One salmon habitat restoration project done on Merced River

Anglers are more likely to catch hatchery steelhead than wild ones, according to a new University of Idaho study.

Anglers are more likely to catch hatchery steelhead than wild ones, according to a new University of Idaho study.

Officials from the Merced Irrigation District announced this week that a salmon habitat restoration project is done, one of three projects meant to help the salmon runs along the Merced River.

The Merced River Instream and Off Channel Habitat Restoration Project brought the total amount of restored river to one and and three quarters of a mile, up from the previous restored river habitat of one and a quarter miles. The project also restored more than seven acres of riparian and upland habitat along the Merced River, enhanced 1.7 acres of salmon spawning habitat, 3.9 acres of seasonally inundated juvenile rearing habitat and 13 acres of the Merced River channel, according to a press release from the Merced Irrigation District.

The project is located 1,400 feet downstream from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Merced River Salmon Hatchery, which provided part of the $2.27 million budget for the project. The other departments to contribute to the cost of the project include the Merced Irrigation District, the US Bureau of Reclamation and the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

Two more projects, the Merced River Agricultural Diversion Improvement Project and the Merced River Salmonid Habitat Restoration Project, aim to add a key section of river for salmon spawning and rearing. Construction on the first project will start in the summer of 2022 or 2023, and will replace up to three diversion structures at several riparian diversion points in an 11-mile stretch of the river below Crocker Huffman Diversion Dam.

The second project will restore 1,400 feet of critical salmon habitat for rearing and spawning.

“At the same time we are modernizing our infrastructure and tightening up our water use, we are committed to doing our reasonable share of work to support salmon on the Merced River with our sphere of influence,” said John Sweigard, general manager of the Merced Irrigation District.

The three projects come decades after state-sanctioned mining damaged crucial salmon habitat on the Merced River between Snelling and Crocker Huffman Diversion Dam. Dredging on that stretch of the river pulled up salmon rearing and spawning habitat and spread it out for miles on either side of the river. Sections of the river capable of conveying water downstream remain, but lack natural floodplain and riparian habitat that salmon need, as well as other natural flora and fauna.

“A healthy salmon population means a healthy MID,” said Sweigard. “There are many reasons to engage in these projects. But the most simple one is this: it’s the right thing to do.”

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