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NEWS: CEMEX Agrees to Removal of Dam at Mill Creek in Santa Cruz Mountains

Sempervirens Fund secures post-fire funds to restore creek and improve Coho salmon habitat, part of long-term restoration of previously logged redwood forest

Contact: Matthew Shaffer, Sempervirens Fund, 415.609.2750, [email protected]
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Mill Creek Dam, San Vicente Redwoods. Photo credit: Ian Bornarth

The CEMEX dam obstructs Mill Creek in San Vicente Redwoods, preventing ideal conditions for endangered Coho salmon habitat. Photo: Ian Bornarth

Los Altos, Calif. (April 28, 2021) — Sempervirens Fund announced today that they have secured approvals and critical post-fire funding to remove a dam from Mill Creek. CEMEX, the former owner of what is now San Vicente Redwoods, retains water and infrastructure rights on the property, and approved the dam removal. Deconstruction will begin later this summer.

“The dam has impeded Coho salmon from reaching desperately needed spawning habitat for decades,” said Sara Barth, Sempervirens Fund’s executive director. “Removing the dam will restore not only the creek flow, but improve sediment conditions critical for spawning. A restored creek is also essential to the health and resilience of the surrounding redwoods and other nearby and downstream habitats at San Vicente.”

San Vicente Redwoods is an 8,532-acre stretch of forest that is currently owned and managed by four conservation organizations: Sempervirens Fund, Peninsula Open Space Trust, Save the Redwoods League, and Land Trust of Santa Cruz County. Near Davenport, it is the largest privately held redwood forest in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The CZU Lightning Complex wildfires in August and September 2020 scorched more than 86,000 acres, including all of San Vicente Redwoods lands. Water lines for Davenport, which ran across the top of the dam, were destroyed. CEMEX funded the re-routing and replacement of their water lines earlier this year and agreed to remove the dam. In late March Sempervirens Fund received a $550,000 grant made through the Open Rivers Fund, a program of Resources Legacy Fund supported by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The grant will be further leveraged by support from individual donors for the ongoing restoration work at San Vicente. Funding for the project also came from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Office of Spill Prevention and Response.

“We’re thrilled to see such great teamwork,” said Julie Turrini of Resources Legacy Fund. “Sempervirens Fund efficiently coordinated the work of several government agencies, multiple conservation groups, and a partnering Tribal land trust to get this done quite rapidly—all in the wake of a devastating fire that laid bare the urgency of this project.”

Since 2011, the organizations have partnered to steward the property’s old-growth redwoods and eight creeks, home to many regionally important species of wildlife and plants, including the endangered Coho salmon. Habitat for salmon is scarce and impediments like dams diminish their access to critical waters and the gravelly sediment that makes for ideal spawning grounds. While rare in the Santa Cruz Mountains, dams like the one on Mill Creek were built early last century to support redwood logging. Their utility has long since expired, and removal is the best option for repairing the ecosystem. San Vicente’s partners also collaborate with regional conservation teams, such as Resources Conservation District Santa Cruz County, to implement large-scale restoration efforts.

“The RCDSCC is proud to partner with Sempervirens Fund and other local north coast partners to advance the removal of the lower Mill Creek dam,” said Lisa Lurie, Executive Director, Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County. “This project, identified as a priority action for recovery of salmonids in the San Vicente Watershed, is an important step forward in helping threatened and endangered Steelhead and Coho salmon along the Central Coast of California.”

Sempervirens Fund and its partners are pursuing research projects to monitor and survey fish populations in Mill Creek and in the greater San Vicente watershed, including Coho salmon, steelhead trout, and lamprey eels, including the use of environmental DNA techniques. Past restoration projects along Mill Creek, including the introduction of large woody debris, have already reinvigorated steelhead populations, which are present this season.

Re-routing the waterlines to Davenport earlier this year and the removal of the CEMEX dam are important to regional waterway vitality and water quality.

“Mill Creek is part of a critical watershed on the North Coast which provides drinking water for the town of Davenport and habitat for Coho,” said Santa Cruz County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty. “The Mill Creek dam removal project is truly a win-win project as it will improve water quality both for the residents and the Coho.

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