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Salmon Apocalypse Looming in California
by California Water Impact Network (C-WIN)
Sunday Jul 28th, 2013 12:05 AM
Low flows could prove the death-knell for the winter-run Chinook, said Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

“We’re only in a second dry year, not even a declared drought, and the system is fundamentally broken,” said Jennings. “The State Water Board has assured the Department of Water Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that it won’t enforce Delta water quality and flow standards. The temperature compliance point on the Sacramento has been moved upstream, eliminating crucial spawning habitat for endangered Winter-run Chinook salmon.”

When salmon return from the ocean this fall to spawn in Central Valley rivers, there may not be enough cold water for them to successfully spawn. Photo of commercial salmon fishing boat outside of the Golden Gate by Dan Bacher.
Poor Government Policy Could Doom Record Runs

Recent reports of a pending salmon die-off on the Klamath River don’t address the full measure of this rapidly evolving and potentially catastrophic story.

“A record run of salmon are at risk on the Klamath unless anticipated flows from Trinity Reservoir are provided to cool the Lower Klamath River,” said Tom Stokely, an analyst for the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN), a statewide water advocacy group. “But we have another disaster unfolding on the Sacramento River. We had a dry winter, the reservoirs are low, and federal and state officials are draining them rapidly to pump water to the corporate farms of the western San Joaquin Valley. If the current releases continue, we’re not going to have enough cold water in the Sacramento system to keep fall-run Chinook salmon eggs alive in the gravel this fall.”

Like the Klamath, the Sacramento River system is expected to post a very good year for Chinook salmon, with several hundred thousand fish returning to the river and its tributaries.

“And these are big magnificent fish, some of the fattest I’ve ever seen,” said Dan Bacher, editor of the Fish Sniffer Magazine. “But I was just out on the river, and it was running extremely high – and that’s heartbreaking. High water now means the cold water pools in Shasta, Folsom and Oroville reservoirs could be exhausted by the time the returning fish spawn. The mature fish, their eggs and any fry that manage to emerge could cook in the low, warm flows we’ll probably see in the American, Feather and Sacramento rivers by late summer and fall.”

The Sacramento River is the workhorse of the salmon-bearing streams south of the Columbia River. In good years, almost a million fish used to return to the Sacramento system. The river is unique in that it supports four distinct runs of Chinook salmon. The winter-run and spring-run are both listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, while the fall-run and late fall-run are sufficiently numerous in most years to accommodate the commercial and sport fisheries.

All four runs are now in dire jeopardy. The spring-run Chinook is facing an especially tough summer, particularly in Butte Creek, its primary stronghold. There was a major die-off of Butte Creek salmon in 2003 due to low flows.

“We desperately hope that there isn’t a repeat of the 2003 spring-run salmon deaths on Butte Creek,” said Jim Brobeck, a water policy analyst at AquAlliance, an organization dedicated to protecting the waters and fisheries of northern California. “At this time, the fish agencies are managing to keep thousands of spring-run alive with flows from PG&E’s reservoir, although another concentrated heat wave could radically change conditions for this iconic salmon run.”

Brobeck noted Butte Creek’s spring-run is a genetic rarity, and the source for re-stocking efforts on the San Joaquin River. It is thus essential, he said, to preserve the unique strains of salmon native to the Sacramento watershed.

“The potential fish deaths due to lack of water and warm temperatures on Butte Creek combined with the demand for Klamath, Trinity, Feather and Sacramento River irrigation deliveries threatens the existence of what remains of native fish runs in the Central Valley,” Brobeck says. “State and Federal agencies must redefine the ‘”surplus water”’ that is being pumped to industrial agriculture south of the Delta.”

Low flows could also prove the death-knell for the winter-run Chinook, said Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

“We’re only in a second dry year, not even a declared drought, and the system is fundamentally broken,” said Jennings. “The State Water Board has assured the Department of Water Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that it won’t enforce Delta water quality and flow standards. The temperature compliance point on the Sacramento has been moved upstream, eliminating crucial spawning habitat for endangered Winter-run Chinook salmon.”

But the Sacramento’s “bread-and-butter” runs – the fall-run and late fall-run – are also at risk. Their status is so imperiled by anticipated low summer flows that future salmon seasons could be curtailed, said Stokely. Like Jennings, Stokely says agency mismanagement of water resources is the major reason for the crisis.

“What’s particularly disturbing is the determination of state and federal agencies to violate their own mandates and regulations so they can maintain deliveries of subsidized water to a handful of huge corporate farms in the western San Joaquin Valley,” said Stokely.

Stokely notes various laws and regulations require sufficient cold water flows down the Sacramento system to maintain fisheries in good health.

“But in May, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the state Department of Water Resources asked the Water Board to allow lower Delta outflows so more water could be sent south of the Delta,” said Stokely. “The Water Board agreed without due process, in violation of its own rules water right decisions – and with full knowledge of the impacts to the fish. ”

Jennings observes the crisis could have been avoided if the cold water behind California’s reservoirs had been properly conserved.

“Water is only legally available for south-of-Delta export after Delta flow and water quality standards are met,” Jennings said. “But the state and federal projects are still exporting more than 8,500 cfs from the South Delta”

Stokely concluded that the situations on the Klamath and the Sacramento are culminating in a potential apocalypse for California salmon.

