Big Chico Creek – Iron Canyon Fish Passage Project

Big Chico Creek – Iron Canyon Fish Passage Project

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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

Preliminary Design

Final Design & Permitting

Estimated Completion Date:


Project Funders

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Fish Affected:

Project Description

The project site is located on Ótakim Séwi (Big Chico Creek) an ancestral subsistence fishing site for the Mechoopda Tribe. Currently, fish migrations are blocked by a total upstream migration barrier located in a bedrock gorge called Iron Canyon located in Bidwell Park, a vast and rural park managed by the City of Chico. The fish passage barrier is preventing both steelhead and spring-run Chinook salmon from accessing critical upstream holding, spawning, and rearing habitats. This project is listed as a priority in NOAA's Recovery Plan, the Butte Regional Conservation Plan, the Bidwell Park Master Management Plan, and in CDFW’s Fish Passage Priorities list.

CalTrout will be restoring fish passage by removing components of a non-functioning fishway and reconfiguring a rock fall. The result will be a natural channel form that is completely passable at a range of stream flows allowing anadromous fish access to an additional 8.5 miles of cold-water refuge. The project will also provide benefits for Big Chico Creek’s non-salmonid native fish community, taking an entire ecosystem-based approach to restoration. A similar fish passage project was led by CalTrout and completed in 2021 in a neighboring drainage at Eagle Canyon in Battle Creek, providing a successful model for this project. Unlike the original Iron Canyon fishway, which is dilapidated and unmaintained, this approach will not require future maintenance and is robust to sediment transport and high flow events.

This project has a strong community outreach and education component providing benefits to the local state and community college and K-12 students. Being in a municipal park that is visited by thousands of people each year, this project has the ability to reach audiences far and wide, providing visitors insight into traditional ecological knowledge practices, habitat restoration, and fish passage remedies.

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Project Partners:

City of Chico

Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve

Mechoopda Tribe

California Department of Fish and Wildlife


US Fish and Wildlife Service

Syblon Reid

Michael Love and Associates

Gallaway Enterprises


Western Fishes

Maxim Crane Works


Gayland Taylor

Dr. Paul Maslin, CSU Chico

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