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“Floodplain Fatties:” A Promising Start for Salmon
Tom Philp, Executive Strategist, Metropolitan Water District
Quintupling your weight in six weeks is generally not sound medical advice. Unless, that is, you happen to be a very young Northern California salmon trying to add a few grams on your way down river to the Pacific Ocean.
Back in October, I mentioned a pilot project Metropolitan was helping to fund that was to take place this winter. The idea was to learn more about the potential benefits of increasing the time juvenile salmon can spend on a healthy floodplain. The laboratory was the Yolo Bypass between the cities of Davis and Sacramento.
Five acres of a stubbled rice field were flooded. On Jan. 31, approximately 10,000 hatchery Chinook salmon were trucked to the bypass and carefully placed into the murky water.
They weighed barely more than a gram on average at the time.
Researchers from UC Davis and the California Department of Water Resources, among others, monitored the field. On March 12, a gate at a corner of the rice field was opened to drain the water with the salmon into a canal that reaches the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the pathway to the Pacific. But before the gate was opened, researchers captured a sampling of salmon to weigh and measure before their journey toward the Delta and beyond.
The average weight – 5.27 grams.
The official conclusion: The salmon were “floodplain fatties.”
This is good news. Here is a recent presentation with more information. At the moment, salmon spill into the Yolo Bypass from the Sacramento River only when water levels are rather high. Long-range planning is under way to explore how to modify the connection between the river and the Yolo Bypass in order to direct more salmon, more frequently, onto the floodplain. The challenge is to do so in a manner that minimizes the impacts to agricultural activities such as rice farming, which clearly creates a diet-rich floodplain that the salmon enjoy. The bypass is one of those special landscapes with multiple values, from flood protection to agriculture to prime waterfowl habitat along the Pacific Flyway.
A larger, more elaborate pilot project is scheduled next winter to study more salmon on more acres. There is reason to hope that the Yolo Bypass can successfully grow rice in the summer and salmon in the winter.
New study underway on how to increase survival of juvenile salmon
Central Valley Business Times
California’s Department of Fish and Game says its biologists are trying a new tactic to help California’s ocean-bound juvenile salmon, in hopes of increasing survival rates.
On May 3, for the first time in state history, DFG staff used a boat to move approximately 100,000 young Chinook (called smolts) down the Sacramento River to San Francisco Bay. Upon arrival, the smolts were released in the Bay, where they will grow to adulthood before returning upriver to spawn.
“We’ve been using trucks to transport smolts to points downstream for years, but we’ve never moved them by barge, and we’ve never moved them this far,” says DFG Environmental Scientist Colin Purdy, who supervised the boat transport to the Bay Area. “Truck releases are typically much further upstream, and though they do shorten the fish’s journey to the ocean, they still face all kinds of hazards in the river.”
Salmon return to their spawning grounds using their sense of smell. The process, called imprinting, begins before birth as waters flow over the eggs and continues as they grow and make their way to the ocean. Each segment of water on their journey has distinctive chemical cues that they can re-trace to their spawning grounds.
Sacramento River water is circulated through pumps into the boat’s holding tank, where the fish are kept. The hope is that this may improve their ability to find their way back as an adult and predators are unable to access the fish in the holding tank during the journey downstream, the department says.
This is the beginning of a multi-year study program aimed at increasing return rates of salmon from the sea to their native rivers, says DFG.
Over the next few years, scientists will use the data collected from the fish to test and evaluate the idea that overall survival rates and increased adult returns can be better achieved by giving the young salmon a ride downstream.
To form a basis of comparison for this study, two other control groups of 100,000 smolts each were released by trucks in other locations at the same time as the barge release — one at a different location in the Bay, and one into the Sacramento River near Sacramento.
All 300,000 fish in this study were implanted with coded wire tags smaller than a tiny piece of pencil lead, which will ultimately enable scientists to tell which of the three groups the returning fish came from — the barge release, or one of the two truck releases.