“We had a huge salmon kill on the Klamath in 2002 due to low flows, but that could be minor compared to what we’re facing today,” he said. “It is a terrible irony. We’re seeing some of the biggest runs on record, and we could lose them all -- and lose future runs -- because of compromised government policy. If we’re going to avoid a repeat of 2002, we need to start conserving cold water now for release later in the summer and fall.”


Tom Stokely, California Water Impact Network 530-926-9727 cell 524-0315
Bill Jennings, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance 209-464-5067 cell 938-9053
Jim Brobeck, AquAlliance 530-521-4880
Dan Bacher, Fish Sniffer Magazine 916-725-0728

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Beeline
Sunday Jul 28th, 2013 1:10 PM
Make no mistake. Water is power to these corporate people and they will not give up easily. To them the ESA (Endangered Species Act) stands for "Extirpate Salmon Already". Salmon are the enemy because they represent the competitor. The corporate folks can and have compromised our government to the point where it is pretty much a text book definition of fascism- that nice well 'oiled' relationship between government and corporate business that Benito Mussolini was so fond of. Those who control California's water control California.

This new move of placating corporate water users has the appearance of a set up. It's like the feds are saying, "hey we can do what we want and by the way if you will support our move to raise Shasta dam, then maybe we can help the salmon". The corporate clients obviously scare the government bureaucrats more than the salmon, so the salmon become expendable.

Starting with the flawed critical habitat designation for the winter-run chinooks that said that "Before construction of Shasta and Keswick Dams, winter-run chinook were reported to have spawned in the upper reaches of the McCloud, lower Pitt, and Little Sacramento Rivers. However, the geographic extent of spawning habitat on these rivers before the construction of Shasta and Keswick is largely speculative or unknown". And now the Bureau Reclamation in its recent EIS uses the term "anecdotal accounts" to describe salmon use above Shasta dam. Anecdotal meaning that these accounts were not necessarily true or reliable. They know damn good and well there were a hell a lot of salmon using those 200 miles of streams above the dam but they are lying to cover themselves politically. (Excuse the dam pun).

The Federal Fish commission (1888) noted that there were about 1 million chinooks using the McCloud. And the California Fish Commission in 1890 said "It is a well known fact to fish culturists that the winter and spring run of salmon, during the high, cold waters, go to the extreme headwaters of the rivers if no obstructions prevent into the highest mountains". The fish culturist Livingston Stone new this very well and started an egg harvesting operation on the McCloud which was know at that time as "the best salmon spawning stream in the world" (CFC 1890).

It's like the feds name a fish hatchery after Livingston Stone and then call him a liar.

Our representatives, if they still work for us, need to take names and kick some ass to get salmon recovery back on track or we will be referring to the Sacramento River Chinook salmon in the past tense and the Delta as a waste water sump.

by Elly-Mother Earth
Sunday Jul 28th, 2013 4:29 PM
Several things should be mentioned here 1) California's Rivers are all sitting next to the biggest body of water on Planet Earth. Shortage of water is being disscussed as though there is no solution to the problems of water shortage. Just a little ingenuity from the American local residents and their collectives could easily solve the water issue by utilizing solar, tidal, and wind power which transforms to electricity, and is more power than all fossil fuels now and forever.

Those new means of production are widely available locally and globally. The second point seems to be water temperature. This is easily solvable by solar energy transformed to electricity as you all know that electricity can supply heat and cold such as refrigeration. It can also supply transportation to wherever needed and well as communication to needed places.

RE-tooling to the renewables with no shortages of electricity can be done easily now, and both the chinook and the organic agriculture could be watered on need. Water temperature could be controlled and cooled with the ample electricity to the resevoirs. Kind of a refridgeration.

Desalination can be done after pumping water from the Ocean, and the water sent through pipelines lined with solar panels to required destinations. Heck even the Sahara Desert could be turned into a garden of Eden. Think big and win as you still yet have a world to win!! Workers of the world unite!!
by Pat Snelling
(patsnelling49 [at] Monday Jul 29th, 2013 11:23 AM
When the State declares we are in a "Drought," the Department of Fish and Wildlife "lowers" the amount of required water from our lakes. Governor Schwarzenegger declared the state in a drought even though the snow packs were still feeding the Sierra's headwaters. Today we have no snow pack to feed the water storage -- and yet the state has not called for a drought.

I called the Department of Water Resources to ask why the state hasn't declared this year a drought year. By doing that, we will preserve our water supply and we can still feed the river's needs in the long dry spell in the fall. It took numerous calls, but I finally got someone to my calls. He said that they were using the large snow pack numbers that we had in the fall and those won't be adjusted in the summer. Here it is late summer and those numbers haven't been adjusted. Still no "drought" has been declared. Water agencies are still required to release HIGH levels of water, with no headwaters to replenish the waters storage system in the Sierras. Politics?

Here is another factor to consider about these large amounts of water released from storage: The San Luis Unit? The water storage for the "single" purpose --- To serve Westlands Water Agency. This water storage for Westlands is down to 18%.

At the ACWA Conference in May Westlands' officials complained about having to do reverse flows when Smelt were caught in their screens and they let everyone know how much it cost Westlands. Corporate Agricultural pressure on politicians?

Is there any doubt?