencies all contribute

The agencies have already committed at least $60 million, with part of the funds coming from funding proposed by the Newsom Administration and appropriated to CDFW by the California Legislature for river connectivity and salmon benefits.

California’s Central Valley once saw annual returns of spring-run Chinook numbering close to 600,000, greatly contributing to the fisheries and economy of the West Coast. The Yuba River was a Chinook salmon stronghold, supporting many miles of spawning grounds from its confluence with the Feather all the way up to the snow melt tributaries of the North, Middle and South Yuba rivers.

Currently, two federal dams built to control the devastating impacts of Gold Rush-era mining prevent native fish species such as Chinook salmon and green sturgeon from reaching their historic spawning grounds in the Yuba River watershed. Daguerre Point Dam (built in 1910) currently allows only limited passage for some fish species and Englebright Dam (built in 1941) is a complete barrier to fish passage to the upper Yuba River watershed. Both dams are owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The agencies’ collaborative implementation of the restoration plan announced today will promote Chinook salmon and other aquatic species recovery by improving access to currently limited habitats in the Yuba River watershed. This will be accomplished through the construction of a nature-like fishway around Daguerre Point Dam for volitional passage to spawning and rearing habitat in the lower watershed and by promoting the reintroduction of Chinook salmon into their ancestral home in the upper watershed above New Bullards Bar Reservoir through a comprehensive reintroduction program.

“We all want salmon to be part of California’s future. These actions will help make that happen: They will increase the resiliency of native Chinook salmon to the extremes we are seeing with climate change,” said Jennifer Quan, Regional Administrator in NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region. “Reliable river flows and diverse habitat including access to previously blocked areas help the species adjust to changing conditions. This agreement represents the best of what we can do together when we find common ground.”

“Yuba Water’s commitment to collaboration and environmental stewardship runs deep,” said Willie Whittlesey, General Manager of Yuba Water Agency. “Today’s historic announcement builds on the success of past partnerships, including the Lower Yuba River Accord and North Yuba Forest Partnership, which show that – when we work together and think creatively – we really can advance our missions of water supply reliability, flood risk reduction and zero-carbon hydroelectric generation while also supporting the needs of salmon and other native fish species.”

The agreement sets in motion a joint plan to return spring-run Chinook salmon and other aquatic species to their historic habitat in the North Yuba River above New Bullards Bar Reservoir and enhance habitat functionality in the lower Yuba River. The agencies are prepared to hit the ground running by immediately initiating implementation of the agreement with the goal of reintroducing spring-run Chinook salmon in the North Yuba River by 2025. In combination, the actions in the restoration plan represent an unprecedented effort to improve habitat conditions and contribute to the recovery of historic fish runs to this waterway.

“These actions, taken together, will bring a much-needed watershed approach to protecting and expanding spawning and rearing habitat,” Bonham said. “We will see the benefits in the form of increased populations of state and federally listed spring-run Chinook salmon and other aquatic species.”

CDFW, Yuba Water Agency and NOAA Fisheries expect to finalize a settlement based on the framework agreement by the end of 2023.

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