The study is being conducted by DFG fisheries biologists with the support of the Commercial Salmon Trollers Advisory Committee, which donated the use of the boat, fuel and crew time to help ensure a successful start to the study. They have committed to helping DFG for the next three years of data collection.
“This has been a major cooperative effort and we really appreciate DFG’s willingness to work with everybody and look at new ways of doing things,” says Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen.
60,000 tiny salmon trucked to Pillar Point Harbor
By Aaron Kinney
Aside from a traffic jam on Interstate 880, the salmon did not encounter any obstacles on their way to the sea.
After a four-hour drive Thursday in a 2,800-gallon steel tank, 60,000 tiny fish shot through 40 feet of vinyl hose Thursday into a pen floating off Johnson Pier in Pillar Point Harbor, just north of Half Moon Bay. They splashed and skittered on the surface for a few minutes before settling into deeper water.
Every year the California Department of Fish and Game trucks millions of hatchery-raised salmon to drop-off points in San Pablo Bay or the Delta. Thursday, however, was the first time they've been delivered to San Mateo County, now home to one of only two such pens on the California coast.
The finger-length salmon smolts from the Feather River Fish Hatchery in Oroville will spend two weeks acclimating to the temperature and salinity of the water in the mesh-enclosed pen before they are released into the Pacific Ocean. In a couple years, they'll return as adults to spawn or wind up on Bay Area dinner plates, said Kevin Shaffer, who oversees salmon and steelhead trout conservation for Fish and Game.
"We want these fish to do one of two things: end up being caught by fishermen or head back up to the Central Valley," Shaffer said.
The coastal pens are meant to give a small but measurable boost to the region's beleaguered Chinook salmon. The popular fish must run a gauntlet of man-made impediments on their way through the delta -- silt and pollution, pumps that divert water to Central Valley farmers, and river banks that have been stripped of protective vegetation. Studies show that salmon that circumvent those threats have a higher rate of survival.
"We're hoping to a play a role in the health of the fishery," said Marc Gorelnik, a director of the Coastside Fishing Club, a regional association of recreational fishermen that paid for the pen at Johnson Pier. "This by itself is not going to solve any problems."
In three weeks the club expects to get 120,000 more smolts from the Feather River hatchery. Next year it hopes to get as many as 480,000. If just 5 percent of those fish stick around the coast rather than return to the delta, that's 24,000 more fish that will be available for commercial and recreation trollers.
The project at Pillar Point is a collaboration between the fishing club, Fish and Game, and the Commercial Salmon Stamp Committee, which collects dues from salmon fishermen to pay for restoration projects. Gorelnik estimated the club has spent about $80,000 on two pens, only one of which is currently in use, while Fish and Game is bearing the cost of raising and transporting the salmon.
The 48-by-24-foot pens are equipped with solar-powered food dispensers and a second layer of netting to thwart potential predators, such as the sea lion that loitered a few feet away Thursday as the smolts were pumped into the enclosure. Seal and sea lion predation forced the Monterey Bay Salmon and Trout Project to abandon pens in Moss Landing and Monterey not long ago and move its operation to Santa Cruz.
"The pinnipeds just ran us out of there," said Bob Anderson, a director of the project, which claims to have had success in boosting the number of salmon available to local fishermen.
California's fall-run Chinook are bouncing back after the population collapsed in 2009 and 2010, but their position remains precarious. State hatcheries bolster the population by releasing roughly 30 million Chinook smolts a year, and fishery managers are exploring new ways to help the salmon.
Last week Pillar Point fisherman Mike McHenry picked up 100,000 smolts from the Feather River hatchery and brought them by boat to Fort Baker just east of the Golden Gate Bridge. Biologists want to determine whether fish transported by boat, with river water circulating through their holding tanks, have a higher rate of return to their spawning grounds than those moved by truck. They theorize that the salmon's sense of smell helps them recognize the rivers from which they originate.
