Voluntary Drought Initiative

Ongoing drought conditions in California have resulted in critically low instream flows that severely impact native fisheries in our local watersheds. Juvenile salmon and steelhead spend approximately one year rearing in small tributary streams before migrating out to the ocean. The exceptionally dry conditions in drought years can cause accelerated stream-drying in these tributaries that subsequently traps oversummering juveniles in isolated pools as streamflow disconnects. Lack of flowing water between pool habitat causes water quality conditions necessary for survival to become unsuitable and results in largescale fish die-offs.

The California Voluntary Drought Initiative (VDI) is a collaborative effort between the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Marine Fisheries Service designed to engage landowners, water users, and communities in watershed conservation and management actions that can help reduce the effects of the drought on salmon and steelhead.

These voluntary actions can include:

  1. Implementing water conservation strategies that improve streamflow
  2. Targeted flow augmentation projects in select watersheds
  3. Monitoring and evaluating the success of these measures
  4. Allowing access for fish rescue and relocation efforts
  5. Enhancing floodplain inundation and groundwater recharge

Targeted flow augmentation is the most sought-after project type because of the immediate survival benefits for salmon and steelhead. Therefore, landowners who have groundwater wells or off-stream ponds with sufficient storage to release small volumes of water to provide subsistence flows during the critical dry period (July through October) are strongly encouraged to contact CDFW. Funding is available to cover costs for flow augmentation projects in priority Russian River tributaries, including, but not limited to, Dutch Bill Creek, Green Valley Creek, Mark West Creek, and Mill Creek.

If you are interested in participating and for additional information, please contact BDRDrought@wildlife.ca.gov.

Juvenile Coho salmon and steelhead mortalities in drying pool under drought conditions in August 2020.
Juvenile Coho salmon and steelhead mortalities in a drying pool under drought conditions. Wood Creek tributary to the Russian River. Aug 2020.
Summer flow augmentation project on Dutch Bill Creek by Camp Meeker Recreation and Park District.
Flow augmentation project by Camp Meeker Recreation and Park District on Dutch Bill Creek. Water is released in the summer continuously through November or until flows are restored from rainfall.