For the first time since the 1950s, thanks to a conservation agreement that restored fall water flows, Putah Creek has a true salmon run under way.
UC Davis fisheries biologist Peter Moyle confirms that salmon came up the creek early this month and have nearly finished spawning. Moyle, an authority on California native fish, developed the data that were instrumental in a 1996 lawsuit and subsequent settlement agreement that restored the seasonal flows.
In the past week, Moyle and research associates Pat Crain and Kathryn Small have canoed the 16-mile reach of Putah Creek from the Putah Diversion Dam through the UC Davis campus. They saw 20 live salmon and about 35 spawning sites, called redds, indicating that at least 70 salmon spawned in the creek. Most of the available habitat was used by the fish.
"It's very gratifying to see them," Moyle said. "They clearly came upstream in response to the special water releases from the dam. Otherwise it's unlikely they could have made it around a number of obstacles, included two large beaver dams."
Moyle said it would be best for the salmon if anglers left the fish alone for a few years.
Putah Creek flows 22 miles from the diversion dam past Winters and UC Davis and into the Yolo Bypass floodplain east of Davis. There, its waters join the Sacramento River and travel to San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
UC Davis faculty, staff and students are deeply involved in the many creek restoration efforts for fish, plants and wildlife. Moyle said that the cooperation among local agencies, cities, schools and landowners is rapidly making Putah Creek an exemplary model for citizen-based conservation. The restoration efforts are led by the Lower Putah Creek Coordinating Committee and the Putah Creek Council.
This year, supplemental "attraction flows" of 50 cubic feet per second were released from the diversion dam from Nov. 30 through Dec. 5. Moyle said, "We have been experimenting with the timing of the flow releases. And this year we got it right."
More supplemental flows will be released in the spring to ensure that young salmon can head to sea.