The Pillar Point smolts, as well as those McHenry dropped off at the Golden Gate and another 100,000 that were brought there by truck, have been implanted with identifying markers known as coded-wire tags. When caught, the fish will be analyzed to calculate how many of each group survived and what percentage found their way back to the delta.
Steelhead trout lose out when water is low in wine country
By Sarah Yang
BERKELEY — The competition between farmers and fish for precious water in California is intensifying in wine country, suggests a new study by biologists at the University of California, Berkeley.
The findings, published in the May issue of the journal Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, link higher death rates for threatened juvenile steelhead trout with low water levels in the summer and the amount of vineyard acreage upstream.
The researchers found that juvenile steelhead trout are particularly at risk during the dry summer season typical of California’s Mediterranean climate. Of the juvenile steelhead trout present in June, on average only 30 percent survived to the late summer. In years with higher rainfall and in watersheds with less vineyard land use, the survival of juvenile trout over the summer was significantly higher.
The researchers pointed out that summer stream flow has been inadequately addressed in salmon and trout conservation efforts. Previous studies have highlighted other limiting factors such as habitat degradation and water quality, but here researchers documented the importance of water quantity for restoring threatened populations.
“Nearly all of California’s salmon and trout populations are on the path to extinction and if we’re going to bring these fish back to healthy levels, we have to change the way we manage our water,” said lead author Theodore Grantham, a recent Ph.D. graduate from UC Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management (ESPM). “Water withdrawals for agricultural uses can reduce or eliminate the limited amount of habitat available to sustain these cold-water fish through the summer. I don’t suggest we get rid of vineyards, but we do need to focus our attention on water management strategies that reduce summer water use. I believe we can protect flows for fish and still have our glass of wine.”
Steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), historically found throughout the North Pacific Ocean, are an ocean-going, or anadromous, form of rainbow trout of the salmon family. Like salmon, steelhead trout migrate from freshwater streams to the ocean before returning to their birthplace to spawn. Steelhead trout in Southern California and the upper Columbia River are endangered, and several other populations, including those in Northern California, are threatened.
While drought conditions clearly have an impact on water levels in streams, the study authors highlighted the role played by regional agriculture. Previous studies in Sonoma County have shown that stream flow drops when pumps draw water for vineyards. In addition to using water for irrigation, Grantham noted that farmers often pump water from streams to protect vines when freezing temperatures occur in the spring. Overhead sprinklers coat vines in a layer of water that quickly freezes to create a thermal barrier, preventing damage to the vines.
“Because frost threatens all of the region’s vineyards at the same time, there can be an incredible peak demand for water during a concentrated two to three days,” said Grantham, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis. “During a bad frost year, as much water could be used in just two weeks during the spring as in an entire season for standard irrigation needs.”
One possible solution, Grantham noted, is establishing small off-stream reservoirs to store water during times of high rainfall. Vineyards would be able to draw from these water stores during low-flow periods rather than directly from streams.
The new analysis is based upon nine years of fish count data taken from nine streams in Sonoma County, allowing researchers to account for year-to-year variability in precipitation and differences in land use.
The researchers acknowledged that there are many environmental factors that influence populations of salmon and steelhead trout, including ocean conditions, fisheries and habitat degradation, so isolating which factors are causing problems, and to what extent, is extremely difficult.
“This is the first scientific publication on how vineyards and summer stream flows relate to fish survivorship in California’s tributary streams,” said study principal investigator Adina Merenlender, cooperative extension specialist in ESPM. “It is the closest we have to substantiating claims by resource agencies and environmental organizations that juvenile salmon are being impacted by low flows during the summer and survive better with more flow. These findings will help inform an important environmental issue in California that is disturbing to conservationists and grape growers alike.”
Other co-authors of the study are David Newburn, now an assistant professor at the University of Maryland’s Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, and Michael McCarthy, a research fellow at the University of Melbourne’s School of Botany.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Science Foundation helped support this research.
