JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas (AFNS) — Threatened fish at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., are reaping the benefits of a partnership between the Air Force and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Specialists from Beale, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center and the USFWS recently completed a dam removal and creek restoration project there, making it easier for fish, including the Chinook salmon and federally threatened Central Valley steelhead, to travel upstream and spawn.
The Army originally built Beale Lake Dam in 1943 as a recreational spot for soldiers. In the 1980s, the Air Force realized the dam was impacting fish travel and constructed a concrete fish ladder to try to address the issue. In 2015, the Air Force recognized the fish ladder was undersized and outdated.
“The need to address the obsolete dam and fish ladder and improve habitat conditions for sensitive fish species had long been identified as a significant goal in the installation Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan,” said Kevin Porteck, AFCEC natural resources subject matter expert. “Fortunately, in 2018, we were able to get the funding and the partnerships in place to address the issue.”
AFCEC reached out to USFWS for its expertise. Under the Sikes Act of 1960, the two agencies regularly work together to manage, conserve and rehabilitate natural resources at Department of the Air Force installations.
“AFCEC initiated a more detailed study of this issue through a habitat assessment by USFWS fisheries biologists,” said Kirsten Christopherson, natural resources specialist for AFCEC’s western regional environmental support office, who led the dam removal project. “The study identified that there were two major barriers impeding fish passage — Beale Lake Dam and a low flow crossing that is 7.35 miles downstream from Beale AFB on private land.”
Around the same time, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study found Beale Lake Dam to be in poor condition.
Air Force engineers and natural resource managers determined it would be cheaper to remove the dam than repair it, and engaged the support of USFWS fisheries biologists.
USFWS engineers designed a new creek channel, using an area upstream of the dam as a model, and work began with draining the lake for a short period of time during the summer of 2019 in order to further study the channel. In addition to the dam removal, which was completed in October 2020, the team also implemented other aspects to assist fish migration, such as building a “rocky ramp” to help fish pass over a small natural waterfall upstream of the dam.
They also planted native vegetation, including large trees, to prevent erosion and provide shade to help maintain fish-friendly water temperatures.