Friday, March 12, 2010

Fish restoration could be a catch for Rio Vista

Fish restoration could be a catch for Rio Vista
By Matt Weiser / The Sacramento Bee
Posted: 03/12/2010 01:02:06 AM PST

One of many empty buildings at the old abandoned Army base located in Rio Vista is seen in 2003. (Joel Rosenbaum / The Reporter)

Rio Vista, long a hub for levee building and dredging in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, could find its next fortune in fish restoration.
Solano County's smallest city is being courted by a who's who of state and federal agencies that see a former U.S. Army property on the waterfront as an ideal home for Delta research.
The latest proposal is for a federal fish-breeding project to raise "refuge" populations of several species in case they go extinct in the wild.
"It would be perfect for these uses," said Rio Vista Mayor Jan Vick. "Nobody has any money for it yet, but we're pushing because it's becoming more urgent so research in the Delta can proceed efficiently."
The property has been eyed for a joint state-federal science center. The city also wants public recreation and interpretive facilities on the site.
The 28-acre property was first developed in 1911 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for levee building and dredging operations. It later became a training site for riverine military operations, then an Army Reserve center.
Centrally located in the Delta, it offers a long waterfront wharf, a large marine railway, and many building sites well above the water. It lies between a marina and a U.S. Coast Guard station.
The city bought the site for $30,000 in 2003 as part of the military base-closure process.
Since 2003, state and federal agencies have wanted a science center on the property to consolidate environmental research and monitoring.
Ted Sommer, program manager at the state Department of Water Resources, said state water contractors have agreed to pay the state's share of costs for the science center, which could accommodate a staff of 160 on about 10 acres.
The project already has a nifty government acronym: RIVERS, or Rio Vista Estuarine Research Station.
"We're still keen on building this facility, though certainly it hasn't gone as quickly as we had hoped," Sommer said. "Being able to share resources is a big part of it. We think having people together would help us make better science."
More recently, the Obama administration identified the Rio Vista site for a large fish-breeding operation. Dubbed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an "Aquatic Technology Center," it would breed imperiled species in case they go extinct in the wild.
The service already maintains a "refuge" population of Delta smelt at a hatchery near Redding. But it wants to move the operation closer to the Delta, and to breed other species if necessary, including longfin smelt, Sacramento splittail, Sacramento perch and green sturgeon, said Bob Clarke, the agency's acting assistant regional director.
"We're starting to think ahead of time so that we're prepared," he said. "Other fish are hard-pressed, and we don't want to get in a position of building a facility that can only handle Delta smelt."
The service has no money for the facility. But on Monday it hosts a daylong science conference at the University of California, Davis to discuss how such a facility could serve a variety of species.
Rio Vista, meanwhile, is pressing federal representatives for funding, said Vick.
"We're very excited about it," she said. "We really need to be able to get some economic benefit out of this property."
For more information about Monday's science conference, visit