Herbicide regulations tighten over salmon protection
National Fisheries Service
A new draft biological opinion issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service has found that three commonly used herbicides are increasing the chance of extinction for threatened and endangered Pacific salmon and steelhead runs.
The assessment by the federal fisheries service reverses earlier assurances from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the three poisons were "not likely to adversely affect" these dwindling salmon populations.
The biological opinion prescribes measures to keep oryzalin, pendamethalin, and trifluralin out of salmon waters in Washington, Oregon, California, and Idaho. It is the fifth such plan issued under a court settlement with fishermen and conservationists.
The new protections, which must be implemented within one year of a final Biological Opinion, include:
• Prohibiting aerial applications of the pesticides within 300 feet of salmon waters.
• Mandating a 10 foot vegetated strip or a 20-foot no spray zone between salmon waters and places where these herbicides are applied.
• Mandatory reporting of fish kills near where these chemicals were applied.
"This is a huge step forward for the health of our rivers," said Aimee Code Environmental Health Associate at the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides. "These findings are a reminder that chemical pest control comes at a high cost. The true solution is to expand the use of non-chemical solutions."
The 780 page assessment concluded that if these pesticides are used as currently authorized, they are "likely to jeopardize the continued existence" of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead populations.
"The federal government has just acknowledged that these three chemicals are washing off into our rivers and streams and harming west coast salmon runs and who knows what else," said Steve Mashuda, of Earthjustice. "It is time for the government to stand up to pesticide industry and impose these much needed restrictions," he concluded.
Fishermen are pleased by the proposed measures designed to help restore struggling salmon runs. "These pesticides are poisons and do not belong in salmon streams," commented Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA), a commercial fishing industry group.
"The bottom line of us is that poisoning salmon rivers puts our people out of work as well as creates a public health hazard. It is far more cost effective to keep these poisons out of our rivers to begin with than to try to clean up messes afterwards."
The three active ingredients are registered for uses both in agriculture and in urban areas. All three can be used in lawns and landscaping. Each herbicide is registered for weed control in a variety of crops. Some of the crops listed where these chemicals can be used include Christmas trees, vineyards, onions, potatoes, and dry beans.
They are also all registered for use along rights-of-way. This latest assessment was completed as part of an ongoing effort to address the harms from numerous pesticides. It was preceded by several years of legal wrangling by the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, with representation from Earthjustice.
This effort began in January 2001, when some of the groups first went to court to force EPA to protect salmon in the Pacific Northwest from 54 pesticides that EPA approved for use without checking with federal fish biologists, as required by the Endangered Species Act. As a result of that lawsuit, a federal court ordered EPA to consult with federal fish biologists at NMFS on the impacts these pesticides have on salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest and California.
In 2007, NMFS settled a second lawsuit and agreed to complete the long overdue assessments over a four-year period.
Restoration pact offers Klamath Basin hope
Over 10,000 waterfowl have died in the Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges in the last couple of weeks due to an avian cholera outbreak exacerbated by low water conditions. This is one of the largest drought-related die-offs the refuges have seen in their 100-year history.
During years of low precipitation, water allocations in the Klamath Basin are stretched. The refuges are dependent on water deliveries from the Bureau of Reclamation's Klamath Project and it can be difficult to balance water needs among fisheries, wildlife refuges, tribes and irrigators.
While not a perfect solution, implementation of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement would help Klamath basin wildlife refuges by allowing refuge managers flexibility in allocating a set amount of water to support spring and fall waterfowl migrations. Refuges would be on equal footing with irrigation deliveries for the first time.
The agreement represents local, community derived solutions to the Klamath Basin's water needs. If the agreement had been implemented, the magnitude of disease outbreak on the refuges would have been lessened because more flooded habitat would have been present. Currently, it is the only viable option to ensuring more reliable water deliveries to the refuge over the long term.
