Salmon in Arcade Creek

by Alta Tura

Arcade Creek 2005
photo by Bill Templin

A group of Mira Loma High School students observed a salmon in Arcade Creek on November 18. Greg Suba, a former science teacher who happened to be with the students that day, reports that the fish was swimming in a pool of rancid water darkened by the tannin that had leached out of the many leaves in the pool. The blotchy salmon would come out from its hiding place under a log to tour the trash-laden pool then return to its hiding place. This salmon sighting downstream of the Horsemen’s Association was one of several reported this fall in lower and upper reaches of Arcade Creek.

Why do we see salmon in Arcade Creek? Patrick Foy, Public Information Officer for the Department of Fish and Game, says one reason is the large size of this year’s salmon run. 100,000 salmon came to spawn in the American River this fall. 30,000 to 40,000 is considered a good, healthy run. The 2001 and 2002 fall runs were also especially large, 118,000 and 130,000 respectively. If there are more fish in the system, then more will make wrong turns and survive to be noticed by creek watchers. Patrick says that in a year like 2004, salmon are sighted in various unsuitable waterways, such as agricultural drainage ditches. He gets calls from people asking that these lost fish be rescued and placed back in the river to try again.

Randy Smith, a longtime resident along the creek, admires the pluck of these piscine explorers. He theorizes that the best time to look for them is when the creek level has dropped after a rain storm. A good rain will raise the creek level, providing an opportunity for the fish to move upstream. As the water drops, the fish will become stranded in pools and wait for the next rain and the chance to move further up in search of adequate spawning conditions. As a rule, the fish will be easier to see when they are waiting in the pools.

Most salmon swimming up the Sacramento River that turn onto Steelhead Creek probably know to continue on to Dry Creek before turning eastward in their migration. Successful spawning occurs in restored and remnant gravel beds there. Those few adventurous salmon making a wrong turn up Arcade Creek, however, will have a fruitless search. Any Arcade Creek spawning areas that might have existed in the past have been covered over by silt for many years.

Arcade Creek was once healthy and a very different kind of creek. It may or may not have supported Chinook salmon. As suburban development occurred in the Arcade Creek watershed during the last half of the last century, the creek was forced to carry high flows of water much more frequently than before. Rain from winter storms used to percolate into the ground; stormwater would run off into the creek only in very heavy or long-lasting storms that saturated the ground. Now rainwater falling onto rooftops, streets, sidewalks, parking lots and other impervious surfaces flows quickly and efficiently through storm drains and into the creek. More erosion of the creek bank occurs under these frequent high-water conditions. One of the results – large quantities of soil that at one time formed the creek bank were and continue to be scoured away, ending up as silt on the creek bed. This accelerated bank erosion and siltation of the creek bed is bad news for spawning salmon and most other plants and animals native to Arcade Creek.

Watch upcoming issues of Creek Watch for more stories of our urban creeks – past, present and future.

Mark your calendar:
2005 Creek Clean-up Date is Saturday, April 9

Outdoor World of the Sacramento Region – revised and expanded – is now on the shelves at Effie Yeaw Nature Center. The new edition of this handy field guide contains more birds and plants. A page on animal scat and some mushroom orders are new features.

This article originally appeared in our Winter 2004 Newsletter

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