Just about every rainy season, the Sacramento River rises to the point that water spills over the top of the Fremont Weir and into the Yolo Bypass floodplain west of Sacramento.
And like clockwork, as the water recedes, sturgeon, salmon and other fish get stranded in the slim channel that forms at the base of the nearly two-mile-long concrete weir. Inevitably, a few days later, teams of state biologists wearing chest-waders enter the channel with nets to rescue as many fish as possible before they suffocate in the draining water, or are speared by poachers.
On Monday, net-wielding biologists began this springtime ritual anew. But the hope is it may be one of the last times. Construction is slated to begin this summer on a $4.5 million project aimed at improving the weir’s only fish passageway, a narrow box-like structure that few fish actually use to get back to the river. The weir’s fish ladder was built in the 1960s.
The fish ladder is widely considered to be poorly designed, and difficult to access. Some years, the deeper sections of the canal just east and west of the ladder are swirling with dozens of trapped sturgeon.
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The fish-ladder improvement project is part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s “California Eco Restore” initiative to upgrade Central Valley fish habitat. The work this summer will include modifications to access roads nearby to give fish more paths back into the river as the flows recede, said Kris Tjernell, the special assistant for water policy at the California Natural Resources Agency.
“This is the next notch in the belt to make sure more salmon and sturgeon have a friendlier trip into the Yolo Bypass,” Tjernell said.