Deer Creek Levee Setback: Improving a Salmon Stronghold

Deer Creek is a Sacramento River tributary in Tehama County that is one of only four Central Valley streams still supporting wild populations of spring-run Chinook salmon. The neighboring community of Vina faces high flood risk. The Deer Creek Watershed Conservancy, a local non-governmental organization comprised of interested landowners in the watershed, worked with the Nature Conservancy to develop a five-phase plan that will increase flood safety in Vina, continue to support agricultural irrigation in the area, and improve habitat for endangered native fish.

Lower Deer Creek is one of the last strongholds for wild Central Valley spring run Chinook salmon in the Sacramento River watershed. The area sustained heavy flooding in 1997. Studies conducted since have shown that both flood safety and natural areas critical to fish and wildlife populations can be improved by setting back existing levees and restoring floodplains. The project will give the town of Vina 100-year flood protection while returning lower Deer Creek to a wilder, more natural state.

The Deer Creek Watershed Conservancy developed a five-phase plan to make these improvements and implement the project in a way that is consistent with local values. Phase one will increase the flood capacity of lower Deer Creek and restore 30 acres of floodplain habitat for salmon and other native wildlife. Currently, clearing invasive plants that clog the stream channel is expensive requires a lot of effort. The project will replace these invasive species with native vegetation which is expected to be extremely low-maintenance thus lowering long-term costs. A total of 270 acres of floodway/flood easements will be added when the project is complete.

Infrastructure improvements that enhance public safety include an upgraded diversion dam and a removal of a flow restriction at Red’s Bridge that will allow Deer Creek more room to expand safely during times of high water. A new fish ladder over the Stanford Vina diversion dam will give listed salmon access to spawning grounds in the upper reaches of the creek even as the upgraded dam continues to provide water to local farms.

Multiple Benefits Delivered

  • Enhancing public safety.
  • Reducing costly flood damage.
  • Protecting fish and wildlife.
  • Protecting working farms and ranches.
  • Providing recreational opportunities.
  • Improving water quality.
  • Contributing to water supply reliability.
  • Preparing for extreme weather events and climate change.
  • Reducing costs by moving beyond mitigation.

Project Partners

  • California Department of Water Resources
  • The Deer Creek Watershed Conservancy
  • The Nature Conservancy