Army Corps of Engineers’ Feasibility Study

In December 2020, Congress approved the Lower Yuba River Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Feasibility Study. A once hopeful sign of cooperation between stakeholders of the Yuba River Watershed, the feasibility study received extensive public comment in 2015 from NGO organizations and SYRCL members. At that time, SYRCL prepared and submitted a comment letter on behalf of twelve conservation and fishing organizations, representing the leading voices for watershed and fisheries conservation and restoration in the watershed. The letter can be summarized in four main points:

  1. Focus on restoration and recovery of wild salmon, steelhead and green sturgeon populations to achieve broader ecosystem benefits;
  2. Primarily focus on solutions for the Army Corps’ dams, including options for removal of Daguerre Point Dam and credible volitional fish passage alternatives at Englebright;
  3. Develop alternatives for habitat restoration on the Lower Yuba River that include expanding floodplains, increasing availability of large wood, restoring riparian forests, and creating more side-channel habitat; and
  4. Utilize all available information and local experts, including restoration practitioners and academics, to ensure the acceptability of study results.

In June of 2019, the USACE signed their final Yuba River Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study. Unfortunately, the final Study contains no discussion of potential fish passage alternatives for Englebright Dam or alteration of the historically difficult fish passage at Daguerre Point Dam. The omission of a solution for fish passage in the Yuba River effectively ignores public comment and disregards decades of salmonid restoration research. SYRCL is sorely disappointed the Army Corp did not grasp this opportunity to direct a plan that stakeholders can uniformly support into the future. The $5.14 million feasibility study reports that the 179 acres proposed for habit restoration on the Lower Yuba River by Yuba Water Agency and the Army Corp of Engineers will have “no significant impact on the quality of the human environment.”

Salmonid habitat restoration is a crucial component to the survival of threatened fish species, and SYRCL is currently working on more than 250 acres of floodplain and habitat restoration in the Lower Yuba River to address necessary steps. The 179 acres proposed by the USACE are a welcome addition to the Lower Yuba River restoration efforts, but the USACE is one of the only entities with the authority to assess potential fish passage on existing dams in the Yuba River watershed. SYRCL believes omitting assessment of volitional fish passage on Englebright and Daguerre Point dams is a critical misstep in the recovery of Yuba River salmon, steelhead and green sturgeon. 

The Yuba River Restoration Feasibility Study, state flood protection measures, and similar aquatic ecosystem restoration projects were moved forward by congress in the 2020 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). It is unknown whether the Yuba Feasibility Study will receive federal funding approval in 2021, but SYRCL staff continue to diligently track its progress. In the meantime, they will advocate for better holistic watershed management and protection of threatened Yuba fisheries.