Iron Canyon Fish Passage Project, Big Chico Creek

Iron Canyon Fish Passage Project, Big Chico Creek

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Project Goal:

Restore access for steelhead and spring-run Chinook salmon to the entirety of their historical distribution in Big Chico Creek, resulting in an expected 8.5 miles of additional anadromous habitat.


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Project Stages

Planning

Implementation

Post-Restoration Monitoring

Estimated Completion Date:
2026

Fish Affected:

Threats:

Project Description

Steelhead and spring-run Chinook salmon migrations in Big Chico Creek are currently blocked at Iron Canyon and fish are unable to access critical upstream holding, spawning and rearing habitats. A fishway was constructed at Iron Canyon in the 1940s providing access for anadromous fish to roughly 8.5 miles of mainstem habitats. Unfortunately, the fishway is now damaged, unmaintained and is creating a complete barrier to upstream migration. Through this project we will restore access for these anadromous fishes to the entirety of their historical distribution in Big Chico Creek. Specifically, by resolving this barrier we expect 8.5 miles of additional anadromous habitat. These habitats include deep pools that are thermally stratified in the summer months and provide critical cold-water refuge. Cold-water habitats are critical for the survival of spring-run that migrate into rivers during spring months and hold through the summertime before spawning in the fall.

Steelhead and spring-run Chinook salmon are both listed as Threatened on the Endangered Species Act and action is needed to conserve their populations. In NOAA’s Recovery Plan, Chinook Salmon are listed as a high extinction risk in Big Chico Creek. Further restoring passage at Iron Canyon is listed as one of the top high priority actions to improve their status in the drainage (NOAA Level 1 project rank).

We plan to restore fish passage by reconfiguring the river channel to mimic a natural channel form that is completely passable at a range of stream flows. A similar fish passage project was led by CalTrout and completed in 2021 in a neighboring drainage at Eagle Canyon, providing a successful model for this project (see https://caltrout.org/videos/eagle-canyon-battle-creek-fish-passage-project). Unlike the original Iron Canyon Fishway, this approach does not require maintenance and is robust to sediment transport and high flow events.

Iron Canyon is located in Upper Bidwell Park, a popular destination to enjoy the natural environment near the City of Chico. The habitat benefits of this project extend from Bidwell Park onto the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve, a Chico State University facility. The project area is completely within the historical territory of the Mechoopda Tribe with hunting blinds and other cultural sites lining this section of the creek. The City of Chico, Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve, and the Mechoopda Tribe are all supporters and primary partners in this passage project.

Project Partners:

City of Chico

Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve

Mechoopda Tribe

California Department of Fish and Wildlife

US Fish and Wildlife Service

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