Riparian & Wetlands

SERCAL 2016 Technical Session, Tahoe

Chair: Mark Young, Westervelt Ecological Services

Lead presenters in alpha order

Inter-connected riparian and wetland systems make up vibrant aquatic habitats throughout California. Critical losses of these habitats have had a devastating effect on both flora and fauna; all shaped by land-use decisions. Over the last four-plus decades, environmental awareness and regulatory support have challenged society to halt this destruction and restore functioning ecosystems. The Riparian and Wetlands session is divided into four themes, with the talks providing representative examples of these restoration efforts. These themes are: a) Water Quality and Restoration, b) Restoring Bay Wetlands, c) Re-Growing Central Valley Rivers, and d) Making Healthy Sierra Floodplains. 

Achieving Effective Riparian Restoration Outcomes by Weighing Costs and Benefits

Christopher Crawford*, Daniel Mountjoy, and Kelli McCune*

Sustainable Conservation, San Francisco;;

Over the past year and a half, Sustainable Conservation has developed a framework to weigh the costs and benefits of riparian restoration along the Lower Mokelumne River, in order to help local stakeholders target outreach and funding for future riparian restoration projects to most effectively meet the goals in their watershed plan. We assessed the remaining area that could be restored to riparian habitat along the river, and conducted a cost-benefit analysis to help inform outreach and funding for future restoration work. The goal for the product is to provide decision-support information that is spatially explicit and informs stakeholders where targeted outreach to landowners along the river and funding allocations could achieve the biggest bang for the buck in terms of environmental outcomes for the investment in project planning, permitting, and implementation. We are interested in sharing the framework for our assessment with the SERCAL audience, in the hope that other conservation practitioners will be able to build on it for their own work to increase the effectiveness of limited outreach capacity and funding for riparian restoration in California.


Measuring Riparian Restoration Success using Central Valley Joint Venture Objectives

Kristen E. Dybala*, Nathaniel E. Seavy, and Thomas Gardali

Point Blue Conservation Science, 3820 Cypress Drive #11, Petaluma, CA 94954;

Riparian restoration projects provide multiple benefits to the fish, wildlife, and people that depend on them. Thus, capturing the full value of these restoration projects may require multiple metrics of success. We present a simple way to measure the benefit of individual riparian restoration projects to riparian birds using the recently revised Central Valley Joint Venture population, density, and habitat objectives. These objectives are intended to achieve a long-term goal of riparian ecosystems that are capable of supporting robust and resilient wildlife populations, benefitting people and wildlife of the Central Valley and beyond. To illustrate how these objectives can be applied, we discuss two Central Valley riparian restoration projects — the 2,100-acre Dos Rios Ranch restoration project, one of the largest riparian restoration projects in the region, and the 300-acre Lower Cosumnes River restoration experiment, which is designed to compare the effectiveness of multiple restoration practices in providing habitat for riparian birds. We used the Central Valley Joint Venture objectives to estimate the potential value of each project in terms of how many additional breeding riparian landbirds the project could deliver, to estimate the contribution of each project toward achieving the habitat objectives, and to set the criteria by which the outcomes of the experiment will be assessed. Ongoing bird population surveys will allow us to measure the actual outcomes of each project and ultimately to demonstrate project success even as these systems are impacted by a changing climate.


Integrating Water Quality Improvement into Coastal Restoration

Steve Gruber

Burns & McDonnell Engineering, 4275 Executive Square, Suite 420, La Jolla, CA 92037; 949.444.1002;

