Editor’s note: The following article is part of a continuing series highlighting the California EcoRestore Initiative, which seeks to restore 30,000 acres of habitat in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta by 2020. California EcoRestore is an umbrella program that includes habitat restoration efforts implemented by departments under the California Natural Resources Agency including Department of Water Resources, Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Delta Conservancy. This EcoRestore project is paid for with funding from the State Water Project.
The Department of Water Resources (DWR) completed construction on a 350-acre tidal restoration project at Yolo Flyway Farms on the northwestern edge of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
The Yolo Flyway Farms Tidal Habitat Restoration project floods grazing land to create a tidal habitat for Delta smelt in the Yolo Bypass, a floodwater diversion zone in Yolo County. The effort was the result of a partnership between DWR and a private landowner for the creation of habitat restoration.
Through a first-of-its-kind agreement, DWR worked with Charles Tyson, the property owner, to develop the 350-acre tidal habitat restoration site. Following project completion, DWR will take ownership of the site and will be responsible for its long-term maintenance and upkeep.
“Individuals and farmers who own land can see an opportunity to enhance the value of their land – that’s very positive and very possible,” Tyson said.
On September 25, DWR breached the levee allowing the land to tidally connect to the toe drain, a narrow channel that connects the Yolo Bypass with the Sacramento River. Tules were then planted along portions of the newly excavated channels, which will create a conducive environment for the production of food for fish as the vegetation breaks down. The food will eventually wash back into the larger channel, boosting salmon survival rates within the Yolo Bypass.
“We’re doing restoration work in this region because it provides food and habitat to support endangered species,” said Bonnie Irving, DWR senior environmental scientist and Yolo Flyway Farms project manager.
“The more food that we can put back in the Delta, the more food we can produce for endangered fish,” Irving said.
The restoration effort is federally required. In 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) determined that the pumps, aqueducts and other water infrastructure in California contributed to endangering the existence of the Delta smelt. USFWS mandated that the state of California restore 8,000 acres of tidal habitat in the Delta and Suisun Marsh.
Endangered fish populations continue to decline in the Delta. A 2017 survey by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) found only two Delta smelt after four months of trawling (dragging a fishing net across water).
The restoration project at Yolo Flyway Farms is part of the California EcoRestore Initiative (EcoRestore), a multiagency initiative coordinated by the Natural Resources Agency, which seeks to restore 30,000 acres of land in the Delta by 2020. EcoRestore responds to the 2008 USFWS mandate and other mandates by accelerating the work of 30,000 acres of restoration across the Delta, which will protect the Delta smelt, salmon, and other native species.
EcoRestore, which includes the tidal marsh projects launched by DWR’s Fish Restoration Program to achieve the federal mandate, also involves projects related to floodplain habitat restoration, fish passage, and improving subsided land and carbon sequestration. EcoRestore provides a vehicle to share lessons and other resources across these state-sponsored restoration efforts.
The overarching goal of California EcoRestore, and projects like Yolo Flyway Farms, is to return the natural ecological function to the Delta, the West Coast’s largest estuary that has badly deteriorated under human development.
Allen Young, Information Officer, Department of Water Resources
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