NOAA Fisheries and Sonoma County Water Agency Sign First-Ever Agreement for Collaborative Stewardship of Salmon and Steelhead


Ann DuBay/SCWA/707-322-8185                                                                 

Jim Milbury/NOAA/562-980-4006

March 3, 2016                                                                                                                        


NOAA Fisheries and Sonoma County Water Agency Sign First-Ever Agreement for Collaborative Stewardship of Salmon and Steelhead

Landmark agreement offers private landowners incentives to conserve federally protected salmon and steelhead


HEALDSBURG, Calif. – NOAA Fisheries and the Sonoma County Water Agency (Water Agency) today signed a first-ever agreement offering private landowners in the Russian River watershed incentives to restore, enhance, or maintain habitat for listed species their property for the sake of federally protected salmon and steelhead. 

The agreement, known as a “Safe Harbor Agreement,” is a mechanism implemented under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The agreement assures landowners that additional restrictions will not be placed upon their property should more of the listed species be attracted to their land as a result of the habitat improvements.

Enrollment in the agreement is completely voluntary. Under the agreement, landowners who participate will not be penalized should there be incidental harm or mortality of fish due to the habitat improvements and will not be restricted in their routine viticulture activities, as long as the agreed upon baseline conditions (i.e., habitat conditions) for the property are maintained.

 “This is the first time the Safe Harbor Agreement will be employed for listed salmon and steelhead anywhere in the United States,” said Sam Rauch, NOAA Fisheries Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs. “We’d like to thank the Sonoma County Water Agency for entering into this agreement and hope it will serve as an example for others  as well as benefit future generations to come.”

This Agreement is intended to enhance habitat owned almost exclusively by private landowners along six miles of Dry Creek below Warm Springs dam. The habitat improvements are part of the federal requirements for operating the facility.

 Constructed by the US Army Corps of Engineers in 1983 for flood control in the winter, the dam also provides water deliveries for Sonoma and Marin Counties throughout the year. The flow rate of these deliveries has significantly increased compared to historical levels creating challenges for young salmon and steelhead. Voluntary participation by private landowners is key to accessing Dry Creek, as well as constructing the habitat projects that slow the flow rate and provide hiding places for young fish.

Under the Safe Harbor Agreement, the Water Agency will administer the program and enroll qualifying landowners in subsequent site-specific “Cooperative Agreements.”

“This historic agreement recognizes the important role that farmers can play in restoring salmon and steelhead to the Russian River watershed,” said Efren Carrillo, chair of the Sonoma County Water Agency Board of Directors. “So much of the land surrounding the river and creeks is privately owned, that cooperative landowners are key to successful restoration efforts.”

“Farmers who both sustainably manage their land and who participate in the Dry Creek habitat enhancement project will now be recognized for their good work. This agreement will provide a powerful incentive for other landowners to participate in the restoration efforts while responsibly farming,” said Sonoma County Water Agency Director James Gore.

The species covered in the Agreement are threatened California Coastal Chinook salmon, Central California Coast (CCC) steelhead, and endangered CCC coho salmon.  This year NOAA Fisheries is also highlighting CCC coho salmon in its “Species in the Spotlight” initiative as one of eight species in the nation at most risk of extinction.

“My goal, at the beginning of my tenure at Dry Creek Vineyard was, and continues to be, to leave our land in better condition than which I found it. The salmon in Dry Creek Valley are a crucial measure to the health and vitality of our ecosystem. The Dry Creek Safe Harbor Agreement recognizes the stewardship role played by farmers in helping salmon recovery,” said Don Wallace, Proprietor of Dry Creek Vineyard.

Dry Creek has been identified in the NOAA Fisheries CCC Coho Recovery Plan as one of the primary tributaries to the Russian River for bringing the species back to the watershed and increasing their overall population numbers.   

The Safe Harbor Policy was finalized in 1999. It provides regulatory incentives for property owners who are willing to voluntarily manage their land to benefit listed fish and wildlife, in ensuring these beneficial actions do not result in new restrictions being placed on the future use of their property.  This is especially important because most of the nation’s current and potential fish and wildlife habitat is on privately owned land.

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For more information on Species in the Spotlight:

For more information on Central California Coast coho salmon:

Please see our 4-part video series on the impact the drought is having on California’s fish, habitat, and landowners: