Auburn Ravine salmon-spawning a long and winding route

Sacramento River start for fish that could spawn in Auburn one day
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - It’s a long-enough route by car. But it’s much more in terms of effort for a fish swimming against the current and preparing to die when its mission is completed. Jack Sanchez is in the car traveling west on a paved – and sometimes dirt – route by road, tracing the flow of the Auburn Ravine from Auburn to the tiny fishing village of Verona, north of Sacramento, where it converges with the Sacramento River. Sanchez is founder and a chief guiding light of Save Auburn Ravine Salmon and Steelhead. It’s an organization that has forged alliances in efforts to restore Auburn Ravine salmon spawning runs and will be hosting a Calling Back the Salmon Celebration in Lincoln on Saturday. One of the strongest partnerships has been with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It has been providing some regulatory clout in the drive to remove barriers on the water and allow salmon and steelhead to move upstream. Three NOAA officials are along to trace the long and winding, 33-mile route. Sanchez, a retired Del Oro High School teacher who has family roots in Placer County dating to the 1880s, is eager to point out the work being done with flashboard dams and other obstacles that have allowed the salmon the ability to spawn past Lincoln. In Lincoln, he can stop and point to work by the Nevada Irrigation District at its gauging station to build a fish ladder to keep the salmon moving upstream during spawning time in the fall. “This is exactly what we want,” Sanchez said. “The fish ladder has steps and pools so that the fish can get around lift and stair step their way up and over on their way to Auburn.” But downstream, Sanchez motions to the South Sutter Water District’s Coppin Dam and says the work is still hard in the face of demands from agriculture. The flashboard dam is six feet high and impassable for steelhead during the times it is up between mid-April and mid-October. “It’s an impossible barrier for steelhead and we’re working with the Water District to get a fish passage here,” Sanchez said. “South Sutter needs it to provide water for rice farming.” Auburn is the ultimate goal, but as the procession of vehicles rolls through Lincoln, then the farmland of the Sacramento Valley, past thousands of acres of rice and alfalfa fields, Sanchez points out that the fish are running against the current of a century and a half of agricultural industry use that isn’t going to vanish tomorrow and restore the 33-mile long ravine to what it originally was. Instead, Sanchez said the SARSAS goal is to bring all participants into the fold to aid a salmon run that has much promise but has been threatened with dying out. About an hour by car, Verona Village, a rustic river town, with little but a bar, a store and a sign, provides Auburn Ravine’s ultimate outflow. Don Tanner, a NOAA special agent who has been working on the intricacies of the 33-mile puzzle of ages-old practices by farmers and even-more ancient instinctual forces by salmon , said that it’s a simple right-hand turn from the Sacramento River onto the Auburn Ravine – which at Verona is known as the Natomas Cross Canal. There are challenges with poachers in a time when state Fish and Game resources are stretched thin. There are challenges with thermal influences. If the water is too warm, the fish will not move forward. And then turbidity levels in the water can throw off a sense of smell that is driving salmon to spawning grounds from far out in the ocean. Salmon receptors are picking up a smell that is just one part per billion and they have been out in the Pacific for from three to seven years. Some will make it this year to Lincoln, where the Irrigation District’s fish ladder will allow them to move close to Auburn. But Sanchez said that the work by his group and others still has a long way to go to achieve their goal of a salmon spawning ground in Auburn. One of the main obstacles still to be addressed is the Wise Powerhouse in Ophir, one mile downstream from Auburn. From there, Sanchez foresees several more fish ladders and a large pipeline would have to be built to get the salmon under Interstate 80 and toward Downtown Auburn. But Sanchez said he has a group behind the effort resolved to move forward. “It’s one of the richest streams in California,” Sanchez said. “We’re trying to simple provide fish passage.” ----------------------------------------- What: Calling Back The Salmon Celebration When: Noon to 4 p.m., Sept. 29 Where: McBean Park, 65 McBean Park Drive, Lincoln More information: Event includes games, music and information booths. Music by Mumbo Gumbo.