Salmon in the Rice Fields

Such a cool and innovative idea, blogged on previously, but a few days ago, as reported by California Water Blog.

An excerpt.

The floodplain smorgasbord is open! Wrapping up a successful fifth season, the Knaggs

Nigiri project places fall run juvenile Chinook salmon in inundated rice fields during a six week period in February and early March, the non-rice-growing season. The project has implications for improving the condition of the fish and the chances of survival by giving them access to floodplain habitat.

Historically, large areas of floodplain habitat in the Central Valley were available to salmon during the winter and spring months. Regulation of river flows combined with alteration of river channel geometry by construction of levees and channelization have vastly reduced the amount of floodplain habitat. California’s water infrastructure is designed for flood control and water supply during the dry summer months, but has inadvertently cut off a valuable habitat for rearing juvenile salmon.

How do we reconcile these seemingly competing interests? The answer is simple: use our existing infrastructure, with some minor modifications, to create “surrogate” floodplains in rice fields during the non-growing season.

These surrogate floodplains serve as engines of productivity when the water is spread out by increasing the solar influx and driving production of a robust food web. Fish are provided a rich diet of large zooplankton (figure 2). At times the water is so full of large zooplankton that the fish appear to be swimming in a “Zoop-Soup.” The fish respond by gaining weight and length at rates that far surpass growth rates of fish confined to the channelized river.

Eventually, modification of our existing infrastructure includes plans for an operable structure in Fremont Weir, which will allow salmon and river water access to the productive habitats of the Yolo Bypass even at relatively low flows. Modified operable weirs in the Bypass itself will allow water to be impounded, providing floodplain habitat to wild-origin salmon migrating out to the ocean. This impoundment will allow for robust floodplain food webs to establish, giving these fish access to better food resources than in the main river. Access to the Yolo Bypass also has the potential to give the juvenile salmon a better migration corridor and a more direct route to the Pacific Ocean. The modified system will be capable of providing floodplain habitat during drought conditions when it can have the most profound impact.

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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