Big Canyon is a 1,300-acre coastal watershed in Newport Beach, California, that drains to Upper Newport Bay, an important coastal ecological preserve. Big Canyon Creek, which drains the watershed, is a perennial urban stream that is impaired due to elevated levels of selenium. As a result, a total maximum daily load (TMDL) has been established for the creek to protect the stream’s beneficial uses. Big Canyon Creek also suffers from anthropogenic alterations that have negatively impacted stream hydrology, habitat, and water quality, as well as riparian vegetation and wildlife habitat. The Big Canyon Habitat Restoration and Water Quality Improvement Project is a multiple benefit, collaborative program designed to address these issues by integrating stream and riparian restoration with water quality improvement wetlands, a comprehensive water conservation strategy, and enhanced recreational opportunities. The restoration components consist of 5 acres of restored riparian habitat and invasive species removal, a re-graded flood plain to provide stream connectivity, and stream channel restoration to reduce erosion and enhance in-stream habitat. The water quality improvement wetlands have been integrated into the restoration design. They consist of subterranean treatment cells specifically designed to reduce selenium concentrations to levels low enough to meet the regulatory requirements of the TMDL. They will also remove a suite of stormwater pollutants common to urbanized watersheds (metals, nutrients, and indicator bacteria). The project has been funded through a collaborative effort involving grants from multiple agencies, matching funds from the City, and a volunteer workforce from several local environmental groups.


Feathers, Fur, and Fins: Thirteen Years of Multi-benefit Restoration

Jeff Holt*, Heyo Tjarks, Trevor Meadows, Helen Swagerty, and Michael Rogner

River Partners, 121 West Main, Suite H, Turlock, CA 95382

Over the last thirteen years, River Partners has restored over 3,000 acres of riparian habitat along the San Joaquin River at the confluence of its largest tributary, the Tuolumne River. The majority of this work occurred on the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge but more recently has taken shape on the adjacent Dos Rios Ranch. The Refuge was established in 1987 in an effort to save the Aleutian cackling goose, which at the time was a federally listed species. However, over the past thirteen years, restoration efforts have focused on habitat for multiple threatened and endangered species including the least Bell’s vireo, riparian brush rabbit, and most recently, salmon. In addition to wildlife habitat, our restoration design also incorporates components to promote natural river processes (e.g. sediment deposition and scour), improve local flood safety, and enhance groundwater recharge. Through ecological design and adaptive management, the restoration has been resilient to both fire and floods and has maintained valuable wildlife habitat throughout the four years of historic drought. We present here thirteen years of lessons learned through the analysis of vegetation and wildlife monitoring data, hydraulic modeling, and adaptive management techniques used to design and manage a multi-benefit riparian restoration project.


Removing a 500,000 Gallon Water Tank from the Middle of a Sierra Stream

Kelley Kelso* and Jason Drew

NCE, 155 Hwy 50 Suite 204 Stateline, NV 89449; 775.588.2505;

In the 1950s, a 500,000-gallon water tank was constructed in the middle of Griff Creek in the Lake Tahoe Basin. As a result, the creek was constrained to a narrow portion of the already small valley floor. As residential development encroached on the creek in the 1960s, it further impacted the creek and its riparian corridor. Bank instability, channel incision, and conifer encroachment were evident throughout the reach. The North Tahoe Public Utility District recognized the value in removing the dilapidated tank for public safety, water system efficiency, and the ability to improve riparian conditions along Griff Creek. The tank, pump station, and associated aboveground infrastructure were removed in the fall of 2014 along with an approximately 200’-long berm constructed on the left bank of the creek. The site was then recontoured to restore natural grades and allow hydrologic connection between the creek and its historic floodplain. One of the unique aspects of the project was the need to perform a benefit-impact analysis to determine if instream improvements were to be included. The result showed the impact outweighed the benefit and therefore the project focused on bank and floodplain improvements. Another unique aspect of the project was the ability to use only onsite soils from the floodplain excavation to fill the large cut slopes from the original tank construction. This presentation will highlight the lessons learned from integrating restoration into an infrastructure project.


