Restoration Efforts in Dutch Bill Creek Bringing Back The Salmon

Printed in the Russian River Monthly

By Jacquelynn Kathleen, 9/1/2002

“A watershed is the most ecologically accurate definition of community,” said Brock Dolman, permaculture program director for the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center in Occidental and a member of the Dutch Bill Creek Watershed Group.
He was explaining the importance of the restoration work that Camp Meeker residents and others are performing on Dutch Bill creek, the Russian River tributary that drains the Camp Meeker watershed.

Dolman illustrated a watershed by cupping his hands, leaving them open at the top. The top edge of his thumbs and pointer fingers equated the ridge of a watershed and where the little fingers meet at the bottom was the river. Each drop of water that falls anywhere in the watershed from top to bottom ends up in the river, taking with it any pollutant, debris, or sediment.
Dolman asserted that “every human endeavor in a watershed is up for debate in order to bring back the fish.”

The federal Clean Water Act agrees with his line of thinking. It requires that states assess, define, and recommend restoration of waterways with non-point source pollution (NPS).

Point sources of pollution are easy to determine. They include factories, logging vineyards, agriculture, grazing, compacted dirt roads, paved parking lots, failing septic systems, etc. NPS is much more difficult.

When land isn’t allowed to soak up rainwater like a sponge because the land has been replaced by impermeable surfaces, run-off rushes to the creeks and rivers carrying with it the detrimental environmental factors of disaster.

As Dolman stated, our “development patterns exacerbate run-off, worsen flooding and decrease water quality and quantity.”
The coho and chinook salmon and steelhead trout, once in abundance in northern California rivers, are now threatened species. The salmon, as Dolman wrote in his article, Basins of Relation, in the Summer 2002 issue of The Permaculture Activist, are the “canaries in the watershed coal mine.” As goes the water, so do we. We cannot live with water.

Restoration involves both uplands and in-stream work. This controversial issue requires collaboration with government and landowners.

For years water management experts cleared the rivers and creeks of root wad, logs, other woody debris, and removed overhanging trees in order to “clean up” the water and deter flooding. This created a two-fold problem, depleting the water of pools for fish to spawn and hide from predators, and raising its temperature by exposing it to the sun’s rays. Water temperature must be below 60 degrees Fahrenheit for the fish to survive.

In-stream restoration includes replanting vegetation to shade the creek and inserting natural elements that allow streams to create pools. Upland restoration involves impeding the direct flow of water from harmful sources. Rural roads, the primary source of sediment, can be redesigned to disconnect them from direct delivery to the creek.

The California Department of Fish and Games’ 1997 Stream Inventory Report gave residents of Dutch Bill Watershed — 11.6 square miles from Monte Rio to Occidental — a wake-up call. The agency put the creek on the federal 303(d) list for impaired water bodies because of sediment.

Then, about three years ago, the county did not renew the permit for Camp Meeker’s summer dam due (to) the coho salmon listing. The dam had been erected each year between Memorial Day and Labor Day for over 100 years.

A 303 (d) listing requires the state to limit the total maxim daily loads (TDML) of pollutant to the water, but it hasn’t happened yet for Dutch Bill Creek.

Dolman explained that due to politics, money and bureaucracy, and the 1500 square mils area to deal with the Russian River Basin’s TMDL, which includes Dutch Bill Creek, keeps getting delayed. The latest estimates are that it is eight to 10 years away from the start of the lengthy process.

Residents of the Dutch Bill Creek watershed feel that this is too long for the coho salmon to wait. So they have formed groups to research restoration of the creek. A variety of different projects, all tied to each other, are underway.

Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District has written grants to hire contractors to do the in-stream work. Fish and Game gave money to the district to hire Doug Gore of Dragon Fly Construction to install rock weirs, root wads, and bolted logs. These will create scour pools allowing the creek to dig its own pools for the fish by leaning out sediment.

Westminster Woods and Alliance Redwoods landowners have performed restoration on the creek and have not put up their summer dams for three years.

Contractors Brian Hines and Doug Gore repaired another obstruction, a neglected and non-functioning fish ladder, built in the 1930s. Restoration work has already resulted in sighting of coho salmon at Westminster Woods last December 2001. Before that the last documented sightings were in 1954 and 1964.

The Dutch Bill creek Watershed Group’s goals are education, research, and restoration, as well as carrying out work projects and field visits periodically. Monthly Meetings are held the fourth Tuesday at 7 p.m.

The Citizen’s Advisory Committee to the Camp Meeker Recreation and Park District, which owns the summer pond area, was formed last November 2001.

According to Dolman, coho are functionally extinct in Dutch Bill creek, but Fish and Game caught 120 coho in the creek in July. A large percentage of these were found in ponds created a couple of years ago. These fish were taken to other areas to be raised and later released in other watersheds. He agreed that this is not the ideal way, but these are desperate times and there is not enough water for them all to survive in Dutch Bill Creek.

Tara Cantua, a member of the Citizen’s Advisory Committee, praised the locals for contributing positive energy, vitality, and devoted efforts at this restoration project. Educating the public is an important part of the process, she said, and the advisory group just received approval from Camp Meeker Rec. and Park to put up an informational sign at the former pond.

The following steps still need to be completed before any actual work is done on the creek at this site: developing a plan, conducting scientific studies, obtaining permits, and raising money. Currently in the planning stage, the hopes are to create a beautiful park for humans and revitalize the creek for fish.