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Central Valley | San Francisco | Environment & Forest Defense | Government & Elections

Drought Conditions Pose Grave Threat to Central Valley Salmon
by Dan Bacher
Friday Jun 28th, 2013 8:58 PM
Endangered Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon could be decimated this year, due to the draining of Shasta Reservoir to provide water sales from the northern Sacramento Valley to junior water rights holders south of the Delta. These sales proceed as the Brown and Obama administrations are fast-tracking the construction of the peripheral tunnels under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.
Lack of cold water likely to be felt in future returns

San Francisco – Federal and state water and fish managers say the stretch of upper Sacramento River cold enough for salmon to successfully spawn will be less than half that needed this year.

"Salmon are expected to suffer because the water in Lake Shasta needed to chill the upper river for the fish is being drained for other uses," according to a news release from the Golden Gate Salmon Association (GGSA). "By late summer it is anticipated only about 20 miles of the Sacramento above Redding will be cold enough (56 degrees or less) for the fish to successfully spawn. Over twenty miles downstream of Redding, normally cold enough for spawning, is likely to exceed 56 degrees."

“Salmon eggs laid in northern stretches of the Sacramento River could die from overheated water this year,” said Golden Gate Salmon executive director John McManus.

As salmon face spawning failure in some sections of river, the federal Bureau of Reclamation has signed off on water sales from the northern Sacramento Valley to junior water rights holders south of the delta with official Findings of No Significant Impact. Junior water rights holders are those who were last in line to secure water contracts and whose supplies are assured only in very wet years. 2013 has been designated as a dry year.

“Based on pre-season forecasts and the catch so far this season, we are expecting a large return of spawners to the upper Sacramento River this fall. If anything, we need more cold water, not less if we expect to get the benefits of this large return,” said GGSA Vice-President Zeke Grader, who works on behalf of commercial fishermen. “The transfer of this water, needed by salmon, south this summer will have significant and devastating impact.”

Sacramento River’s fall-run chinook salmon account for nearly 90 percent of California’s salmon catch in a typical year and provide upwards of 50 percent of Oregon’s ocean salmon harvest. This year’s catch has been the best in over a decade, largely because of wet years and better in-river conditions the past three years. California is expected to be the largest chinook salmon producer on the coast and the fish are in high demand. This could change in 2015 and after if flows and cold water for the salmon are not protected.

The once abundant Sacramento winter and spring-run chinook salmon numbers have declined due to habitat and flow losses and require special legal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Earlier this month the Bureau of Reclamation stated in a letter to the state water board that spring-run and fall-run chinook salmon spawning typically occurs further downstream in fall then the point in Redding, where the 56 degree water cutoff is. The Bureau warned…” some adverse effects can be expected if temperatures exceed 56 degrees between Airport Rd and Balls Ferry.”

Balls Ferry is about 7 miles downstream of Airport Road and a known fall run salmon spawning area. Water and fishery managers are instructed by federal law to maintain the 56 degree temperature downstream of Balls Ferry during the winter run spawning and incubation months of August, September and October.

In 2009, faced with a similar situation, the National Marine Fisheries Service warned that 50 to 75 percent of that year’s winter run could be lost due to hot water in the upper river. Very few progeny of the 2009 winter run survived. Low winter run numbers in 2012 put the fish in further jeopardy and led to steep cuts in the ocean fishing season this year, even though fishing is not the cause of the winter run shortage.

“GGSA is working to get the best deal we can for salmon this year and to avoid these situations in years to come,” said McManus of GGSA.

The National Marine Fisheries Service joined the federal Bureau of Reclamation and the US Fish & Wildlife Service in a joint request to the State Water Resources Control Board to reclassify delta salinity measurement stations from dry to critically dry. Although this was done to preserve water for salmon spawning, it also withholds water needed to keep the Delta and bay estuary healthy.

Winter run salmon faced another obstacle earlier in 2013 when over 300 were rescued from agricultural canals they mistakenly swam into near Williams. Officials estimate another 300 were never captured for relocation and will likely die in the canals without successfully spawning.

