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Federal Project Aims To Increase Salmon, Trout In American River

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – Gravel, sand and rocks are being sorted and washed along the American River – preparing the area for salmon and trout.

It's a huge federal project underway with a plan to increase the number of salmon and trout.

So who's footing the bill, and how much does it cost?

About a mile west of Sunrise Boulevard is where workers are cleaning and sorting rocks getting the river primed for salmon. Heavy construction equipment traverses the banks of the American River at Sacramento Bar four miles downstream from Nimbus Dam.

"They'll be habitat in here for the small fish. We'll put wood in here and some willows growing up," said John Hannon, a fish biologist with the Bureau of Reclamation.

This federally backed program has a mission: a home makeover for Chinook salmon and steelhead trout.

"The existing gravel is too large for the fish to use in this area, so this new gravel is smaller and the fish will be able to reproduce successfully," Hannon said.

According to the Bureau of Reclamation, the number of spawning fish here has been on the decrease since early 2000.

"Before, the rock in this area was like bowling ball size material," Hannon said. "So when the salmon spawns they use their tail and they have to dig out a nest, and the rock was too big for that."

Over time, Folsom Dam – built in 1955 – blocked the natural sediment and river flow and made it difficult for fish to spawn.

Bringing in spawning gravel is ideal décor for fish nesting.

"Spawning gravel is gravel like a fourth of an inch to four inches. It's gravel that the salmon can move in the right place in the river," Hannon said.

Gravel and river rocks are first excavated, power washed to avoid cloudiness in the water.

"The big stuff goes out one direction, the fine goes out another," Hannon said.

Then, back to the river's edge.

"Like 20-25 thousand cubic yards will go in the river," Hannon said.

The work is being paid for by water users from the Central Valley Project at a cost of around $800,000 – a project the Bureau of Reclamation says will allow the fish to flourish along with the entire ecosystem.

The goal is to complete this project by the end of September, as the salmon begin to spawn in November.

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