Management Issues

Water diversions have the potential to significantly reduce surface water flows of Big River and its tributaries. The potential for land development and increase in demand for water from the basin remains an issue of concern;

Water temperatures are thought to be unsuitable for salmonids in the mainstem Big River and larger tributaries;

There is concern that chemical and diesel spills in the basin are impairing stream conditions;

There is concern that large amounts of sediments generated from road related failures have been and may be delivered to stream channels during major storms;

Fine sediment levels in many tributaries and the mainstem Big River are thought to be high;

Estuary conditions are thought to be impaired by sediment;

Fish habitat, including pool frequency, pool depth, shelter, large woody debris presence, cobble embeddedness, and fish passage are though to be unsuitable for salmonids throughout the basin;

Timber harvest has been and continues to be the dominant land use in the Big River Basin;

Landsliding related roads, timber harvesting, and grassland is a concern;

Long term effects to stream channels from splash dam logging throughout the basin are of concern;

It is believed that there have been reductions in salmonid populations from historic levels;

Sport and commercial fish harvests may have played a role in the reduction of numbers of Big River’s salmonid populations;

There is concern that the decline in the abundance of spawning salmon has likely caused a corresponding decrease in nutrients and organic matter available to streams;

GMA (2001) may have over-estimated the bankfull width used in the Sediment Source Analysis (CGS 2004).

Key Findings

What are the history and trends of the sizes, distribution, and relative health and diversity of salmonid populations in the Big River Basin?

Both historic and current data are limited. Little data are available on population trends, relative health, or diversity. According to NOAA Fisheries Endangered Species Act listing investigations, the populations of salmonids have likely decreased in the Big River Basin as they have elsewhere along California and the Pacific Coast. Coho salmon in Mendocino County are currently listed as endangered under the California and federal Endangered Species Acts and steelhead trout are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act;

Based on limited CDFG, USFWS, HTC, MRC, and SONAR presence surveys and surveys documented by NMFS, the distributions of coho salmon and steelhead trout do not appear to have changed since the 1960s;

Steelhead trout were documented in more reaches surveyed by CDFG and MRC since 1990 than coho salmon; â—¾Thirty tributaries, the mainstem Big River, and the estuary had records of coho salmon and steelhead trout since 1990. Twenty additional tributaries recorded only steelhead trout.

What are the current salmonid habitat conditions in the Big River Basin? How do these conditions compare to desired conditions?

Flow/Water Quality

Water temperatures at all seven monitoring sites along the mainstem of the Big River were unsuitable for salmonids;

Water temperatures in tributaries across the basin showed that temperatures were generally suitable for salmonids in the Coastal and Middle subbasins and mixed in the Inland Subbasin. Temperatures in the larger tributaries in the Inland Subbasin such as the North and South forks Big River were generally unsuitable for salmonids while temperatures in the smaller tributaries were suitable;

There have been very few water quality samples taken across the basin. Some sites show indications of exceeding NCRWQCB criteria for sodium, copper, specific conductance, total dissolved solids, aluminum, zinc, or boron. However, these findings are based on few sample sites and in some cases may be artifacts of the type of sampling procedure used.

Fish Passage

Fish passage barriers have been identified in seven surveyed tributaries across the basin and several small tributaries along the estuary are blocked to fish passage by perched culverts;

Areas of dry channel found during CDFG stream surveys may indicate fish passage problems in some tributaries during periods of low flow.


Data collected in four tributaries in the basin indicated excessive amounts of fine sediment in the sub-0.85 mm and/or sub-6.5mm size classes, which would create unsuitable conditions for salmonids. However, much of the basin has not been evaluated for sediment delivery and deposition.

Riparian Condition

Canopy cover was suitable for salmonids on all surveyed reaches within the basin except for James Creek and the mainstem Big River. The mainstem Big River has a larger, broader channel and floodplain and is expected to have reduced canopy levels.

Instream Habitat

In general, a high incidence of shallow pools, and a lack of cover and large woody debris indicate simplification of instream salmonid habitat in surveyed tributary reaches and the estuary;


Cobble embeddedness values in many CDFG surveyed reaches were unsuitable for salmonid spawning success. Of surveyed pool tails, only 17.2% had cobble embeddedness less than 26%. In addition, the MRC characterized spawning gravels as fair quality on segments they surveyed;

Permeability sampling in four locations throughout the basin indicated low to moderate amounts of fine material. This could indicate suitable to somewhat unsuitable conditions for salmonid in these sample sites. Refugia Areas

Salmonid habitat conditions in the Big River Basin are generally best in the Coastal Subbasin tributaries where they have generally been rated as high potential refugia. Conditions in the Middle and Inland subbasins are mixed and generally rated as medium potential refugia.

What are the impacts of geologic, vegetative, fluvial, and other natural processes on watershed and stream conditions?

The geology of the Big River Basin is primarily comprised of Coastal Belt Franciscan Complex. This portion of the Franciscan complex is