Big Chico Creek Watershed Alliance logo

Home :: About Us :: Overview

Overview

Our Organization is Landowner and Stakeholder Based

The Alliance is a non-profit, public benefit corporation. Our Board of Directors seeks to include landowners from the sub-watershed areas listed above (e.g. Rock Creek, Lindo Channel) as well as other individuals with an interest in the watershed. We believe that this balance of landowner and “stakeholder” participation will best serve the interests of the watershed and the communities in it.

History

The creation of the Big Chico Creek Watershed Alliance, as well as other watershed groups in the Sacramento River Valley, has been one of the responses to severe declines in anadromous fish populations and riparian habitat throughout the valley. In 1989, the California Department of Fish and Game estimated that the wild strain of spring-run salmon numbered only a few hundred and existed in only a few tributary streams. Populations of winter-run salmon had declined nearly 98 percent from historic numbers, and the fall run and late fall run had declined about 50 percent. Steelhead populations had declined from about 18,000 in 1966 to less than 2,000 in 1988. Less than 5 percent of the Sacramento River's original riparian acreage remained (California Resources Agency, 1989, p1). In Big Chico Creek at that time, the most recent estimates indicated only a remnant spring-run population, a depressed steelhead population, and a highly variable spawning population of fall-run salmon (California Resources Agency, 1989, p115).

The specific impetus for the creation of the Big Chico Creek Watershed Alliance can be traced back to 1990 and the dispute over pumps owned by the M&T Chico Ranch that removed water from Big Chico Creek near its confluence with the Sacramento River. The water was being diverted to irrigate the M&T and Parrot Ranches. A 1989 report prepared for the Resources Agency of the State of California, the Upper Sacramento River Fisheries and Riparian Habitat Management Plan, had identified the pumps as a major obstacle to restoring fisheries in Big Chico Creek. The report stated that the unscreened pumps actually caused streamflow reversals during the critical downstream out-migration period in approximately one out of four years. A 100 percent loss of downstream migrants occurred during these periods of flow reversal. In addition adult spring-run Chinook salmon migrating up the Sacramento River had difficulty locating the mouth of Big Chico Creek when flows were reversed (California Resources Agency, 1989, p115-116). The management plan called for the Department of Fish and Game and the Department of Water Resources to seek a cooperative solution with the M&T Ranch to alleviate the problem. (California Resources Agency, 1989, p119).

In a letter dated May 12, 1990, Chicoan Les Gerton asked the Chico City Council to consider legal action to shut down the M&T Ranch pumps to help restore the salmon. On June 19, 1990 the Chico City Council discussed Gerton's request and asked the City Attorney to submit a report regarding the Council's legal options (City of Chico, June 19, 1990). In his report dated Sept. 19, 1990, City Attorney Robert Boehm stated that of "all the man-made and natural conditions adversely affecting the salmon fishery in Big Chico Creek, the M&T diversion appears to be the most significant adverse effect." The city attorney also stated that given trends in water rights law, "it is quite likely that M&T could be compelled to relocate or modify their diversion in a manner which would diminish or eliminate its adverse effect on the salmon fishery in Big Chico Creek." The city attorney concluded that the most appropriate remedy would be to file a petition with the State Water Resources Control Board to adjudicate the water rights in Big Chico Creek (Boehm, 1990, p1-5).

The City Attorney's report was discussed by the Council at its meeting of Oct. 2, 1990 and at a work session on Nov. 14,1990. While some speakers and letters supported the Council taking legal action, others were opposed. The attorney for M&T Ranch acknowledged the pumps contributed to the fisheries problem but stated that many other factors were involved, including increased urban population, increased water runoff, and commercial fishing (Farrell, 1990). Others told the Council that legal action was contrary to the cooperative approach urged by the 1989 Upper Sacramento River Fisheries and Riparian Habitat Management Plan and could undermine legislative efforts to secure funds for these types of projects. A motion to move forward with legal action failed on a 2-3 vote. Instead, the Council voted unanimously to conduct a cooperative study to more specifically identify the reasons for the loss of fisheries (City of Chico, Nov. 14, 1990). More than a year later, in December 1991, the City of Chico, M&T Ranch and Parrot Ranch entered into an agreement to jointly fund the study, later named the Assessment of Big Chico Creek Salmon and Steelhead Production. The consulting firm CH2M HILL was hired to conduct the study, and M&T Ranch agreed to administer the contract.