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American River project aims to restore salmon habitat amid dwindling populations

Project aims to save salmon in American River
Project aims to save salmon in American River 02:25

CARMICHAEL — A salmon habitat restoration project in the American River is hoping to make life easy for the struggling fish headed up for the fall run.

The stretch of the American River near Carmichael has always been an integral part of salmon spawning — fall-run Chinook salmon, in particular. The populations have dwindled so much, that the fishing season for them was actually suspended for this year.

The Sacramento Water Forum has been trying to change that over the past 15 years, making this area sleep better habitat. The changes include grinding rocks down to gravel so instead of just popping into the river, they end up becoming gravel which can become life-saving for fish when they spawn.

"Thirty to 50% of the spawning on the river happens in our project sites, so we know that this construction is very important," said Erica Bishop with the Sacramento Water Forum.

The forum is fighting for its fish.

"We've studied the river and we know where it's going to be the best conditions for the fish to use, so we target our projects there," Bishop said.

As the salmon population remains threatened, habitat restoration projects are becoming more common. But how do they help?

"What we're talking about is baby salmon being able to survive and get out to the ocean," said Scott Artis with the Golden State Salmon Association.

Artis said the situation is dire.

"We've seen significant decline from runs of 160,000 fish in 2003 to recent numbers that are under 20,000," he said.

A good winter helps.

"We're having more suitable temperatures for when the fish come into spawn," Bishop said. "That cold water is very important for the fish."

"Projects like this can restore salmon and steelhead, but I think it's important we address state water policies and action," Artis said.

Artis said that very water policy is actually even more important than the restorations.

"If salmon don't get water at the temperatures they need, they're not going to use the habitat," he said.

Both the water forum and the salmon association are pushing to maintain and save the salmon population wherever they can.

"Anything we can do to add good acres of habitat to support their various life stages is a good thing we can do," Bishop said.

The project will be wrapping up soon as the fish look to make their way up the American River and the Sacramento River in late October.

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