2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015)

Paper No. 253-13
Presentation Time: 4:50 PM


HORNER, Timothy, Department of Geology, California State University, Sacramento, CA 95819, THORPE, Whitney, Department of Biological Sciences, California State University, Sacramento, 6000 J St., Sacramento, CA 95819 and CARDENAS, Charles, Geology Department, California State University, Sacramento, 6000 J St., Sacramento, CA 95819, hornertc@csus.edu

The American River is a major salmon spawning stream in Northern California, and produces up to 25% of the salmonids in the state. More than 90% of this production consists of hatchery fish, although natural spawning is highly valued for its genetic diversity and natural selection processes. The Federal government has committed to enhancing natural spawning on the American River as part of the Anadromous Fish Restoration Program (AFRP), and is currently spending $500,000 to $800,000 per year for gravel restoration projects below Folsom Dam, a Federal project. Some restoration sites on the American River are now 8 years old.

Project design is a complex process involving geologists, biologists, engineers and Federal, State and local regulators. Gravel restoration sites are designed to create spawning riffles where pools or glides existed, and focus on appropriate depth, velocity and substrate size for fall run Chinook salmon and steelhead. Pre- and post- project measurements show dramatic changes in river and stream bed conditions at the restoration sites. Grain size and sorting are engineered to remove armored surface layers and appropriate sized spawning gravel is added. Most sites show order of magnitude increases in permeability and 50% increases in dissolved oxygen content immediately after spawning gravel is added. Surface water depth is adjusted to range between 1.0 and 2.5 ft during spawning season, and surface water velocity is usually between 1.5 and 4.0 ft/s in the gravel addition sites. These ideal physical conditions lead to corresponding increases in spawning use. Sites with little or no spawning prior to restoration often hold hundreds of spawning pairs after restoration. These estimates are based on high resolution air photographs and photo enhancement techniques.

Difficult management decisions are related to the longevity of sites and the unpredictable nature of flows on the American River. Recent drought has resulted in low flows, but even under these mild flow conditions the sites are degrading. Dissolved oxygen content has dropped with time, grain size has increased and spawning gravel is mobile. Predictions of site longevity have huge error bars, but it appears that spawning sites will need to be replenished on a 15 to 20 year frequency, or more often if high flows cause complete bed mobilization.

  • Horner GSA talk Fall 2015.ppt (20.9 MB)