With the struggle to balance water between farms and fish, the refuges are often overlooked. Of all the wetlands within the Pacific Flyway, no area provides more important staginghabitats, both in the fall and spring, for migratory waterfowl than the marshes and lakes of the Klamath Basin. This spring, the refuge has been one of the driest on record. According to refuge managers, only 50 percent of the wetlands on the refuge contain water. That is 15,000 acres of wetlands flooded out of about 31,000 acres on the Lower Klamath refuge.
Legislation authorizing the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement is now before Congress and is an example of a locally developed plan that would solve many of the water-balancing issues that these communities face after dry winters like the one we just experienced. It is time for Congress to act.
California Fall Run Chinook Looks Big For 2012
The fall Chinook salmon runs on the US West Coast look good this year with the Klamath river run estimated at 1,567,000 fish, a 31 year old record. Returns of 3-year-old adults on the Klamath were only 21,000 in 2009.
A Bold Plan to Reshape the Central Valley Flood PlainOverhaul aimed at preventing devastating floods and restoring habitats would cost tens of billions and sink farmland under water
By John Upton
Jacob Katz stood shin-deep in a flooded rice paddy that is often dried out at this time of year. He thrust his hand into a writhing mass of baby salmon in his net and plucked three of the silver fry from the wind-whipped water’s surface.
Project aims to photograph every inch of Sacramento River
By Matt Weiser
The Sacramento River this summer is set to become the first water body in the world to be documented inch-for-inch in photographs.
The goal of the Riverview Project is to apply to waterways the same techniques popularized by Google Street View. The popular Internet tool attaches 360-degree images to map locations, allowing a quick look at intersections, storefronts and front yards.
In the same way, an armchair traveler could use an online map to pick any point along the Sacramento River and view panoramic images of that location in all its gritty detail.
Jared Criscuolo, co-founder and executive director of the project, said the group also intends to attach environmental data to the maps and images, such as water quality and fisheries information.
"On one level, it's a basic exploration tool just to get people on the river," he said. "But on another level, this is a way to put together some really robust and unbiased information to help better protect not just the Sacramento River, but that vital source of water to keep the state as productive as it is."
The U.S. Geological Survey has taken an interest in the project, offering to help integrate its own data from existing water-quality monitors in the river. It may also provide boats, fuel and other tangible support, though spokeswoman Laurel Lynn Rogers said those details are yet to be firmed up.
"The collaboration is potentially of great value to the public as a way to provide more information about our nation's streams and waterways," Rogers said. "This may be another way for us to collect important visual information, and is potentially a way for more people to access our data in a user-friendly way."
Other partners include the Clif Bar Family Foundation and the Nature Conservancy. The Surfrider Foundation is serving as a financial custodian while the Riverview Project pursues nonprofit status of its own.
The finished project – complete with online maps, photos and integrated data – is expected to cost about $320,000, Criscuolo said. The public may make tax- deductible donations at http://riverviewproject.org/.
He said the group hopes to begin documenting the river in June or July, at the headwaters near the small city of Mount Shasta, and work downstream along some 405 miles of the river's run to Suisun Bay.
The work will start with crew members wading in the river with a backpack-mounted camera setup. The volleyball-sized camera head includes 11 high-definition video cameras that will collect a continuous, 360- degree picture of the river.
When the water becomes too deep to wade, the equipment will be transferred to a kayak or canoe, then a motorboat.
Still images for the "riverview" panorama will be edited out and attached to map points later.
Criscuolo said water samples will be taken at regular intervals, perhaps every mile, and analyzed later to provide water-quality data that will be connected with the maps and images. Data from a number of USGS monitors, which have been fixed in the river for years, will also be integrated.
The group plans to survey 27 rivers in a similar manner. The San Joaquin and Colorado will be next.
It opted to start with the Sacramento River because Criscuolo and his partner, Kristian Gustavson, already know it fairly well because they kayaked its full length in 2009. They also recognize its importance as the source of nearly half of all the fresh water in California.
