Mill Creek Restoration in Full Swing

Mill Creek Restoration Plan./Map courtesy of the Hoopa Valley Tribal Fisheries Department.

Mill Creek Restoration Plan./Map courtesy of the Hoopa Valley Tribal Fisheries Department.

If You Build it, They Will Come

By Allie Hostler, Two Rivers Tribune

Published in the Volume 23, Issue 14 edition of the Two Rivers Tribune

Baby salmon need protection from a swath of threats awaiting them after they hatch. If they are strong enough to survive one-to-two years in fresh water, they might make it to the sea where they feed and mature into adults, swim back to their natal stream to spawn and complete their lifecycle.

The Hoopa Valley Tribe’s Fisheries Department hopes to improve survival rates of Mill Creek Coho and Chinook salmon smolts by restoring the stream bed and flood plain area to resemble what it was prior to the 1964 flood.

“The 1964 Flood annihilated parts of Hoopa,” Hoopa Valley Tribal Fisheries Biologist, Paul Petros said. “At that time, the Army Corps of Engineers was more concerned about moving water, so they channeled the creeks to move water out. I don’t think fisheries habitat was considered.”

What resulted was a straight, steep reach in the flood plain; an inhospitable fast-moving waterway that was no good for spawning or rearing habitat.

“The channel was so steep and confined. The velocity of the water is much faster than any juvenile fish would want to rear in,” Petros said.

Mill Creek, in its natural, pre-flood state, was a large alluvial fan. The flood plain area of the creek was slow moving and occupied the area between Mill Creek Road and Marshall Lane. The slow moving nature of the stream created ideal spawning habitat for Coho and other salmonids.

“Once we open that up, add some gravel, meanders and restore the riparian area, we will have doubled the stream length, providing better habitat and more of it, Petros said.

If You Build it, They Will Come

Two crews have joined forces to complete the on-the ground work; Hoopa Valley Roads and Aggregate and Kapel Construction. Each crew has four people pushing, piling and moving around about 120,000 cubic yards of silt left behind for more than 53 years.

Once the material is removed and the new channels are established, river bed will be exposed, and gravel and log features will be added.

The plan began more than two years ago with an idea to restore the flood plain areas of Supply Creek and Mill Creek. Funding was sought and obtained from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries).

The HVT Fisheries Department contracted with McBain and Associates, the same engineers who have helped design the restoration efforts further upstream on the mainstem Trinity River as well as many of its tributaries.

Loren Norton, director of Hoopa Valley Roads and Aggregate said his crews have previously worked on stream restoration projects at Bucktail Creek near Lewiston, Supply Creek in Hoopa and upon completion of their work at Mill Creek, they begin another restoration project at Sheraton Gulch near Lewiston.

“We’re gearing up for more restoration work,” Norton said. “We’re also getting the experience we need to hopefully partner with neighboring tribes when the time comes to remove the Klamath Dams.”

Tyke Robbins owns and operates Kapel Construction.

“As a person from the river, who grew up on the river, and loves fish, I’m happy I can help,” Robbins said. “What we’re doing—creating meanders, turns, eddies, putting trees and gravel in—will give the small fish a place to rear. I hope people realize how much it helps the fish and support the project.”

Petros said it could take several years of gathering data to measure the benefits of the restoration projects, but he’s confident there will be benefits.

He added, “We’re doing this work during a time when overall populations are at an all-time low, so it could take a while before we see a change.”

Phase One of the Mill Creek project is expected to be completed by late June or July with Marshall Lane reopening in late June.

The HVT Fisheries Department recently partnered with the Hoopa Public Utilities District to secure more funding to complete Phase Two of the Supply Creek project. Phase Two will consist of removing an antiquated sewer system and replacing it with a new one.

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