“Winter run salmon could be decimated this year,” said McManus. “We’re already concerned about what kind of return we’ll see in 2015 due to the drought conditions juvenile salmon faced trying to out migrate down the Sacramento River and through the delta earlier this year. We could see some real problems in the fishery a few years from now.”

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Beeline
Saturday Jun 29th, 2013 4:11 PM
The June water temperatures for the Sacramento river are not yet available but the May 2013 average readings were: Keswick 52.1; Balls Ferry 54.7; Jellys Ferry 55.7; and Bend 55.9. Last year (2012) in August the readings were: Keswick 51.7; Balls Ferry 54; Jellys Ferry 55.1; Bend 55.5 . So the water is already warmer this year than late last summer.

The discussion about salmon production in the Sacramento always seems to center around water temperature which is only one parameter. I think the "Feds" would like to keep it that way. That tends to rationalize and simplify other project proposals. However, one should keep in mind that when Shasta dam was completed that over 200 miles of excellent spawning habitat was cut off and I know of no real effort to re-establish the winter/spring run chinooks to their former habitat. The federal government would have to spend some more money on these sub species which are classified as endangered and threatened. In view of the political situation they do not seem to be willing to work out a real solution. The more utilitarian agencies would probably just like to see them disappear.

The winter run chinook may have been the best adapted to the Sacramento river system. It ran high into the mountains into the Little Sacramento, the McCloud and the Pit rivers. Extraordinary numbers were counted in the McCloud during the later 1800's. They held over during the summer, spawned in the cold spring fed waters and then the fry gradually moved down into warmer waters which increased their metabolism and their growth rate. The winter run was mother natures guarantee than the chinooks would not go extinct if the earlier runs failed. Having lost the 200 miles of prime ancestral spawning streams, the winter/spring fish are confined to the lower reaches of the main river below Keswick dam which was not their primary historic spawning habitat. It is no wonder that their populations are in trouble.

If the agencies in charge do not have the integrity to do the right thing and enforce the Endangered Species Act to its fullest then the Sacramento may well be a river of no return for the chinooks.
by Union Way
Saturday Jun 29th, 2013 8:59 PM
Unity is Strength.

People ought now to realize when dealing with the contradictions of Shortage of Water that simply changing directions through tunnelling cannot solve the water situtation alone.

Yet you are sitting next to the biggest source of water in the world-- the Pacific Ocean.

With modern thinking about using the renewables such as wind, tidal, and solar power which transforms to electricity it is entirely possible to suck water from the Ocean and drop out the salt in Saline Plants, and then send the fresh water though water pipelines to the source of the rivers, and maintain adequete volume forever and in all situations. This is also true for the needs of the Organic Agricultural Community.

The World Agricultural Organic Community could also be served this way so as to make Droughts and water scarcity just a long distant memory for the comming generations.

Back to the Garden has a long history and herstory, such as Garden of Eden or newly the Woodstock Song--Back to the Garden.

There literally is no shortage of water in the whole planet Earth. Just a shortage of imagination as to how to distrubute it to where it is needed most.

Modern technology and science and class concious workers can liberate the peoples, plants, and animals by utilizing the now available renewable energy sources, with no irreversable damage to the environment or scientifically to the ecological organic balances of the planet's web-of-life.

As for temperature you ought to remember that electricity can provide cold or hot as well as transportation, communication, and is number one source from solar power for improving the living and working conditions.

Workers of the world unite!! End pollution wars, not endless wars for more and more pollution. Ye yet have a world to win!!
by Jim Brobeck
Monday Jul 1st, 2013 4:54 PM
The USBR is encouraging over 100K A/F of groundwater substitution transfers from the Sac Valley to junior water purveyors SOD. The Bureau recognizes that increased demand on the aquifer system will result in a trickle down of stream and river water into the evacuated groundwater space, exacerbating warming conditions on the river and the tributaries. Robert Glennon, author of Unquenchable, believes that groundwater substitution water transfers are a "bogus" water management strategy even though he preaches the need to transfer/market water from less value uses to greater value purpose.