Salmonid Restoration Federation

Project FAQs

What is the background of this project?

The following was excerpted from Resilience in a Time of Drought: A Guide for Collective Action in North Coast Watersheds (2014).

From 2005-2013, a water conservation pilot project was implemented by Sanctuary Forest in the Mattole headwaters for the purposes of addressing low summertime water flows that impact rural residents and sensitive aquatic species. Following a “water storage and forbearance” concept, they recruited eighteen landowners to voluntarily sign a legal agreement with Sanctuary Forest to store water from the Mattole River during the high flows of the winter season, and to forbear from pumping during the dry season by using the stored winter water from their tanks during low flows. In exchange for the legally binding water forbearance agreement, Sanctuary Forest coordinated the purchasing and installation of government subsidized 50,000-gallon Pioneer water storage tanks on the private properties of the participating landowners. After placing the large storage tanks in critical fish habitat reaches that overlapped with private property, the landowners were able to store plentiful winter water for their domestic and agricultural needs—often more than enough to last them through 105 days of low summer flows. Sanctuary Forest maintained regular communication with the participating landowners throughout the year, and would notify each household when it was time to turn off their pumps for the season. Sanctuary Forest’s water storage and forbearance efforts resulted in measurable improvements in streamflows. In low flow years prior to program implementation (2004 & 2006), flows dropped to 0-3 gallons per minute (gpm) at MS6, the measure point at the downstream end of the program area. Post-implementation in low flow years (2011, 2012 & 2013), flows were measured at 49-206 gpm. The threshold flow when pools become disconnected is 90 gpm and therefore the increase in flows from turning off the pumps was significant for fish and wildlife.

Early in 2013, Sanctuary Forest and Salmonid Restoration Federation initiated a study to determine the feasibility of conducting a “technology transfer” of Sanctuary Forest’s Mattole headwaters water storage and forbearance program to Redwood Creek on the South Fork Eel River in Northern California. Redwood Creek is a 26 square-mile watershed that flows into the South Fork of the Eel River near Redway, California; it also happens to be located adjacent to the Mattole watershed, and suffers from many of the same cumulative impacts that have led to serious concerns about low summertime flows. To address these concerns, the Redwood Creek Water Conservation Project was designed in order to gather data about low flows in the watershed, to gauge community interest in establishing a voluntary water conservation program similar to the one in the Mattole, and to understand the type of water conservation program that might be appropriate for the Redwood Creek watershed and its rural residents.

What is water storage and forbearance?

As it relates to this project, water storage typically refers to above-ground tanks that can be used to store water from a river or tributary during the high flow season in Winter and early Spring. Forbearance refers to the practice of using stored water from an above-ground tank during the low flow Summer season, as opposed to diverting water directly from a river or tributary.

What is technology transfer?

Technology transfer generally refers to the transfer of information, knowledge, or technology from one entity or geographic location to another. For this project, transferability can be thought of as the replication, scaling-out, or adoption of water conservation technologies or practices that were successful in one place to another place, based on the unique social and environmental context of the watershed.

What is the overall vision of this project?

To foster a productive, solutions-oriented dialogue in the Redwood Creek watershed and surrounding areas about environmental stewardship and water conservation, and to contribute to the eventual restoration of healthy water flows on Redwood Creek for the benefit of both people and fish. We are engaging with local leaders to develop voluntary, community-led solutions that will address low flow issues in this South Fork Eel River watershed.

What other groups are involved in this project?

SRF has been collaborating with many groups and agencies in a coordinated effort to grow this project. We recently received funding from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the North Coast Water Quality Control Board to do technical education, in addition to comprehensive planning and monitoring. SRF has also been working with Sanctuary Forest, Eel River Salmon Restoration Program, the Eel River Watershed Improvement Group, and Stillwater Sciences to develop the parameters of the feasibility study for this project.

What is the timeline of this project?

In collaboration with our partners, we are working to develop The Redwood Creek Water Conservation Project into a sustainable, long-term program. The timeline is ongoing.

Who should I contact if I have questions about this project?

Contact us at with any questions about The Redwood Creek Water Conservation Project.