California Creek Restoration
California Creek is a tributary to the Ruby River with a 15,451 acre watershed. California Creek and its major tributary Harris Creek have been notably impacted by placer mining. Stream and fish surveys conducted by USFS revealed high suitability potential for native westslope cutthroat habitat, and genetic testing revealed that remnant westslope cutthroat trout were present. Northern slopes have banks that are well vegetated with alder, dogwood, river birch and willows.
Historic placer mining in upper reaches contributes 57% of the total sediment load to the California Creek sub-watershed. Dredge activities have caused the stream to incise resulting in a confined valley bottom and stream locked in place. Due to this lowering of base elevation, gullies have been formed and are actively eroding contributing periodic pulses of sediment. Agricultural impacts including grazing practices, corral placement, riparian clearing, and irrigation comprise the majority of the sediment inputs on the lower reaches of the stream.
Restoration goals for California Creek are to reconnect the stream with its floodplains where possible and create a new floodplain where stream incision has been too severe for reconnection to be possible. For this project, the RVCD utilized ‘Induced Meandering’ structures introduced by Bill Zeedyk in his milestone book “Let the Water Do the Work”. These structures, built with wood and stone, encourage the stream to migrate laterally slowing flow velocity, promoting natural sediment storage, and the recovery of streamside vegetation and wildlife. In 2019, with the help of a Montana Conservation Corps crew, the RVCD place ~40 induced meandering structures. To prevent further downcutting, the RVCD also placed grade control structures to stop the upstream migration of an active headcut. All of these actions will increase in-stream habitat complexity and encourage improved riparian habitat benefitting wildlife and natural water storage.
Funding for this project was provided by the Bureau of Land Management.