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Keith Bouma-Gregson, second from left in blue jacket, instructs ERRP volunteers on how to do an algae transect at Swimmers Delight County Park in June 2013.

The Eel River Recovery Project is kicking off its summer citizen monitoring season with an outdoor education event at Tooby Park on the South Fork Eel River near Garberville on Sunday, June 22 starting at noon. This is an opportunity for the public to learn about river ecology at the river's edge or even underwater. Water quality specialist and UC Berkeley doctoral candidate Keith Bouma-Gregson will teach about algae identification, including toxic species, and fisheries biologist and ERRP Volunteer Coordinator Patrick Higgins will teach people how to identify fishes present, including the non-native, predatory pikeminnow.

This will be the second year of study for Keith Bouma-Gregson who works in the Mary Power Lab in the Department of Integrative Biology, at U.C. Berkeley and is supported by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Fellowship. Keith wants to help the public better understand how and why toxic algae grow in the Eel River and is willing to visit sites where land owners with river-front property want conditions assessed or to partner with people who want to monitor highly used public swimming beaches. If people are unable to attend the June 22 training, they may also phone Keith at 805-368-2775 to make inquiries about assistance.

ERRP recently published a report on water quality and flow conditions in 2013 and the South Fork Eel River became unsuitable for swimming and recreational contact by the end of July. UC Berkeley found that toxics produced by blue-green algae or cyanobacteria peaked in August. Since conditions are drier in 2014, problems may develop earlier, which is one of the reasons the workshop is being held early in the summer. ERRP will also be asking people to send photos of their favorite swimming spots over summer as part of their "Is It Swimmable" project.

Most of ERRP's previous fisheries monitoring efforts have been aimed at assessing Eel River native fall Chinook salmon runs, but they also have interest in a pesky, introduced, predatory fish known now as the Sacramento pikeminnow that was formerly known as the squawfish. Introduced into the Eel River in about 1980, these fish spread throughout the basin within a decade and dominated the river during the prolonged drought from 1986-1992.

Although observations suggest that the pikeminnow population has decreased somewhat with the wet winter cycles in the Eel River watershed from 1995-2011, ERRP has concerns that they may rebound with the current drought cycle.

Higgins said "Pikeminnow are very beautiful and amazingly adaptable, but they don't belong in the Eel River and we should monitor them and manage their population, if necessary, or they have the potential to be a major limiting factor for salmon and steelhead." He said ERRP wants to work cooperatively with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service Redwood Sciences Laboratory, and other willing entities to collect data on the pikeminnow population and gauge trends. Those trained to identify pikeminnow on June 22 may be able to join as volunteers to assist with a population assessment in the future.

The ERRP is a grassroots group working on solutions to problems identified by people in the Eel River watershed. Assistance is also available from ERRP this summer for anyone who wants to the monitor temperature and flow of a stream they live near or to assess conditions in a pond on their property. ERRP operates under the Trees Foundation, which makes donations to support its work tax deductible. To learn more or donate, see www.EelRiverRecovery.org. The training on algae will begin at noon, with the pikeminnow identification dive immediately following. If you have questions or you want to help out, you can also call 223-7200.