Twenty years of improving fish habitat

For the last 20 years and without much fanfare, the Santa Clara Valley Water District has implemented fish habitat improvement projects throughout the valley. In the Guadalupe River and Coyote and Stevens creeks, the water district continues to create a healthy living space that’s encouraging steelhead trout and salmon to survive, grow and reproduce.

A key component of that work is the Fisheries and Aquatic Habitat Collaborative Effort, also known as FAHCE. Aimed at resolving a water rights complaint before the State Water Resources Control Board filed by the Guadalupe-Coyote Resource Conservation District, the FAHCE program is, at its core, about the water district protecting the environment and restoring habitat and will eventually lead to improved habitat within 100 miles of creeks and six reservoirs.

The water district is continuously on the lookout for partners to improve habitat conditions throughout the valley, but has also stepped up on its own to get work done. In the past 20 years, the water district has found opportunities to improve habitat in ongoing stream maintenance work and capital improvement projects, each of which has undergone corresponding environmental reviews.

“We are probably doing more than people think,” Jason Nishijima, a water district associate water resources specialist, said.

So far, the water district has:

  • Removed more than 20 fish passage impediments in the three creeks, including 10 out of the 18 priority barriers specified in the settlement agreement.
  • Stopped using in-stream gravel spreader dams on Guadalupe and Coyote creeks to enable fish migration and reduce water temperatures.
  • Modified 2,100 feet of land in Stevens Creek, including removal of four known fish passage impediments.
  • Allocated $1 million in water district funds to support the City of San José’s efforts to remove the fish barrier at the city-owned Singleton Road crossing near Coyote Creek.
  • Funded a feasibility study on Santa Clara County-owned Ogier Pond Complex to address fish passage issues.
  • Funded a fish barrier prioritization study on Stevens Creek.
  • Initiated a study for prioritizing fish habitat improvements in steelhead streams, including large woody debris and gravel augmentation.
  • Acquired fish monitoring devices to install in Coyote Creek, Stevens Creek and Guadalupe River.

“We’ve done quite a lot and we are going to keep doing things to help with the fisheries,” said Sarah Young, a senior project manager with the program, adding that each watershed would benefit from help of parties such as public agencies and land owners near the waterways. “Support from these potential partners would move us further toward aquatic habitat restoration.”

The water district has grants available for habitat restoration projects, including fish habitat and passage improvement. The ongoing work in the watersheds continues and the water district will capture its progress in this blog. Currently, the water district’s FAHCE team is preparing the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the entire FAHCE program, eyeing a completion date of spring 2019.  This EIR will evaluate the proposed projects’ impact on the potential work sites. Formal approval of the document by the board of directors is anticipated for late 2019.

The projects listed above are part of the overall FAHCE program, with some specifically named in the settlement agreement. However, they did not have to wait for the completion of the Environmental Impact Report currently under review. That EIR applies to the program as a whole and not specifically to the projects contained within it. Each of those projects went through and completed the CEQA process.

Keep watching this space for updates on FAHCE and check out the program’s web page.

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