The Yolo Flyway Farms project is a new element of the state’s EcoRestore program to fulfill requirements of federal biological opinions for the State Water Project and Central Valley Project. The 300-acre tidal wetland restoration project is located in the southern Yolo Bypass in what is commonly referred to as the Cache Slough Complex (Figure 1). The Project’s design entails allowing tidal access to excavated upland irrigated pasture land by opening levees along Prospect Slough (Figure 2). The Project is in a known area of concentration for Delta smelt as determined by nearby CDWR screw trap sampling in Prospect Slough (Figure 3). Project sponsors submitted a certification of consistency with the Delta Plan to the Delta Stewardship Council.1
Are such projects in the best interest of the Delta smelt population? A close look at project attributes may help answer the question.
- Replacement of the existing tide gate irrigation system with open levee breaches eliminates existing entrainment and loss of Delta smelt and other fishes into the irrigated pasture lands.
- New tidal channels and tidal wetlands would provide rearing habitat for young smelt, salmon, and splittail. Plankton and benthic invertebrate food sources for fish would likely increase.
- Hard surfaces may provide smelt spawning habitat.
- Tidal channels would provide new habitat for predatory birds and fish , which could increase loss of young smelt and salmon. Prospect Slough is deep, turbid, strong- current habitat unfavorable to predators. Tidal channels of project would be dead end, low velocity, less turbid habitats favorable to predators of fish.
- The southern Yolo Bypass aquatic habitats are warm from spring through fall, at times exceeding the thermal optimum for Delta smelt. Proposed shallow-water dead-end sloughs and flooded wetlands would warm and increase warming of Prospect Slough and other lower Bypass waters. While a positive attribute in winter and at times in late fall and early spring, this would be detrimental at other times.
Despite the potential positive benefits of such restoration in general, the potential negative aspects of the Project are a real concern. Some of the potential negative effects could be reduced through changes in project design and operations. At a minimum, the project should be considered an adaptive management experiment where potential positive and negative attributes are studied to determine the overall benefit of the action and whether it fulfills the objectives of the biological opinions.