The Salmon Protection and Watershed Network’s largest conservation project to date is moving upstream. This month the group secured over half a million dollars to complete the second phase of its effort to improve habitat for endangered salmon in Lagunitas Creek between the ghost towns of Jewell and Tocaloma.
The floodplain and riparian enhancement project, which kicked off last year, was originally estimated to be a $1.2 million project. Preston Brown, who directs SPAWN’s watershed conservation program, said the actual cost of removing the fill from the creek—which was transported to a restoration project at a defunct Petaluma golf course—was much higher than anticipated in part due to construction work on Marin and Sonoma County roads that put truckers on the road for longer periods.
He said the final bill will likely be $3 million.
On May 15, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife awarded SPAWN $593,040 from its competitive Proposition 1 and Proposition 68 grant program for the second phase. Several agencies have contributed funds from the start, including that department, the California State Water Resources Control Board and the Coastal Conservancy.
SPAWN came up with the idea for the restoration after the park service evicted the last remaining residents of the towns—which lie along Lagunitas Creek north of Olema, in the Golden Gate Restoration Area—and demolished their homes in 2016. The residents of the two small towns, which dated back to the 1930s, had reached the end of their reservations of use and occupancy with the Golden Gate Restoration Area, which hands over management of its northern reaches to the Point Reyes National Seashore.
The first phase of SPAWN’s project, completed last October, included lifting 13,000 cubic yards of fill out of the creek to create a floodplain in Tocaloma. The group removed retaining walls and fill, created side channels and installed woody debris to create habitat for fish. Coho salmon and steelhead trout spend their first year in the creek and return to lay their eggs there. The area also supports some of the densest concentrations of endangered freshwater shrimp in the region, according to SPAWN.
Many volunteers, which the group estimates have been in the hundreds, have helped with other projects at the site: sowing, weeding, planting.
The plan is much the same for the second phase but will take place where Jewell once stood—about a mile up the creek along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard from Tocaloma.
“The project will remove 6,000 cubic yards of fill, concrete, and construction rubble, add several pieces of large woody debris, replace non-native invasive plants with native species, and create critical side-channel habitats for coho salmon and other endangered species,” a press release from SPAWN states.
Originally, the project was meant to include the removal of the two buildings that house SPAWN and its parent organization, the nonprofit Turtle Island Restoration Network. Mr. Brown said there were no plans to do that yet, however: that timeline remains at the discretion of the park service, he said.
In early 2018, the park service—which serves as the lead agency for the project’s compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and the California Environmental Quality Act—released a joint environmental assessment and mitigated negative declaration, which laid out the project for the public.
One of the main tenets of the project was to restore a historic floodplain, which SPAWN said was filled in when the adjacent throughway, Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, was cut. Marin County built that road in 1927 and paved it in 1929.
Mr. Brown said that geological boring tests conducted before the project showed that under a layer of topsoil was around 12 feet of soil that matched the soil from the adjacent hillside—colluvium—mixed with built materials such as rebar and cement. Below that was alluvium, deposits of clay, silt, sand and gravel left by flowing streams.