Since 2013, Salmonid Restoration Federation (SRF) has been conducting low-flow monitoring in Redwood Creek, a critical tributary to the South Fork Eel River. The South Fork Eel River is considered one of the highest priority watersheds in the state for flow enhancement projects. Forested tributaries like Redwood Creek provide refugia habitat for threatened juvenile coho salmon but suffer from the cumulative impacts of legacy logging and unregulated water diversions.
With funding from the Wildlife Conservation Board and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, SRF and Stillwater Sciences have been exploring the feasibility of various streamflow enhancement opportunities in Redwood Creek. Stillwater Sciences conducted a feasibility study in a segment of the watershed that helped to identify priority projects that could improve summer flows.
This summer, 2023, Salmonid Restoration Federation, Stillwater Sciences and Edwards Excavation is building an innovative flow augmentation restoration project on the historic Marshall Ranch to improve instream flows for threatened salmon and other aquatic species. This project has been years in the planning and will likely improve Redwood Creek habitat conditions for decades to come.
Additionally, SRF is pursuing a flow enhancement project on the Lost Coast Forestland property near the headwaters of Redwood Creek. The Marshall Ranch and Lost Coast Forestland flow enhancement projects combined would help accomplish our target flow goal of an average of 50 gallons per minute of flow release which would keep flows connected to allow for fish migration and hydrologic connectivity.
The historic Marshall Ranch, the largest contiguous landowner in the Redwood Creek watershed. The Marshall Ranch is fully protected under conservation easement, and the ranch bridges Redwood Creek, Somerville Creek, and Sproul Creek. This working ranch that has been in the Marshall family ownership since the 1800s is now protected in perpetuity, with restoration opportunities such as a flow-enhancement project that includes 10 million gallons of winter water storage between two off-channel ponds and 100,000-gallon water tanks that will be plumbed for fire-fighting emergencies. The purpose of this project is to release cool water into Redwood Creek during the five-month dry season to benefit threatened salmonids and other aquatic species. The flow releases will benefit the mainstem of the creek from the Marshall Ranch all the way to the confluence with the South Fork Eel River.
This project was developed by several restoration partners, including Stillwater Sciences, the lead technical consultants; the Marshall Ranch General Manager, David Sanchez, and the Marshall Ranch family representative, Elizabeth Marshall Maybee, who had the vision to preserve the ranch through conservation easements; and Hicks Law, who oversaw the Appropriative Water Right and provides expert legal guidance to the project team. SRF’s Executive Director Dana Stolzman stated, “SRF is the project proponent, but this project could not have evolved without the ongoing support of the Wildlife Conservation Board and the hard work of the project team. In this era of extended drought conditions, climate change, and intensified fire risk, innovative projects like the Marshall Ranch Flow Enhancement are needed to improve instream flows.”
The California Water Action Plan ranks the South Fork Eel as one of the highest-priority watersheds in the state for flow-enhancement projects. Similarly, the Salmon Habitat and Restoration Prioritization Project in the South Fork Eel River recognizes that although Redwood Creek is densely populated and suffers from legacy impacts, it still retains high habitat values for salmon.
After years of outreach, monitoring, and a Redwood Creek feasibility analysis, SRF and Stillwater Sciences have developed a variety of flow-enhancement opportunities ranging from groundwater recharge in the headwaters of Redwood Creek to flow-release projects in the mainstem on the Marshall Ranch, storage and forbearance projects downstream, and a recently funded forest-thinning component that will study the nexus between selective forest thinning and flows.
Recent Project Milestones:
In January 2022 the Marshall Ranch Flow-Enhancement Implementation Project was unanimously approved by the Humboldt County Planning Commissioners. Humboldt County Planning Department is the lead agency for CEQA for this exciting project, and it adopted a Mitigated Negative Declaration for the project.
Concurrently, the State Water Board completed a final review of the Marshall Ranch Appropriative Water Right application and approved it in June 2022. This is an exciting milestone because the off-channel ponds will be filled in the winter season for metered cool-water flow releases throughout the five-month dry season.
In December 2022 SRF and Stillwater completed the Redwood Creek Watershed Flow Enhancement Plan which included Redwood Creek existing conditions, implementation approaches to enhance dry-season streamflow, subwatershed conditions and recommendations, and an implementation plan.
The Wildlife Conservation Board’s Streamflow Enhancement Program is funding the implementation of the project, which will begin during the summer of 2023. SRF will also receive funding through the North Coast Resource Partnership to identify, design, and implement five water storage tanks as part of a storage and forbearance program that will help ensure that the dedicated flows from the Marshall Ranch remain instream and to improve water availability for landowners who may not have sufficient water storage in this under-served region.
Both the flow augmentation and storage and forbearance projects will be operated for a minimum of twenty years as part of a Long-term Operations and Maintenance agreements required for Prop 1- funded projects.
SRF and Stillwater Sciences are in the process of permitting the various components of the Marshall Ranch project while we are working on designs for the Lost Coast Forestland property near the headwaters of Redwood Creek.
SRF and Stillwater Sciences will continue to do pre-project streamflow monitoring and snorkel surveys as well as post-project streamflow monitoring and snorkel surveys once the project is completed.
SRF and Stillwater have conducted tribal consultations with Wailaki tribal members who are fully in support of both the Marshall Ranch flow enhancement project and the Lost Coast Forestlands flow enhancement efforts.