This year, thanks to an unusually wet winter and spring, Sutter National Wildlife Refuge near Yuba City will be flooded in time for the Oct. 21 waterfowl-hunting season opener.
As California’s hunters can attest, that doesn’t always happen. It’s often uncertain when the refuge will open to hunting due to limited water.
But in the years to come, the wetlands on the 2,591-acre refuge will have a more reliable water supply, thanks to an ongoing project Ducks Unlimited is overseeing in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and a grant from the California Natural Resources Agency.
Work is underway on a $16 million lift station that will allow the refuge to make the most of its water supply. As it stands, the water levels in the ditch that the refuge pulls water from often drop too low in the fall for the existing gravity-fed infrastructure to flood 1,540 acres of the refuge’s managed wetlands inside the Sutter Bypass. Currently, it’s only when the water levels in the ditch rise typically later in the season that the refuge can flood that area.
When completed in 2024, the new lift station will allow the refuge to pull water from the ditch at lower levels, offering better chances of having water on opening day. The lift station comes with screens to ensure that fish, such as salmon, aren’t harmed in the process.
“This is the first major step in securing Sutter National Wildlife Refuge’s water for the benefit of migratory birds,” said Jacob Byers, the refuge’s manager. “We still have work to do, but with our partners, we’re moving the needle on maximizing available water on our refuge. Sutter, part of the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex, is a critical component in a greater network of federal, state and private lands that benefit wildlife. This project will help us meet our mission of sustaining migratory birds across the Pacific Flyway.”
PROJECT WILL HELP DELIVER CVPIA WATER
The Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA), which passed in 1992, mandated certain Central Valley wildlife areas and refuges, including Sutter, have higher priority access to river water.
More than 90 percent of the Central Valley’s wetlands have been lost to development. A goal behind the law was to ensure adequate water reached specific state wildlife areas and federal refuges so that wildlife can make the most out of these few remaining, critically important wetlands.
Unfortunately, Sutter National Wildlife Refuge hasn’t taken advantage of this federally promised water since the infrastructure to get it to the refuges wasn’t built yet. The new lift station will be an important component in any future large-scale project to supply CVPIA water to Sutter in the years ahead.
In other good news, Ducks Unlimited and its partners are also on track to complete a $52 million water-supply improvement project in the coming months that will allow Gray Lodge Wildlife Area in Gridley to finally receive its full allotment of CVPIA water.
“It’s an exciting time for the public wetlands of the Sacramento Valley,” said Ducks Unlimited Regional Biologist John Ranlett. “The millions of waterfowl and other birds that rely on our state and federal wetlands will benefit from these Ducks Unlimited projects. California’s hunters and other wildlife enthusiasts will also enjoy these improvements to our wildlife areas and refuges for years to come.”
Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America’s continually disappearing wetland and grassland habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has restored or protected more than 16 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science, DU’s projects benefit waterfowl, wildlife and people in all 50 states. DU is growing its mission through a historic $3 billion Conservation For A Continent capital campaign. Learn more at www.ducks.org.