Bay Nature magazineJanuary-March 2005

They Keep Coming Back

January 1, 2005

In the early 1970s, when the Army Corps of Engineers built a weir across Alameda Creek to stabilize a railroad crossing and the new BART tracks, they also blocked steelhead from swimming to upstream spawning grounds. Given the numerous dams and other diversions built on the 700-square-mile watershed since 1913, you’d think this last insult would have done in the fish for good.

But every fall since 1997, the Alameda Creek Alliance has documented steelhead trying unsuccessfully to get upstream past the weir to spawn. In fall 2004, after a struggle to get state and federal permits, creek alliance volunteers and biologists from the East Bay Regional Park District and Alameda County Flood Control District were allowed to move the legally protected fish above the weir by hand.

The fish’s way will be smoothed further when the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which owns 36,800 acres on the watershed, removes the Niles and Sunol dams. This move, says EBRPD fisheries manager Pete Alexander, will get the fish into proven spawning habitat on Stonybrook Creek and one step closer to even better habitat in Sunol Regional Wilderness.

Plans for a fish ladder around the BART weir have been in the works since 1998. “We had been going to the Army Corps for funding,” says the Creek Alliance’s Jeff Miller. “But they just cut all that last year.” Now Miller and others are looking to get funding through a new Army Corps bill. At the same time, more than a dozen local, state, and federal agencies are developing a long-term fisheries restoration plan for the watershed.

In the meantime, will moving a few fish by hand make a difference? There’s a danger that such a small number of fish could create a genetically limited population—something called the “founder effect”—but Alexander thinks it’s worth the risk. “You’re starting to restore the system,” he says, “to get that run reestablished.”

For updates, go to www.alamedacreek.org or www.cemar.org.

About the Author

Dan was editor of Bay Nature from 2004 until 2013, when he left to work for SF-based Stamen Design. A onetime professional cabinetmaker, he considers himself a lifelong maker of things and teller of stories. Dan has been working at the intersection of journalism and technology since, at age 16, he began learning reporting, page layout, and database design. His enduring interest in environmental issues crystallized into a career path in 1998 when he assisted former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass in a cross-disciplinary nature writing and ecology course at UC Berkeley, from which Dan received a Masters in English literature. In 1999, he became Associate Editor of Terrain, the erstwhile quarterly magazine of Berkeley's Ecology Center. In addition to editing and art-directing Bay Nature magazine, he was also Bay Nature’s chief technology strategist, fixer of broken things, and designer of databases and fancy spreadsheets. And he was even known to leave the office and actually hike outdoors.

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