"We found out that a lot of people depend on the Sacramento River," Criscuolo said, noting that this includes himself as a resident of San Diego, which relies partly on drinking water diverted from the river. "It's a critical artery, and there's a lot of pressure on it."
He expects the end product to be useful not only for planning excursions on the river – whether boating, fishing or paddling – but also to policymakers engaged in big decisions. Those are myriad and ongoing, from flood protection to habitat enhancement, to salmon restoration and flow management.
For example, he said, anyone concerned about salmon habitat could click a map point on the river, find out whether water temperatures are suitable for salmon, and use the images to look for signs of erosion or pollution problems.
For those reasons, the Sacramento River Watershed Program is helping Criscuolo connect with local groups that depend on the river and might have an interest in the results. The nonprofit program has been working since 1996 to restore and sustain the river for all its users.
"Pictures tell a thousand words," said Mary Lee Knecht, executive director of the watershed program. "We think the visual aids this project will come up with will help us understand how the river is changing, and how those changes affect the ecosystem as well as the landowners along the river."
Effort to Boost Salmon Numbers Weakens Wild FishStudy finds 90 percent of salmon in a Northern California river were raised in hatcheries
By John Upton
Chinook salmon swimming up the Mokelumne River are lured into a trap, killed and gutted of their eggs and sperm, which are blended in jars. State workers rear the hatchlings that emerge from the eggs, and then truck the young fish to a stretch of the San Joaquin River near the Antioch Bridge, where they are poured into the water.
Celebrated Marin County salmon make their return
The storied silver salmon of West Marin - long considered a bellwether of salmon health in California - are laying eggs and carrying on in Lagunitas Creek this week almost as if they weren't teetering on the edge of doom.
Supervisors hear salmonid conservation program update
By John Bowman
Yreka, Calif. —
Richard Harris, Ph.D and Sandra Perez of the Five Counties Salmonid Conservation Program (5C) told the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that, since 1998, there have been a lot of improvements in county policy and procedures regarding roads and their impacts on salmon.
Viewpoints: State has stake in Columbia salmon solution
By Zeke Grader
The story of Pacific salmon has not recently been a happy one. Population declines in the West Coast's big three rivers – the Sacramento-San Joaquin, Klamath and Columbia-Snake – have meant less fishing, lost jobs, scarce fish and higher prices for consumers. Without major changes to how we manage these waterways, the beating heart of our region's salmon economy may cease.
Fortunately, there are some bright spots on the horizon. On a growing number of rivers, adversaries are opting to collaborate rather than litigate. People are starting to work together to restore rivers, recover salmon and rebuild jobs.
On the San Joaquin River, for example, city leaders, farmers, fishermen and conservationists ended decades of litigation when they sat down together to craft a plan they all could live with. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein then shepherded the plan through Congress. It has restored water – and salmon – to a 60-mile stretch of river, reconnecting it to San Francisco Bay for the first time in 70 years. Twenty exhausting years of conflict are over.
Farther north, farmers, fishermen, Native American tribes and others have made important progress working together to secure a future for farming and fishing based on a plan that will restore the Klamath River by removing four dams.
Finally, as the result of successful collaborations in Washington state, three dam removals commenced this fall on two other salmon rivers. After resolving issues such as energy and water quality, both the Elwha and White Salmon rivers will flow freely for the first time in a century and provide habitat to struggling salmon runs – benefiting our region's ecology and its economy.
Our next big opportunity to restore salmon and jobs rests on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington. The Columbia basin was once the world's most productive salmon watershed. The Columbia River's largest tributary, the Snake, once produced nearly half of this abundance. Today, thousands of miles of pristine habitat remain, much of it in the wilds of central Idaho. Unfortunately, four dams on the lower Snake make passage lethal for migrating salmon. Completed in the 1970s, these dams are the straw that broke the camel's back. After the dams' construction, all Snake River salmon populations plummeted.