The Role of Local Adaptation in Heavy Metal Tolerance and Phytoextraction Capacity

Jeff Lauder, Ori Chafe and Alex Lincoln*

Sierra Streams Institute, 431 Uren Street, Suite C, Nevada City, CA 95959

A century of gold mining in the Sierra Nevada foothills has resulted in a legacy of abandoned mine waste containing heavy metals. Environmental and human health risks of these contaminants are especially high in riparian areas where heavy metals may enter waterways and have far-reaching impacts due to connectivity to the Delta and the Pacific Ocean. The abandoned Providence Mine in Nevada City, CA, borders Deer Creek, a major tributary to the Yuba River, and contains elevated levels of cadmium, lead, and arsenic. One viable strategy for abandoned mine sites in riparian areas such as Providence Mine is phytoremediation, the use of green plants to cleanup environmental contaminants. Willows (Salix spp.) have demonstrated capacity to tolerate and extract high concentrations of cadmium, among other contaminants. In this study, we investigated the potential role of local adaptation in heavy metal extraction capacity and tolerance in the California-native Arroyo willow (S. lasiolepis) to test the hypothesis that trees growing in contaminated soils are better candidate source trees for mine site re-vegetation. We used a simple factorial experiment to examine differences in growth, mortality, root length, and heavy metal extraction capacity between cuttings from trees growing in mine waste versus trees growing in non-contaminated soil. Results will inform future restoration and re-vegetation efforts of historic mining sites, and demonstrate the importance of considering proper source population site and genetic effects in developing remediation strategies.


Floodplain Reconnection on the Upper Truckee River, Lake Tahoe, California

Virginia Mahacek*1 and Michael Rudd, PE2

1Cardno, P.O. Box 1533 Zephyr Cove, NV 89448; 775.790.7363; 2Cardno, 2300 Clayton Road Suite 200, Concord, CA; 925.988.1227;

Two of Cardno’s river and floodplain restoration projects along the Upper Truckee River used varied approaches to address the geomorphic and ecological consequences of historic disturbance throughout the watershed and at the project sites to achieve goals while considering ongoing land uses, infrastructure constraints, and uncertainty about future restoration actions on adjoining reaches. The California Tahoe Conservancy’s Lower West Side project reconnected over 12 acres of floodplain wetlands in the Upper Truckee Marsh. It restored an area that had been buried in several feet of fill for over 30 years, improving ecological function and water quality while being flexible to fit future river restoration options. Implementation was phased between 2000 and 2003 and protected lake water quality. Adaptive management and qualitative and quantitative post-project monitoring illustrate the varied benefits. The site is being integrated into the recently selected ‘preferred’ design for the adjoining river and marsh restoration. The City of South Lake Tahoe’s Upper Truckee Middle Reach project re-established 18 acres of active floodplain. It excavated broad areas of fill along the airport and constructed over 3,000 feet of sinuous channel to replace the channelized and rip-rap section. Construction spanned 2008 to 2011 to allow vegetation to stabilize the new channel and floodplain surfaces prior to activation. Monitoring is characterizing post-project conditions, tracking performance and effectiveness, and informing adaptive management actions. Both projects received TRPA Best-in-Basin awards. We will discuss objectives and desired outcomes, design approach and constraints, implementation techniques, monitoring methods and results, adaptive management actions, and lessons learned.


Tides not Casinos: Restoring 1,000 Acres of Tidal Wetlands at Sears Point

Julian Meisler

Baylands Program Manager; Sonoma Land Trust, 822 Fifth Street, Santa Rosa, CA 95404; 707.526.6930 x109;

In 2005, Sonoma Land Trust completed the acquisition of 2,327 acres along the rural northern shoreline of San Pablo Bay — land that had been slated for construction of a Las Vegas-style casino. The next ten years of planning, permitting, and fundraising paid off in fall 2015 with the breach of an historic levee and the return of the tides. We present some of the innovative project design features and discuss the pros and cons for small organizations taking on large and expensive projects and the vital need for collaboration in such pursuits.


20 years of Collaborative Conservation after Curtailment of In-channel Mining on Lower Cache Creek

Andrew Rayburn*1, Mark Tompkins2, Paul Frank2, Elisa Sabatini3, Heidi Tschudin4, Keith Hannon5, Nancy Ullrey5, Randy Sater6, Hillary White7, and Casey Liebler3

1Independent Consultant, Davis, CA 95616; 2FlowWest, Oakland, CA 94612 3Yolo County Administrator’s Office, Woodland, CA 95695 4Tschudin Consulting Group, Sacramento, CA 95811 5Cache Creek Conservancy, Woodland, CA 95695 6Teichert Aggregates, Woodland, CA 95695 7Senior Ecologist, H.T. Harvey & Associates, Sacramento, CA 95833

