California’s Damaged Napa River to Be Restored for Salmon

SAN FRANCISCO, California, December 9, 2011 (ENS) – Nearly $3.3 million in federal, state and local funding will be devoted to restoring water quality and aquatic habitats in the Napa River watershed in the heart of California wine country, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Napa County announced Friday.

As part of two restoration efforts covering 15 miles of the Napa River, more than 40 landowners have committed to converting nearly 135 acres of farmland to wildlife habitat.

The river, which runs 55 miles from Mt. St. Helena to the San Pablo Bay, is prone to seasonal flooding from November to April.

The Napa River historically supported an annual run of 6,000 to 8,000 steelhead, but by the late 1960s only an estimated 2,000 adults were swimming upstream to spawn in the streams where they were hatched. Today the steelhead run is estimated to be just a few hundred adults.

Chinook salmon populations, too, have suffered steep declines as a result of high concentrations of fine sediment in the Napa River, which clouds spawning gravel. In-stream erosion has degraded the channel, reducing rearing habitat for these salmon species.

Napa River at Rutherford (Photo by Wally Gobetz)

EPA Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest Jared Blumenfeld said a $1.5 million EPA grant will help manage erosion, improve spawning gravel, and create habitat for critically endangered salmon.

“Despite long-term habitat degradation and falling fish populations, the Napa River represents one of the most important watersheds within the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary for the recovery of regional steelhead populations,” said Blumenfeld.

The EPA grant will fund several priority actions of the Napa River Sediment total maximum daily load (TMDL) and habitat enhancement plan. Matching and leveraged funds amount to nearly $1.8 million.

At a press conference on the bank of the Napa River in Rutherford, with chinook salmon spawning below, Blumenfeld was joined by U.S. Congressman Mike Thompson, Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon, and other federal, state and local officials to highlight the pioneering private-public partnership designed to improve water quality and salmon habitat and address eroding streambanks within this agricultural area.

The Napa River has cut down so much that it is up to three times deeper than it once was, creating vertical stream banks up to 30 feet high. In some locations the banks have become unstable and subject to catastrophic collapse. The river channel has narrowed, making flows more erosive.

To stabilize river banks and create wildlife habitat, vineyard owners in the Rutherford area have committed to converting 20 acres of agriculture land back to river habitat.

Landowners are continuing the restoration of the Napa River south of Rutherford between Oakville and Oak Knoll in the Napa Valley and in total, have committed to restoring more than 115 acres.

“We are reducing erosion and sediment runoff, we are improving steelhead and Chinook salmon habitat, and we are strengthening the Napa River which is at the heart of our economy, giving life to agriculture and our thriving wine industry that pumps more than $61 billion into our economy every year,” said Congressman Thompson, a California Democrat, who is the co-founder and co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Wine Caucus, including 215 senators and representatives. “I thank the grape growers and landowners for their partnership and commitment to this restoration process.”

The funding will be used to:

  • Restore a nearly mile-long section of the Napa River in Rutherford to improve steelhead and Chinook habitat and water quality
  • Complete restoration design along an additional 3.9 miles of the Napa River in Oakville and eradicate five acres of invasive non-native giant reeds and plant native riparian trees
  • Assist ranchers to reduce erosion on 80 percent of Napa watershed grazing lands in the watershed
  • Implement best management practices to reduce sediment runoff from rural roads and stream crossings throughout the watershed
  • Establish a tracking system to advance water quality improvements through increased accountability

The primary grant recipient is Napa County, in partnership with the Napa County Resource Conservation District, the California Land Stewardship Institute, Uuniversity of California Cooperative Extension and the Rutherford Dust Restoration Team of the Rutherford Dust Society landowner group.

Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon said, “We are very grateful to be receiving this grant from EPA and also grateful to all our other project partners in restoring the Napa River, including the voters in Napa County who approved County Measure “A”, which has been vital in making all this possible.”

“The River Restoration Project is striking a balance between economy and ecology,” says local vintner and land manager Davie Pina. “Landowners, the community, and government are investing equitably in the preservation of our environmental and agricultural heritage for the benefit of future generations.”

The EPA has been active in the Napa River watershed providing technical and financial assistance since the early 1990s. Since 2007, Napa has received approximately $4.8 million in EPA grants for sediment management.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.