Fresh salmon habitat built along Mad River

An aerial view of the Coho salmon ponds. Submitted photo

McKINLEYVILLE – After years of planning, construction is underway on project to create off-channel salmonid habitat and improve public access along the banks of the Mad River in McKinleyville.

The nearly $2 million project is being built on McKinleyville Community Services District property south of School Road across from the Mad River boat ramp.

“We are actively in construction. It’s really exciting and the landscape changes day to day,” Mary Burke, North Coast regional manager of California Trout, told the MCSD board at its Sept. 7 meeting. California Trout is leading the effort to create the salmonid habitat.

The area was the site of the MCSD’s percolation ponds, which were used to dispose of treated wastewater. Since they were constructed, the district has found more effective ways to dispose of the wastewater, which is used to irrigate the adjacent Fischer Ranch.

Years ago, the district considered restoring the percolation ponds to their natural state, a project that could have cost its Sewer Department as much as $1 million.

SALMON HABITAT IN THE MAKING Workers at the project. Submitted photo

Instead, the idea of turning the ponds into salmon habit was hatched, with the first designs beginning in 2015.

This summer, the project went out to bid and Kernan Construction received the contract.

The Baduwat (Mad River) Estuary Project involves re-grading the old perc ponds to create aquatic and riparian habitat.

A channel will be created which will connect the ponds to the Mad River. This will allow juvenile salmon to swim from the Mad River to the new ponds, where they can fatten up during the winter.

The project also includes the removal of invasive plants and, starting in October, revegetation with native plants.

The project will also include trail improvements, with work continuing through mid-October The trailhead begins near the foot of School Road, where there is a small parking area.

There will be an ADA accessible trail loop, along with interpretive signage.

The planning phase of the project cost $426,000. Funding came from California Coastal Conservancy, $325,000; California Department of Fish & Wildlife, $76,000; and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, $25,000.

Construction cost are pegged at $1.5 million. Funding came from California Coastal Conservancy, $276,000; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, $359,000; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Restoration Center Grant Program, $498,000; and the California Wildlife Conservation Board Public Access Program, $368,000.

The MCSD also assisted with the project during the planning and building.