Flood Protection, Agriculture, Fish and Wildlife Coexist in the Yolo Bypass

Mar 5, 2013

Egrets, herons and other birds feast in a wild rice field in the Yolo Bypass.
Credit Trina Wood

At times during the winter and early spring it looks like a vast inland sea between Sacramento and Davis. This is the Yolo Bypass, which shunts Sacramento River floodwater around the state capital during high flows. You drive over the bypass on a three-mile-long elevated stretch of Interstate 80 known as “the Causeway” (the Blecher-Freeman Memorial Causeway). The bypass is also the site of a lot of innovative fish and wildlife work.

From late fall through winter you can see thousands of ducks, geese and other waterfowl winging over the bypass’s flooded rice fields and the restored wetlands in the Vic Fazio Yolo Basin Wildlife Area.

The Central Valley of California is one of the nation’s most important migratory waterfowl corridors. The bypass provides essential winter habitat for these birds on their annual migration. The wildlife area is managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Learn more.A recent article in The Sacramento Bee featured a research project at a rice farming area in the upper reaches of the bypass that is examining how flooded fields could be used to fatten up young salmon during a crucial time in their life cycle. One part of the study is examining how soil type influences the production of insects — an important source of food for growing salmon. Carson Jeffres, a fish ecologist with the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, is quoted in the story: "There are hundreds, if not thousands, of insects that are coming out of each 9-by-6-inch block of earth." You can also watch a YouTube video to hear UC Davis doctoral student Jacob Katz describe the project.

Part of the wildlife area is accessible by automobile — when it’s not flooded! Consider taking a tour of this remarkable and easily accessible area, or take binoculars to view the many birds. UC Davis fisheries professor Peter Moyle prepared a guide that will help you make the most of your visit.