Thanks to $32 million and a decade-long dam and restoration project, fish and water are again running in high numbers on the Mokelumne River.
Last week, the Santa Rosa engineering firm that helped design the new "fish-friendly" Woodbridge Irrigation District Dam was honored by the American Council of Engineering Companies.
Winzler and Kelly Consulting Engineers won an engineering excellence award for their completion of "today's most technically advanced fish passage facilities in the nation," according to a company press release.
Those familiar with the river and new dam - which was completed in 2006 - say the award is deserving given the rebound of Coho salmon and steelhead on the river.
"The new dam and fish ladder are beautiful projects and have certainly been beneficial," said Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.
The longtime environmental advocate said increased water flows, at least from Camanche Reservoir to Woodbridge, have helped what were extremely low fish numbers in the early 1990s.
"We got down to so few fish on the Mokelumne you could give them names," Jennings said.
Winzler and Kelly Consulting Engineers of Santa Rosa were honored by the American Council of Engineering Companies. The council also honored the following projects:
• Hearst Headquarters, New York; a 46-story glass and steel skyscraper with a network of triangulated trusses.
• WaMu Center/Seattle Art Museum Expansion, Seattle, Wash.; a 540-foot tall office building that houses 4,000 employees and the nation's fifth largest bank
• West Side Combined Sewer Overflow Project, Portland, Ore.; a 3.4-mile-long, 14-foot diameter tunnel that crosses beneath the Wilamette River.
• Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta, Ga; One of the largest aquatic museums in the world.
• AquaPod Fish Containment System, Searsmont, Maine; an underwater wire mesh netting and fiberglass pod that improves fish farming.
Source: American Council of Engineering Companies.
In 1991, less than 400 salmon were counted passing the old Woodbridge Dam. In the new dam's first year, more than 16,000 salmon were counted passing through the new ladders, along with 180 steelhead.
The Woodbridge Irrigation District operated the old dam, and operates the new one as well.
Andy Christensen, the district's general manager, credits the dam's three new and revamped fish ladders for much of the rebound.
Fish ladders aid species as they make their arduous return to upriver spawning grounds.
The new ladders have smaller steps and allow for both high and low water level travel.
The new dam's massive fish passage, or river "offramp," has helped species swim back downstream and avoid getting diverted into the district's Woodbridge Canal, an irrigation canal.
More protection for fish is planned at the new dam.
A $3.3 million fish screen should soon be built, which will also help keep fish from entering the Woodbridge Canal.
Along with the fish passage and ladders, engineers installed a camera system to monitor fish as they travel past the dam.
Those cameras, plus a fish tagging system conducted by East Bay Municipal Utility District biologists, help gather information about various species and their survival on the Mokelumne.
On the whole, Christensen said, the new dam is a very "fish-friendly facility."