Mad River Union
McKINLEYVILLE – Two old sewer ponds next to the Mad River may be converted to a coho salmon nursery.
The McKinleyville Community Services District is working with California Trout to obtain state grant funding for the project, which could be completed and serve as a home for the small smolts in as little as two years.
The percolation ponds, about four acres in size, are located behind a thicket of willows on the McKinleyville side of the Mad River, across from the Mad River County Park boat ramp.
For years the MCSD used the ponds as a way to dispose of treated wastewater. However, a new state mandate would have required the district to conduct an extensive study proving that the disposal method had no effect on the nearby river if the district wanted to continue to use the ponds.
Rather than go through such an expensive process and face the unknown results of the study, the MCSD decided to abandon the percolation ponds, according to MCSD Manager Greg Orsini.
“The perc ponds never really performed up to their design,” Orsini said.
The district disposes of its wastewater by releasing it into the Mad River under the Hammond Bridge during winter months when river flows are high enough, During the summer the effluent is used to irrigate the Fischer Ranch at the corner of School and Fischer roads.
There had been talk of restoring the riverfront pond property to its natural state, but that would have cost the district as much as a $1 million.
In discussions with the Department of Fish & Wildlife, it became clear that the ponds, with modifications, would be ideal habitat for juvenile salmon.
Orsini said the MCSD is working with California Trout to obtain a Mad River Estuary Off-Channel Habitat Restoration Design grant from the state.
If the grant application is successful, the ponds would be redesigned, with a direct connection to the Mad River. Coho fry would have access to the off-channel ponds, where they could grow nice and fat without having to constantly battle the river currents.
The ponds would include low-hanging trees and other native species providing the coho with bugs and other natural food sources.
The percolation ponds are currently fenced off. If the coho project moves forward, the fences will be removed and trails may be incorporated into the project.