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Posts Tagged ‘restoration’

by Robin McKillop, Water Conservation Specialist Supervisor

With the “lazy” days of summer almost over and schools throughout Marin already starting the 2014-15 school year, there’s no better time than now to start thinking about MMWD’s Water Wonders education programs. Our fun, informative programs offer something for everyone, including indoor and outdoor educational opportunities, hands-on water conservation and restoration activities, whole-school assemblies in English and Spanish, service learning projects, and school bus reimbursements. Last year, MMWD’s Water Wonders programs provided education to thousands of K through 12th students throughout Marin. This year, we expect similar demand, as water seems to be on everybody’s mind with California’s ongoing drought. By participating in the Water Wonders program, students will learn about drought, and gain an understanding that droughts are an unpredictable and naturally recurring part of California’s variable climate. Students will also learn about simple, positive actions they can take to conserve water at home and at school.

MMWD classroom presentationThrough MMWD’s “Do-It-Yourself Water Conservation” program, students are empowered to take water conserving actions at home—something that’s always important, but even more so now, during these times of drought. Students learn to evaluate their household’s water use and identify ways to conserve water by checking their toilets for leaks, installing water-efficient showerheads and faucet aerators, and reviewing their irrigation systems, among other things. MMWD provides free showerheads and faucet aerators to households that need them.

The Water Wonders brochure provides detailed information about all of our programs as well as contact information for making reservations. Programs are offered on a first-come, first-served basis and fill up quickly. All programs are offered free of charge and are designed to support California education standards while fostering water conservation and environmental stewardship.

We hope you’ll join us this school year! The first step is to make a reservation for one or more of our water education programs.

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by Eric Ettlinger

Coho smolt

Coho smolt

Salmon in California have evolved to follow the seasonal rhythms of wet and dry periods as they migrate between their natal streams and the ocean, and then back again. The fall rains that swell Lagunitas Creek and herald the return of adult salmon to Marin County also encourage young coho salmon to begin their downstream journey to the ocean. In normal years, winter is the time when many of these young salmon migrate from headwater tributaries down to lower Lagunitas Creek, where they transform into silver smolts in preparation for the ocean phase of their life cycle. These smolts wait in the lower creek until April and May before entering the ocean, just in time to take advantage of the spring plankton bloom.

2013 and 2014 have not been normal years, however. Fall rains were infrequent and light, and January was the driest on record. The drought caused a significant delay in salmon spawning and resulted in a much smaller coho run than expected. The extended dry period did, ironically, seem to benefit the young salmon preparing to emigrate to the ocean. Many coho fry were unable to migrate downstream until the rain finally arrived in February, which meant that they weren’t packed together in lower Lagunitas Creek. The habitat in the lower creek can’t support very many young salmon through the winter, which appears to be one of the principal factors limiting the size of the entire coho salmon population. This year, salmon fry spent the winter spread throughout the watershed, and likely spent little time crowded in the lower watershed.

The result was the largest emigration of salmon smolts yet seen in Lagunitas Creek. Biologists with the Watershed Stewards Project, the Marin Municipal Water District, the National Park Service, and the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network counted coho smolts every day between late March and early June as they migrated past traps on Lagunitas, Olema, and San Geronimo Creeks. In typical years the lower watershed doesn’t appear to be able to support more than approximately 11,000 juvenile coho salmon through the winter. This year nearly 20,000 coho smolts emigrated to the ocean.

smolt chart

Click the image above to view full-size chart

What does this mean for the future of coho salmon in Marin County? In the short term, if food is abundant in the ocean we could see 2,000 adult coho return to Lagunitas Creek in 2015 (the most in more than half a century). On the other hand, this year’s smolts were fairly small and may not survive well. Over the longer term, while we can’t recreate this year and prevent coho from migrating to the lower watershed, we can provide more habitat there. A grant currently being considered by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife would fund the construction of five projects in lower Lagunitas Creek to expand side channels and floodplains for coho salmon winter habitat. Hopefully this grant will be funded and the projects will achieve their goals. As with the seasonal migrations of salmon, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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by Rosa Albanese, Watershed Stewards Project Member

This is the last in a year-long series celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act.

