YOLO COUNTY – California's struggling salmon are about to get a lot more room to move.
On Thursday, the California Department of Water Resources officially launched the "Big Notch" project on the Sacramento River, just along the Yolo Bypass. It's the largest floodplain salmon rearing effort in state history.
"As part of his work there is going to be quite a bit of excavation so we can encourage folks to take a little sample of soil," joked Ted Craddock with the Department of Water Resources. "Because that will help with our construction project as well."
The project is a dig into the state's old water infrastructure. The system that moves floodwaters away from Sacramento also creates barriers for fish. So the river will be sliced open here, allowing for a controlled spill into land that will serve as a giant fish nursery.
"This overtopping will allow juvenile fish migrating downstream to use the gate and the channel behind us and access the very nutrient-rich Yolo Bypass floodplain," explained Yolo County Supervisor Oscar Villegas.
The gated spillway will create a brand new, 30,000-acre habitat.
"I'll be able to eat more, and grow faster," said Garwin Yip of NOAA Fisheries, speaking as if he were a young salmon. "And be prepared for the ocean. And for the adults, when they come back, this project will provide lower flows, that connectivity. So the adults, we're talking the same species, winter run, spring run Chinook salmon primarily, steelhead and green sturgeon, and access back to the Sacramento River."
This is the largest step of its kind to give land back to the salmon, and the state says more work needs to be done.
"The development of our flood control system and our water systems," Craddock explained. " We've impacted roughly 95% of what would traditionally be salmon spawning habitat here in the Central Valley."
Construction on the gate system and the spillway should be complete by the end of 2023.
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