Lower Cache Creek in Yolo County was historically mined for gravel, constrained by transportation infrastructure, and bounded by agriculture, leading to environmental degradation. In 1996, in-channel mining was curtailed and the innovative Cache Creek Area Plan was implemented to adaptively manage creek resources. Since then, the County has partnered with public and private stakeholders to implement the multifaceted CCAP, the 10-year update of which is underway. We focus on changes in biological resources over the 20-year period. Since 1996, several sites have been revegetated or restored, and additional sites are being assessed. For example, over the next 20 years, mining companies will restore and dedicate 1,500+ acres to public ownership that will be integrated into the lower Cache Creek Parkway to support public use and conservation. Vegetation mapping and classification has also occurred, most recently in 2016 using UAV aerial photography. These data are being compared to baseline and intermediate datasets to assess changes in critical riparian habitat that is home to numerous special-status wildlife species. A comprehensive elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea) survey has also been conducted to serve as a permitting baseline. Finally, a long-term collaborative invasive species treatment program has successfully targeted tamarisk (Tamarix sp.), arundo (Arundo donax), Ravenna grass (Saccharum ravennae), and other species. This program is now being scoped for expansion into the upper watershed to target source populations. All of these programs have been integrated with geomorphic and hydraulic monitoring, modeling, and analysis, setting the stage for creative, collaborative conservation to continue on lower Cache Creek.


Flow Regime Management for Riparian Restoration

Katie Ross-Smith, PhD

Cardno, 701 University Avenue Suite 200, Sacramento, CA 95825;

Riparian forests represent a small fraction of lands in California watersheds, yet support a disproportionately high diversity and richness of biota. Riparian forests are also critical to the maintenance and restoration of aquatic systems. Riparian vegetation provides food for aquatic biota; instream habitat, shade, water quality protection; and affects floodplain processes. California riparian plants are adapted to the dynamic and episodic, yet seasonally probable, hydrology conditions, including infrequent extreme precipitation events and multiple years with low precipitation. Water management for hydropower, flood protection, and/or urban and agricultural uses frequently alters the natural flow regime and can degrade riparian forests. In this presentation, the natural flow regime elements that can be restored by flow management and the potential benefits of each to riparian function and structure will be discussed. Several factors, including which element(s) of the flow regime is altered, watershed characteristics, channel morphology, and plant species and lifestages, can differ among projects such that a “one-size-fits-all” approach to riparian flow enhancement and protection is not appropriate. Examples from several FERC relicensing projects on the western slope Sierra Nevada with recently modified flow regimes to address specific riparian issues provide a range of cases. The information provided by inventory and monitoring techniques (i.e., mapping, rapid assessments, plot/transect surveys, tree cores) and modeling to inform science-based flow regime recommendations is discussed. Last, perspectives will be given on successfully communicating technical guidance to managers and stakeholders for development and evaluation of project-specific riparian flows.


Predicting Functions of Restored Tidal Wetland Habitats

Ramona Swenson*1, Gerrit Platenkamp1, and Matt Gause2

1Environmental Science Associates, 2600 Capital Ave, Suite 200, Sacramento, CA 95816; 916-564-4500; 2Westervelt Ecological Services, 600 North Market Boulevard, Suite 3, Sacramento, CA 95834; 916.646.3644;