Photo of steelhead trout

Steelhead trout in Lagunitas Creek. Photo by MMWD Aquatic Ecologist Eric Ettlinger.

What better way to end this series than with the enigmatic Oncorhynchus mykiss of the salmonidae family. This species exhibits more survival strategies than any other Pacific salmonid species, including flexible habitat preferences, differences in reproductive biology and adaptability in their life cycle types between generations.  Step into any body of fresh water and the fish you would mostly likely encounter is O. mykiss. However, they are still faced with many of the same threats as other salmon and must be carefully managed to ensure their future success.

When referring to O. mykiss one may be talking about rainbow or steelhead trout. What’s the difference? If they never migrate, they are considered rainbow trout. But if they make the great migration to the ocean and back, they are known as steelhead. However, although rare, it has been reported that the offspring of a steelhead may grow up to be a resident rainbow trout and vice versa.  But, basically, steelhead are anadromous (migratory) rainbow trout.

Steelhead also vary in when they migrate. Steelhead have two principal life history patterns: summer and winter runs. Summer steelhead enter streams as immature fish during the receding spring flows and  spend the summer holding up in deep pools, typically near a stream’s headwaters, where they then mature to spawn in winter or spring. Lagunitas Creek, which originates on Mt. Tamalpais and flows west to Tomales Bay, is home to winter-run steelhead. These fish are similar to coho salmon in that they enter the streams from the ocean during winter rains as mature fish. However, steelhead generally spawn later than coho, between January and April. Also, unlike all other salmonid species, they may spawn more than once throughout their lives, which is referred to as iteoparity.

Regardless of life history path, for the first year or two of life steelhead/rainbow trout can be found in cool, clear and fast-moving streams with ample cover and diverse and abundant invertebrate life.  Although highly variable in color and size, adults can generally be identified as a silvery trout with black spots covering their back, dorsal fins and tail and a reddish band along their sides. They can grow to be 45 inches long and weigh close to 50 pounds, but in Lagunitas Creek adult steelhead are typically closer to 30 inches long. These fish have adapted a streamlined body shape that helps them hold their position and swim in fast-moving water, which may be why they are considered by many anglers to put up a good fight and are so highly sought for sport.

Within California, native populations of coastal steelhead have experienced declines similar to those of other local salmonid species. The reasons are complicated but are largely due to competition with humans for habitat, dams and other alterations of landscapes, overfishing and introduction of foreign species as predators and competitors. Due to their diverse life history, management of steelhead is somewhat complicated. Steelhead stocks are placed into groups based on broad geographic distributions, plus run-timing, and many local populations are granted different taxonomic classification. For example, here in Marin County steelhead are classified as part of a Central California population and are federally listed as threatened, while populations further south are listed as endangered. Regardless of the terminology, steelhead are at risk.

There are many important reasons to protect such a unique fish species. Not only are they indicators of stream health, but preserving their wonderfully complicated diversity will allow them to adapt to changing environmental conditions. Steps to the recovery of steelhead and other salmonids start with support for projects that restore watersheds, ensure sustainable stream flows, reduce migratory barriers and minimize competition from non-native species. Protecting California steelhead and other andromous fish ensures that our fresh water and ocean habitats remain intact for future generations and a remarkably diverse species continues to adapt and thrive.

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Photo of Chinook salmon in Lagunitas Creek

Chinook salmon in Lagunitas Creek. Photo by Madeline Cooper, a member of the Watershed Stewards project.

by Eric Ettlinger

Salmon spawning season has returned to Lagunitas Creek, and so has one of its more sporadic and uncommon visitors. Chinook salmon, commonly known as king salmon, have been seen spawning in the creek for the first time in five years! The first sign of Chinook this season was a redd discovered on October 24, which would be exceptionally early for our resident coho salmon to spawn (a redd is a gravel nest where salmon lay their eggs). Their presence was confirmed on November 13 when three Chinook spawners were seen on that very same redd. Since then MMWD biologists have documented a total of seven Chinook salmon in Lagunitas Creek, which is the most seen since 2006. These salmon probably weren’t born in Lagunitas Creek but may have gotten lost as they tried to migrate back to their natal streams in the Central Valley.

One of the most perplexing aspects of our Chinook observations this season has been the presence of very small salmon (less than a foot long) sharing redds with very large Chinook. These small fish behave like “jacks,” which are small but sexually mature salmon that return to spawn a year earlier than full-sized salmon. The adult male salmon chase the jacks like they were competitors, but we’ve never seen jacks this small. We’ve only seen two so far, but ruled out trout or other fish species as candidates. A little research turned up a Chinook life history variant called the “mini-jack,” which migrate as fry to estuaries for only a couple of months before swimming back upstream to spawn. If these little fish are indeed mini-jacks, then Chinook salmon must have spawned in Lagunitas Creek last year without being observed. We did find a few redds in October and November last year that looked like Chinook redds, but without seeing the fish we couldn’t assume that Chinook had returned. Now it looks like the King may have returned a year ago.

To date we haven’t seen any coho salmon in Lagunitas Creek, but that’s not unusual. The first coho tend to show up in late November after heavy rains increase stream flows. Last week’s rain hardly increased flows, so the coho may be waiting a little longer to migrate upstream. Rain or no rain, we’ll probably start seeing coho within the next couple of weeks. Once the rain really starts falling, we’re expecting more coho salmon to return to Lagunitas Creek than we’ve seen in at least seven years.

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Introduction by MMWD Volunteer Coordinator Suzanne Whelan

For 16 days in October the federal government ceased all but the most essential operations. But our lands and the creatures that inhabit them do not curtail their operations when we humans hit a budget impasse. Luckily for MMWD, interns from the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, who unexpectedly found themselves with free time, volunteered with MMWD for two days in October helping with habitat restoration and vegetation monitoring on the watershed. We were so happy to provide meaningful work and training for them and to benefit from their enthusiastic assistance.

The following summary of the two-day event is by Jaimie Baxter, a former MMWD Americorps intern and watershed aide. She is currently the trails stewardship manager for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.

Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy Joins MMWD for Two-day Habitat Restoration and Vegetation Monitoring Event
by GGNPC Trails Stewardship Manager Jaimie Baxter

Photo of GGNRA Intern pulling yellow star thistle

GGNRA intern pulling yellow star thistle.

On Wednesday October 9, more than 15 Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) Park Stewardship interns and staff congregated near the top of Mt. Tamalpais at the Rock Springs area. This oak woodland and grassland area is known for its epic views, slabs of serpentine outcrops and hordes of rare plants. MMWD Volunteer Coordinator Suzanne Whelan and her two watershed aides explained the district’s mission of providing clean drinking water to their customers in south and central Marin County and protecting the 21,635 acres of watershed lands under their management. Director of Park Stewardship Sue Gardner then discussed the burgeoning Mt. Tamalpais Collaborative and the goals of all natural resource agencies in the area to join forces in the Mt. Tamalpais region.

Photo of Park Stewards

The thistle-pulling team of GGNRA and MMWD.

After all that talking, it was time to get to work! MMWD and the Park Stewardship team strategized their assignment for the day — removing invasive, non-native yellow-star thistle (Centaurea solsitialis). Spreading out like a fan, the group surveyed the area for this invasive species, pulled and eventually bagged the prickly plant. The group was later joined by MMWD Vegetation Ecologist Andrea Williams, who discussed the interesting geology and ecology of serpentine soils, what makes a plant rare and ways that MMWD manages invasive species. And this was just the first day Park Stewardship collaborated with MMWD!

The following day the same team plus a few Park Trails interns jumped to the north side of Mt. Tamalpais to the Sky Oaks Ranger Station. Thursday’s mission was to identify and map the non-native, perennial grass species in Sky Oaks meadow. This meadow ecosystem, which has been heavily managed in the past, is a good example of an oak woodland ecosystem. The meadow is relatively healthy as it is mostly free of French broom, has woody species that do not overcrowd each other and has at least three species of oaks.

