The Dry Creek Habitat Enhancement and Demonstration Project supported by the Sonoma County Water Agency and several cooperating landowners, is a decade long project that is large in both its scope and intention. The essence of the project aims to improve the habitat of the now endangered Coho salmon and Steelhead trout that call the Dry Creek their home. Winery Partner Don Wallace has always had a passion for land preservation and sustainability, and a desire to restore the Dry Creek. “Before we began this project, the creek bed was eroded and the flow of water had changed. It wasn’t always like that. This creek used to run dry – hence it’s name.” The change has been dramatic.
In the 1970s and 80s, Warm Springs Dam, known as Lake Sonoma, was constructed. Its operation began in 1984 to provide flood control in the winter and to store water year-round for municipal and domestic uses. The dam has affected the Dry Creek in many ways, but no other species have been as adversely affected as the Coho salmon and Steelhead trout. The creek no longer runs “dry” as it once did. Rather, flow rates vary with lower rates in the winter and swifter rates during summer months. The result is a poor habitat quality and a stressful environment for the young Coho and Steelhead when they are at their most vulnerable state. Riffle habitats, important fish production areas, are also rare up and down the creek.
This important project has now finished stage 2 with the hope of regenerating the fish population along the entire Dry Creek. The first demonstration project was completed in 2012 along 1.1 miles in the middle of the valley, extending from the mouth of Grape Creek downstream to the mouth of Crane Creek. Stage 2 behind Kim and Don’s home was finished in the fall of 2013 and included a new estuary for spawning fish along with several riffle areas and bank and erosion control improvements. The entire project is slated for completion in 2020, which will ultimately result in more than six miles of habitat enhancement. In the next 10 to 15 years, the hope is that the Dry Creek will return to its natural habitat as one of Sonoma County’s prime spawning areas for these endangered fish.
For Don, stepping forward and offering his backyard as a demonstration area was an easy decision as was convincing his neighbors up and down the creek that this was a worthwhile project. “This project is something I’m passionate about,” says Don. “Everything we do at the winery and in our business practices is an effort to lead sustainable lives. It’s no different at home. We’re protecting this area for future generations.”
For more information or status updates about this project, please visit http://www.scwa.ca.gov/drycreek/.