As the three forks of the Yuba converge, they create what is commonly referred to as the Lower Yuba River stretching 21 miles from Englebright Dam to Marysville before joining the Feather River. This 21-mile stretch of the Lower Yuba River is one of the most unique ecosystems in the Sierra as it is home to the last spawning grounds for wild threatened salmon and steelhead trout on the Yuba River.
During the Gold Rush era, hydraulic mining sediments flooded the Lower Yuba River covering hundreds of acres of habitat under rocks and sediment. An estimated 634 million cubic yards of sediment enter the Yuba River, that’s about double the amount of earth removed to carve out the Panama Canal. Given the amount of disturbance the lower Yuba River was subjected to, many believed the river was too degraded to be restored.
SYRCL was not one of those naysayers. And now the restoration project has begun!
In 1995, the US Fish and Wildlife Service established its Anadromous Fisheries Restoration Program, whose focus is to increase naturally produced populations of anadromous fish (fish that are born in freshwater, live out their lives in the ocean, and return to freshwater to spawn) in California’s Central Valley streams on a long-term, sustainable basis. In 2016, the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL) applied for and received a $3.2 million grant in order to begin restoration on 42 acres of the part of the Lower Yuba River known as Long Bar. The majority of the restoration process will consist of removing approximately 350,000 yards of hydraulic mining debris in order to restore optimal spawning conditions for spring run Chinook and Central Valley Steelhead Trout by bringing the floodplain down to where the water is and then planting along the riverbanks in order to jumpstart the food chain. The goal is to re-establish dynamic equilibrium.
A number of entities are coming together to complete this project. From the Yuba Water Agency and cbec, an eco engineering company, and Teichert, a Sacramento-based construction company, to Patterson Taber, a structural engineering firm in Marysville, and SYRCL, a nonprofit environmental stewardship organization. But one of the most interesting partnerships is with a gravel mining company, SRI. Established in 1990, SRI is headquartered adjacent to where the restoration project is located. They are known for their specialty products, especially sand for filtration, industrial uses, and golf courses, as well as decorative rocks. The source of their products have been the very mine debris that this project is tasked to remove.
Due to various environmental regulations, though, SRI was unable to mine the tailings within the river bed that have been the source of the environmental and habitat degradation. This project has cut through that red tape and SRI is now able to access that material, ensuring that they can stay in business for a number of years.
Were it not for SRI, the material would have had to have been trucked away, not only multiplying the carbon footprint of the project, but also it would have added an additional $42 million to the cost of the project.
The partnership just makes sense.
This phase of the project should be completed by the end of the summer. We’ll be sure to update you about our progress throughout the summer.