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Rain invites more salmon, more grant funds secured for habitat restoration

A man and woman wade down the middle of a creek.

Dec. 20, 2023

Creek Notes
Suddenly So Many Salmon

Heavy rain associated with this year’s “Super El Nino,” forecasted by weather experts, has been slow to arrive in the Bay Area. The dry start to the rainy season has kept both stream flows and salmon counts unseasonably low. 

That changed somewhat when less than an inch of rain first fell on December 6-7, causing the water level in Lagunitas Creek to rise briefly by about two inches. Though the initial improvement was modest, it appeared good enough to satisfy the salmon as, last week, Marin Water surveyors counted 72 Coho salmon and 39 Coho salmon redds. 

“Redds” are the nests where salmon lay their eggs in the gravel of a stream. Their distinct formations are identifiable to Marin Water’s fisheries team who counts them as part of their surveying work to track salmon populations. The total for the season now stands at 53 Coho redds, which is still below average for mid-December, but better than three years ago. 

A graph shows 53 Coho redds as of 12/15/2023 in comparison to previous years.
Graph of cumulative Coho redds as of Dec. 15, 2023, compared to previous years.

One of the surveyors, Shannon Husband, was pleasantly surprised to see salmon yesterday during a survey in Devil’s Gulch where the team wasn’t expecting to see any fish. “There was a good drizzle,” she said, and “Devil’s Gulch has had pretty low flows, but the flows were apparently high enough for the fish to be swimming upstream.” 

A woman wearing a backpack walks along a creek in the rain.
Corpsmember Shannon Husband ventures out to Devil's Gulch on a rainy day.

Shannon, a Corpsmember of the California Conservation Corps Watershed Stewards Program, in partnership with Americorps, has been serving Marin Water since October. Marin Water partners with the Watershed Stewards Program to offer unique career development opportunities for recent grads and young adults through hands-on experience alongside our aquatic ecologists. “The reason I joined was the opportunity to do a bunch of fieldwork, so it’s been really great to get outside and gain a greater intimacy with this land,” Shannon shared, “and learning the landmarks of the creek, seeing it change over time.” To see more of these stewards in action, take a look at some recent local news coverage following the monitoring work of our Fisheries team. 

Salmon spawning (and jumping!) should ramp up again with the return of wet weather through the rest of this week. Put on your rain gear and check out the action at the Leo T. Cronin Fish Viewing Area!

A man and woman wearing backpacks wade in the middle of a creek.
Marin Water Aquatic Ecologist Eric Ettlinger and Corpsmember Shannon Husband survey salmon in Lagunitas Creek.
Funding for Habitat Restoration

In other good news, Marin Water has just been awarded a grant of nearly $600,000 by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Fisheries Restoration Grant Program to support its design of Phase 2 of the Lagunitas Creek Habitat Restoration Project. The multi-phase restoration project supports the District's efforts to protect endangered coho salmon populations in the Lagunitas Creek watershed, and this new grant award means Marin Water now has full funding for the design, permitting and environmental review work for five of the 13 sites included in the project. (Readers may recall Marin Water recently secured $4.6 million to implement Phase 1 of the plan!) The new funding boost will allow Marin Water to do all of the planning work for Phase 2 while implementing Phase 1 over the next two years. We are grateful for the support of CDFW to enable our efforts to improve salmonid habitats, which benefits the overall ecological health of our precious watershed.