The government's Columbia basin restoration efforts to date have failed both fish and fisherman. Last summer, a federal judge rejected the Obama plan – the fourth to be deemed illegal since 1995. Our government has spent $10 billion over two decades on largely ineffective measures. Faced with a court order to produce a new plan within two years, the same agencies responsible for this series of illegal plans are poised to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Following on these other restoration success stories, it's time for President Barack Obama and our elected leaders on the West Coast – including Gov. Jerry Brown and Sens. Barbara Boxer and Feinstein – to support a stakeholder process to address the needs of Columbia basin salmon and the jobs they support.
Success will require fresh ideas. The process must be guided by science and law, and engage the actual stakeholders – including farmers, fishermen, power producers and consumers – whose lives and businesses are affected by salmon restoration efforts.
Support for an approach like this for the Columbia basin is growing. Late last year, for example, more than 50 members of Congress – including 20 from California – sent a letter to the president urging him to convene a regionwide "solutions table" in order to restore salmon and meet community needs.
California will need a seat at this table. Many of our state's salmon fishermen hold licenses in states across the coast, where many Columbia/Snake River fish are harvested. Owning multiple fishing licenses is critical for businesses in an industry known for its ups and downs.
In addition, because salmon from these different rivers mix in the saltwater, fishing regulations have been set up to protect the most vulnerable runs. Therefore, in order to truly restore a vibrant commercial salmon fishing sector on the West Coast, we need to restore healthy, self-sustaining and harvestable populations on all of our "big three" rivers.
Establishing a stakeholder process to resolve the conflicts on the Columbia is the next big thing for salmon fishermen. California needs to be part of this solution. Recent history demonstrates that these processes can work, and, done right, the benefits that accrue help not only fishermen, but farmers, energy producers and local communities, too.
Agencies OK rock barrier for fish
By Alex Breitler
Baby steelhead swimming down the San Joaquin River might have a better chance of reaching the ocean this spring, after state and federal agencies agreed to install a rock barrier at the head of Old River, near Lathrop.
Typically, fish heading down the San Joaquin toward Stockton make a left turn into Old River, which draws them into the south Delta and perilously close to enormous pumps that send water to distant reaches of California.
The rock barrier will keep those fish in the San Joaquin, hopefully steering them away from the pumps.
The agreement, announced Thursday, is an admittedly "limited" truce in the ongoing legal conflict over fish protections versus water supply. It will be in effect in April and May only.
"We believe that this method of reaching an agreement will help lay the groundwork for future collaboration," said Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which includes a fisheries agency charged with assisting oceangoing fish such as salmon and steelhead.
The agreement could help "build additional trust," added California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird.
"Rather than individual parties retreating to a courtroom, we can strive for science guiding us outside of the courtroom," he said.
In addition to the barrier, officials will put in place more flexible guidelines about the backward flow of the Old and Middle rivers. Those streams typically flow in reverse toward the pumps, sucking fish toward their demise. Limiting the degree of reverse flow can protect salmon and steelhead, but it can also limit the amount of water available for cities and farms.
With broader parameters, the experiment might actually result in a modest increase in the amount of water available for export, said Mark Cowin, director of the state Department of Water Resources. At least, that is, compared with the amount of water available under a set of fish protection rules that were thrown out in September by a federal judge.
But, Cowin added, "This in no way is the ultimate answer for water supply reliability for California."
One group not consulted in the agreement was the South Delta Water Agency, including farmers in the Old River area. Blocking off the river with a rock barrier can have "serious consequences" for downstream farmers, attorney John Herrick said in an email Thursday.
But the plan does include up to eight culverts in the rock barrier to ensure there is still flow into the south Delta to maintain water quality for farmers, officials said.
Agencies have experimented with another kind of barrier on Old River: a curtain of bubbles that the fish seem to prefer to avoid. The bubble curtain still shows promise, officials said Thursday, and testing continues.
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