Something Wonderful Is About to Happen

October 3, 2022

There is some good news to report about Auburn Ravine.  

Since the 1930’s a water-diversion dam about two miles east of downtown Lincoln has been a major problem for the Salmon and Steelhead that swim up Auburn Ravine every fall and winter. In some wet years, seven to ten percent of them were able to jump over it to reach good spawning areas upstream. In other years, none made it. 

It is called the Hemphill Dam – probably named after a prominent Lincoln resident,  Wallace Hemphill, who led various irrigation projects in the area around Lincoln. 

Hemphill Dam during a recent irrigation season (April 15 to October 15). After the upper steel and wood structure was removed in mid-October every year, it still prevented almost all Salmon and Steelhead from getting over it to the good spawning areas upstream.

The good news is that soon it will no longer be called Hemphill Dam. It will become the Hemphill Fish Passage Project. When completed, Salmon and Steelhead will have access to about 4 times as much spawning area as they have now in Auburn Ravine. 

The dam is being replaced by a modern water diversion system that will allow fish to migrate upstream with ease while also allowing water delivery via the Hemphill Canal to continue as normal.  

A type of fish ladder called a Roughened Rock Ramp is now being installed in the streambed where the old dam used to be. A self-cleaning fish screen at the entrance to the canal will keep baby Salmon and Steelhead in the creek on their way to the ocean and out of the canal so they will no longer die in a trip down the canal.

In this mid-September photo, most of the old structure has been removed and work has begun to create the gentle slope where the Roughened Rock Ramp will be installed. (Friends of Auburn Ravine Photo.)

The project is being managed by Nevada Irrigation District (Headquartered in Nevada  County, CA) and Westcon Construction of Newcastle, CA. If they can get the Roughened Rock Ramp completed before the first big rains, there will be some very happy Salmon and Steelhead in Auburn Ravine this fall! At present, the project appears to be on track to achieve that. 

This project is the latest in a series of fish passage improvements that have been completed along Auburn Ravine.  

Kudos should also be given to: 

  • The operators of the seasonal diversion dams west of Lincoln, who have for many years removed the upper sections of their dams in mid-October to allow  Salmon and Steelhead to get from the Sacramento River to the Lincoln area. 
  • The Rancher who installed a fish screen in 2011 just west of the new route of Highway 65. 
  • Nevada Irrigation District (NID) for the fish passage project that they completed in 2012 at their Lincoln Gauging Station near the Lincoln Dog Park west of  Lincoln Blvd. 
  • South Sutter Water District (SSWD) and Family Water Alliance (FWA) for the fish screens they installed at Pleasant Grove Canal in 2015. 
  • Placer County Water Agency (PCWA) for further improvements to the Pleasant  Grove site in 2020, and improvements they made at their New Moore water diversion site that year as well.

So, you ask, “When and where can I see these fine fish?” 

After a “good rain” of 2-3 inches in the Auburn-Lincoln area in 2-3 days, Salmon and Steelhead will usually get to the Lincoln area about 2-3 days later. So, if you want to try to see some Salmon, the days to go look are when the water begins to clear after a  good rain from mid-October through the end of January. 

At present, public access to the creek is somewhat limited but there is a nice concrete trail from the Auburn Ravine Dog Park that goes upstream almost all the way to Lincoln Blvd. Along it, you will find many places where you can see the creek. That is a good place to look. The best times of day to see Salmon moving upstream are around sunrise and sunset. But they can also often be seen at other times as well.  

Most of these fish are 24” to 36” long. You will be amazed the first time you see one! If you want to get serious about seeing some Salmon in Auburn Ravine, you can join a crew of volunteers working with Friends of Auburn Ravine (www.auburnravine.org). We have permission from property owners along the creek to conduct Salmon Surveys every fall and winter. This is not a casual endeavor. Training is required and there are forms to fill out each time the volunteers see a living or dead Salmon. And pursuant to our permit from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, we dissect the dead Salmon to collect DNA samples and/or tags.