Dry Creek Rancheria seeks to restore Russian River tributary for fish, water supply

Tucked away among rolling green hills off the road leading up to the River Rock Casino near Geyserville, a once-beleaguered creek is springing back to life.

Situated at the bottom of a slope ravaged by a landslide in the 1980s, part of the creek bed and its immediate surroundings were for years covered with asphalt and used for parking. Now, with recently planted shrubs and trees taking root, the area is a testament of what could be in store for the entire mile-and-a-half-long waterway running through the Dry Creek Rancheria and into the Russian River.

A portion of the Dry Creek Rancheria creek restoration project that has already been completed, near the River Rock Casino, Nov 16, 2016. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

The Dry Creek Band of Pomo Indians has already begun restoring one segment of the creek and applied for about $3.5 million in state grant funding to extend its work to the rest of the unnamed tributary to the Russian River. The tribe hopes to make the creek more hospitable to steelhead trout, a threatened species, while improving the health of the Russian River watershed and fortifying the water supply.

“Of course it’s important for us to be good stewards of this land,” said David Delira, the tribe’s public works manager. “Our stumbling block has always been funding.”

The tribe’s creek restoration dovetails with another project, on Dry Creek, where the tribe has been involved with efforts led by the Sonoma County Water Agency to restore a six-mile stretch of fish habitat, a multimillion dollar bid to ease effects tied to dam development and other human-caused harm to Russian River salmon and steelhead.

State funds for the stream restoration project would come through Proposition 1, a ballot measure California voters approved two years ago to provide more than $7 billion in bonds for water supply projects. The tribe should know in December whether it will receive the grant funds, according to Chris Ott, the rancheria’s environmental director.

Including funds contributed by the Dry Creek Pomos and other sources, the whole creek project will cost about $5.2 million and take two more years to complete, Ott said.

The tribe recently received more than $320,000 from multiple Environmental Protection Agency programs for use on the restoration work.

Fish are a major focus of the restoration project. Even though the creek is now seasonal — a century ago it flowed year round, according to the tribe — it remains home to coastal rainbow trout, which become steelhead when they migrate to the ocean and return to spawn.

“Even when it dries out, they find a little hole under a tree somewhere,” Ott said.

One part of the tribe’s project includes plans to build a 1 million gallon water tank near the casino to store recycled water. Water would be released by the tribe to maintain a trickle between pools in dry times, allowing fish to move around as needed. Without connections among the pools, individual pools can shrink and temperatures can rise to the point that fish can’t survive during the summer.

The creek runs through the Dry Creek Rancheria and adjacent land owned by the tribe. There, amid a vineyard along Highway 128, the waterway resembles little more than a ditch, filled with dirt and debris, bare of vegetation.

With the grant funds, the tribe intends to make the area a more lush environment, adding plants to provide shade for fish in the summer and replacing a culvert that impedes the ability of fish to move through the creek. Down where the creek connects with the Russian River, the tribe also plans to remove the invasive, thirsty arundo plant, saving some 65 million gallons of water per year.

“The public benefit is much greater than the benefit for the fish because, one, we are storing water for times when it’s dry, and we’re releasing it into the water system during those dry months. Plus, we’re removing this plant that consumes an enormous amount of water,” Ott said. “It’s a pretty significant contribution to the community at large.”

Don McEnhill, executive director of Russian Riverkeeper, praised the restoration already put in place by the Dry Creek tribe and said any additional work would be beneficial for the watershed. The tribe’s work ties into an “unconsolidated movement” in the community to help prevent the Russian River from continuing down a negative trajectory, he said.

“We’re at a turning point where more good things are happening than bad. We’re spending more time putting it together than taking it apart,” McEnhill said. “It’s not as formal as it ideally would be, but we’ll take forward movement any way we can get it.”

Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore, whose district includes the Dry Creek Rancheria, is working to consolidate the movement by bringing together a range of currently independent efforts to improve the watershed and its surroundings. Native American tribes, including the Dry Creek Pomos, are a critical part of the effort, he said.

“We have to honor the history of the watershed,” Gore said. “The tribes help bring us a connection to the way it was, and teach us an important lesson, which is how to live within a good relationship with the river and the watershed as a community.”

Gore said the Dry Creek tribe would be among the groups brought together for a summit about the watershed, the Russian River Confluence, now planned for sometime in March.


Article by: J.D. Morris
Published by: The Press Democrat, Nov 27 2016
Read original here.