Wetland restoration at sites where wetlands are already present requires permits under the Clean Water Act. An assessment of the functions and services provided by the impacted and proposed restored wetland habitats may then be required. Available tools for functional assessment of wetlands in California have limited utility in predicting wetland functions, especially on an appropriate spatial or temporal scale. In the San Francisco Bay-Delta, the California Rapid Assessment Method (CRAM), the method recommended by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), can be used for predicting a limited set of wetland functions, but this method does not explicitly consider functional capacity (e.g., maintaining fish and wildlife) or other ecosystem and landscape functions likely to be performed and of greatest public benefit. The Corps’ hydrogeomorphic (HGM) approach provides additional useful functional relationships. We applied a hybrid approach for a planned tidal restoration site in Suisun Marsh owned by Westervelt Ecological Services and the State and Federal Water Contractors Water Agencies. We used CRAM to represent the predicted hydro-period, hydrologic connectivity, topographic complexity, and structural patch richness. In addition, we used HGM variables to represent sediment deposition, nutrient and organic carbon exchange, plant community and prey pool maintenance, and utilization by fish and wildlife. An important additional (adverse) function, the potential to produce and export methyl mercury, was not represented by either method and was added to the assessment. We propose a comprehensive method to evaluate the range of potential functional change following restoration that combines elements of CRAM and HGM.


Lower Blackwood Creek Habitat Restoration Construction

John Zanzi*1, Mark Girard2, and Loren K. Roach, P.E.2

1Dudek, 980 9th Street Suite 1750, Sacramento CA 95814; 916.761.4326; 2Habitat Restoration Sciences, Inc., 3888 Cincinnati Avenue, Rocklin, CA 95765, 916.408.2990;

Restoration along 1,200 linear feet of Lower Blackwood Creek in the Lake Tahoe Basin represented the final piece of a comprehensive interagency restoration of one of California’s premier watersheds. A century of disturbance degraded the creek, a critical spawning area for rainbow trout and historically a habitat for Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. Annual creek flows have caused heavy bank erosion and vegetation loss, and coupled with previous in-channel gravel mining increased sediment delivery to Lake Tahoe, contribute more fine sediment per unit of area than any other watershed in the Basin. The restoration is a project of California Tahoe Conservancy, contracted through the State of California Department of General Services. Designed by Northwest Hydraulic Consultants, construction was conducted by Habitat Restoration Sciences (a Dudek company). Key restoration components included stabilizing banks, establishing vegetation, and creating fish habitat. Bank erosion was reduced by realigning segments of the channel and incorporating instream woody material with revegetation to redirect channel flows. Native plant species were installed to establish shaded riverine aquatic habitat, stabilize banks, regulate water temperatures, and provide long-term nutrients. Stream flow rates were modified by creating riffles with faster flow rates over rock bottoms in shallow areas and deeper pools of calmer water to restore fish habitat. Adaptive management was conducted during the construction efforts as the site conditions had changed from those expected. The majority of the project was completed in one construction season including successful channel rewatering, meeting strict water quality standards, and returning in-stream flow into the Lake


Comparative Spatial Analysis for SF Bay Restoration Monitoring

Chris Zumwalt*1 and George Salvaggio2

WRA, Inc., 2169-G East Francisco Blvd., San Rafael, CA 94901. 1GIS Analyst; 415.524.7550; 2Principal; 415.524.7489;

With the advent of new ground- and aerial-based mapping technologies, traditional spatial data collection is rapidly evolving. Ground-based LIDAR and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV, i.e., drone)-based aerial imagery and topographic data collection methodologies are two novel options that, with their high accuracy and high-volume of data capture over a short time period, are valuable options for ecologists to increase efficiency and accuracy over traditional methods. The success of tidal habitat restoration projects, such as Yosemite Slough in San Francisco, is measured by numerous criteria, including tidal vegetation growth for species such as pickleweed. Traditionally, annual reports measuring growth of these species rely on visual “percent coverage” estimate surveys conducted by field technicians. While these estimates were acceptable for monitoring purposes, WRA believed that more accurate measurements could be made using emerging spatial technologies and put them to the test in order to determine which approach yielded the best results. WRA GIS staff compared traditional field data collection using hand-held Trimble GPS units to spatial data derived from high-resolution photos captured via UAV and ground-based side-scanning LIDAR. Analysis approaches included hand digitization, proximity analysis, point aggregate analysis, and remote sensing. Results indicated that traditional hand-held GPS data collection resulted in fewer but larger polygons that were less accurate and that remote sensing on the UAV imagery combined with ground truthing aerial signatures produced the most accurate results and was most efficient. This hybrid approach allowed WRA to produce higher quality measurements of vegetation growth and informed methodology for future projects.

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