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Lower American River Sunrise Side Channel Project

American SubRegion

Lower American River Sunrise Side Channel Project

  • Location: Lower American River
  • Project Sponsor and Partners: Sacramento Water Forum, Sacramento County Regional Parks, Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency, and California Natural Resources Agency
  • Time Frame: 2008–2010
  • Cost: $729,000 ($219,000 local cost share)
  • Project Objectives:
    • Maintain about four inches of flowing water over redds in the side channels when river flows exceed 1,500 cfs. This occurs about 70% of the time in December through March.
    • Improve Construct steep side slopes to deter spawning on channel edges, which may be dewatered.
    • Minimize the amount of gravel to be graded.
    • Spread removed gravel on the gravel bar and fill existing scour holes, which may isolate fish.
    • Increase awareness via three interpretive signs at high-use areas.

The Sunrise Side Channel is located in the lower American River about 0.4 miles downstream of the Sunrise Boulevard Bridge. In recent years, the site has supported up to about 10% of the total spawning habitat for wild spawning steelhead in the river. Prior to 2008, the side channel contained running water when the river flows exceeded 3,500 cfs. At flows greater than 4,000 cfs, the channel attracted spawning steelhead, which are native to the lower American River and listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Steelhead spawn in the lower American River from December through March, coincident with flood control operations at Folsom Dam. Unfortunately, flood control releases commonly exceed 4,000 cfs for several days and then are reduced below 3,500 cfs. This resulted in dewatering and desiccation of eggs and young fish in the redds at this location. This was documented in 2002, 2003, and 2004.

In 2008, the Sacramento Water Forum, working in collaboration with Sacramento County Regional parks, and other partners, began work on a project to deepen the existing side channel by excavating and moving gravel on the existing gravel bar to allow water to move through at lower flows. This enhances the production of wild spawning steelhead in the river and provides spawning and rearing habitat benefits to Chinook salmon and other fish in the lower American River.

The project, which was partially funded by a grant from the State of California River Parkways Gant Program, included an interpretive component that describes the steelhead lifecycle and explains the importance of steelhead spawning habitat for sustaining a threatened species. Interpretation of the steelhead lifecycle and the project helps protect the redds through increase public awareness. Public access to the site is by boat and by bicycle, equestrian, and pedestrian use of existing trails.

The project implements restoration objectives of larger parkway and river plans including the American River Parkway Plan, the Water Forum Agreement and the American River Corridor Management Plan. These plans provide resource and recreation direction for the Parkway and the lower American River.

The site is monitored for its effects on habitat suitability and use and to document physical conditions. These efforts show that the project is functioning as designed and project goals have been met. The Water Forum and its partners will continue monitoring efforts and work to adaptively manage the project over time.