However the meadow is not without its problems, including Sudden Oak Death (Phytophthora ramorum) and non-native, perennial grasses. Our crew learned how to identify a multitude of these species including velvet grass (Holcus lanatus), sweet vernal grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum), wild oat grass (Avena fatua) and many more. The team then split into groups and headed off to map the non-native grasses using GPS-enabled cameras, compasses and datasheets. The team worked all morning and after lunch until they became cross-eyed from looking at SO many grasses! The day ended with a hike to Alpine and Bon Tempe lakes where much of MMWD’s drinking water is stored.

The Park Stewardship team is grateful to have a partner such as the Marin Municipal Water District. Thank you, MMWD, for your time, expertise and hosting Park Stewardship during the federal shutdown. We welcome any opportunity to join you in your efforts on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed!

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Students volunteers on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed

Student volunteers on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed show off the results of their hard work—a mountain of non-native broom.

The Marin Municipal Water District honored 40 volunteers at a special recognition lunch recently for contributing their valuable time to the protection and preservation of the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed during fiscal year 2012/13. These volunteers donated nearly 7,500 hours—the equivalent of $185,625 in labor—to activities like trail maintenance, habitat restoration and endangered species protection on watershed lands between July 2012 and June 2013.

MMWD manages more than 21,600 acres of land on Mt. Tamalpais and in west Marin and counts on its volunteer workforce to help maintain and restore these lands. The Mt. Tamalpais Watershed is home to more than 900 species of plants and 400 species of animals, including 77 rare, threatened and endangered species. This abundance of life is threatened by many factors, including increased recreational use, invasive species and global climate change.

Begun in 1995, MMWD’s volunteer program recruits individuals, students and entire classes to help improve trails and habitat; greet and educate visitors; restore habitat and collect biological data; and map native and non-native plants, sudden oak death and aquatic species.

The 2012/13 fiscal year’s 85 volunteer events resulted in the following accomplishments:

  • Dozens of trails were improved for visitor safety and erosion control;
  • More than 700 school children and their parents removed acres of invasive broom, young Douglas-fir trees and other invasive plant species;
  • 140 hours were spent monitoring native western pond turtles and educating the public about this species;
  • More than 200 hours were donated to keep people and their dogs out of the breeding grounds of the native foothill yellow-legged frogs;
  • One third of the 900 plant species on the watershed were surveyed; samples will be housed at the herbarium of the California Academy of Sciences.

Without the help of volunteers, many of the important preservation and stewardship projects on the watershed would not be possible. For more information about our volunteer program and to find volunteer opportunities, visit our website.

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National Public Lands Day 20th AnniversaryMMWD and Mt. Tamalpais State Park are pleased to host a volunteer habitat restoration event in celebration of the 20th anniversary of National Public Lands Day on Saturday, September 28, from 9:00 a.m. – noon. REI of Corte Madera is donating raffle prizes!

National Public Lands Day is the nation’s largest, single-day volunteer event for public lands. 2012 was the biggest NPLD in the history of the event. Let’s help make their 20th anniversary even better!

Volunteers will help restore shrinking native grassland and chaparral habitat along the Matt Davis Trail by removing outcompeting, young Douglas-fir seedlings. Grasslands provide habitat for native plants and animals and hunting grounds for birds of prey. Chaparral provides shelter for birds, foxes and small mammals.

We will meet at 9:00 a.m. at Bootjack parking lot, located on Panoramic Highway above Mill Valley. Please wear close-toed shoes and long pants and dress for variable weather. Mt. Tamalpais State Park will provide breakfast snacks. Bring your lunch and a reusable water bottle. MMWD will provide water and tools. Habitat restoration events are generally suitable for ages 8 and up. Volunteers under age 16 must be accompanied by an adult.

For more information about this event, contact the district’s Volunteer Program at (415) 945-1128 or e-mail volunteerprogram@marinwater.org. For possible cancellation and fire closure information, call after 7:30 a.m. on the morning of the event.

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