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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: California | Central Valley | Environment & Forest Defense | Government & Elections
Agency records reveal Oroville Dam plan likely harmful to protected fish
“Our records request turned up evidence that green sturgeon were not adequately considered in the certification," said Victor Gonella, GGSA’s President. “We’re asking the Board to amend the certification to provide more water to attract and successfully spawn green sturgeon. We’re confident this action will have positive impacts on salmon runs as well, and help maintain the jobs, food production, world-class recreation, and economic activity healthy salmon runs can provide.”
Photo of green sturgeon by Toz Soto, Karuk Tribe Fisheries Dept.
Fishing groups petition board to address green sturgeon and salmon threats
Petaluma, CA - The Golden Gate Salmon Association (GGSA) and California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) have petitioned the state Water Quality Control Board to re-write terms of a clean water certification for a massive state-run dam complex on the Feather River near Oroville, California.
The groups were moved to action following a GGSA Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that demonstrated green sturgeon spawn much further upstream on the Feather River than previously acknowledged.
Through the request, fishing advocates learned that during high flow in the Feather River in late 2010 and early 2011, the state Department of Water Resources (DWR) documented the presence of green sturgeon at the river’s uppermost barrier to anadromous fish.
The first-ever scientific evidence of green sturgeon spawning in the Feather River was also collected at this time. DWR efforts to reduce flows likely drove sturgeon out of the uppermost accessible river reaches and may have interfered with spawning there, in possible violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.
The appeal to the state board comes as the National Marine Fisheries Service is writing a biological opinion on how dam operations will affect the Feather River’s federally protected salmon and sturgeon runs. The dam complex is currently undergoing a relicensing process to set new state and federal rules governing operation of the facilities for the next 30 to 50 years.
The state Water Resources Control Board is charged with protecting the public trust resources all Californians share, including its wildlife.
The state board approved the certification under the faulty assumption the waters below the dam were not used by green sturgeon. Accordingly, the Board’s certification does not provide sufficient springtime flows for green sturgeon to access much of the newly discovered river habitat, except in the wettest of years. Improved green sturgeon flows under a revised certification would also greatly improve survival of baby Feather River salmon during their annual springtime migration to the sea.
“Our records request turned up evidence that green sturgeon were not adequately considered in the certification.” said Victor Gonella, GGSA’s President. “We’re asking the Board to amend the certification to provide more water to attract and successfully spawn green sturgeon. We’re confident this action will have positive impacts on salmon runs as well, and help maintain the jobs, food production, world-class recreation, and economic activity healthy salmon runs can provide.”
“Greater springtime flows released from Lake Oroville will help green sturgeon and salmon. Salmon will have more of a burst of water to carry them safely downstream and out to sea if the state board issues a protective order,” said Bill Jennings, CSPA Executive Director.
The dam complex, operated by DWR and commonly known as the Oroville Facilities, make up part of the State Water Project. The dams take a heavy toll on fish, cutting off access to 66.9 miles of habitat for salmon upstream. They also negatively impact downstream salmon habitat, water temperature, water quality, and natural flows needed by fish.
The river below the facility is vitally important for commercially-valuable fall-run Chinook salmon and also designated as critical habitat for Central Valley spring-run Chinook and steelhead under the Endangered Species Act. The National Marine Fisheries Service lists the Feather River as critical for green sturgeon survival.
“This relicensing process represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve conditions for salmon and other fish in the Feather River,” said Gonella of GGSA. “Our salmon-dependent communities and business have suffered heavily in recent years, largely as a result of poor water management in the Central Valley. We’re working to ensure that any new rules protect salmon, so we won’t ever again have the kind of disastrous, jobs-destroying collapse of the salmon runs that we saw in 2008, 2009, and 2010.”
The certification in question, granted in December 2010 by the state Board as part of the relicensing process, contains conditions relating to water quality and fish. Although the certification has already been issued, the Board can modify it based on new information. GGSA and CSPA believe the new information they have presented will spur the Board to revise and improve its requirements relating to fish.
Victor Gonella, GGSA, 855-251-GGSA
Bill Jennings, CSPA, 209-464-5067
Jim McCarthy, McCarthy Consulting (GGSA contractor on Petition), 541-941-9450
To view the groups’ petition and its attachments, please visit the