Groundwater Management: Today’s Hot Topic…Finally

California remains the only state in the union without statewide regulation of groundwater. Lack of regulation creates an unsustainable ‘tragedy of the commons’ use of groundwater, especially during dry years. California’s severe drought and full consequences of increased groundwater pumping — including dry wells, rivers drying up, and land subsidence—have heightened awareness of groundwater issues. Groundwater is a wonky topic, but important to fish because it often sustains river flows during drought.

CalTrout and other leaders have come together to make sure our state does the right thing, right now with the launch of the Groundwater Voices Coalition website, sponsored by the California Water Foundation. The site aims to educate decision makers about the need for more effective and sustainable groundwater management. Check it out and educate yourself on this important issue.

In other groundbreaking groundwater news,

A Sacramento Superior Court judge issued a ruling Tuesday requiring regulation of groundwater pumping to protect a river in Siskiyou County.  Attorneys on both sides say it’s the first time a California court has ruled the “public trust doctrine” applies to groundwater. The doctrine says the State of California holds all waterways for the benefit of the people.  The lawsuit claimed groundwater pumping in the Scott River Basin is partly responsible for decreased river flows – limiting the public’s use of the river and harming fish habitat. … 

Read more from Capital Public Radio here: Sacramento Judge Makes Precedent-Setting Ruling On Groundwater Regulation


The Week’s Newsbytes

Eel River Recovery Work

Yesterday, the Sacramento Bee ran an insightful article on the Eel River, the looming battle for its waters, and the impact water diversions and other factors have had on salmon and steelhead.

At issue is the re-licensing of the river’s (or PG&E’s) Potter Valley Project which includes a mile-long tunnel that began diverting Eel water to the Russian River more than a hundred years ago.  

For insight on the issue, Bee reporter Susan Sward looked at three other water battles across the state; the Trinity River, Klamath River and Mono Lake. Each of these have had at least one thing in common — CalTrout’s involvement in fighting for adequate flows and a healthy ecosystem for the state’s wild fish populations.  

CalTrout strives for the same goal on the Eel. As the Sac Bee article states:

The potential for consensus on the Eel may exist in the respected Eel River Forum, an effort by CalTrout’s Darren Mierau to bring the affected parties together. The forum’s 22 members include the Sonoma County Water Agency, PG&E, the Potter Valley Irrigation District, Indian tribes, state and federal agencies and environmental groups.

Mierau, CalTrout’s North Coast regional manager, told me: “The river needs help. There is such a great opportunity for a huge recovery of the Eel.”

Read the full story here.

Bridge Creek Project

In other Eel-related news, construction of the half-million dollar Bridge Creek Fish Passage Project began in earnest last week. Over the next several weeks, this project will remove a 200 fo0t section of the North West pacific Railroad Line that runs along the mainstem Eel River near Scotia, CA, along with more than 30,000 cubic yards of the railroad crossing fill materials that has blocked access to coho salmon and steelhead habitat in Bridge Creek for decades.  Progress made includes:

  • installed a temporary stream crossing
  • laid out fish protection and stream dewatering infrastructure (pipes, hoses, etc.)
  • removed approved sections of railroad tracks
  • began removing fill dirt and rock from the railroad embankment, a task that will take several weeks to complete. Lots of dirt to move!

The project will wrap-up late this summer, in time to welcome home salmon and steelhead into Bridge Creek for the first time in many, many years.

Temporary creek crossing

Temporary creek crossing

Train track removal

Train track removal

The Week’s Newsbytes

Save the Smith from Mining

CalTrout let you know earlier this year about a nickel mine being proposed in the headwaters of the Smith River in Oregon. We published an op-ed in May in the San Francisco Chronicle highlighting the threat.

We have now learned of the submission of a water license by the mining company to the Oregon Water Resources Department to extract water from a tributary of the North Fork Smith River.

California’s most pristine river needs your voice now! The Public comment period for this 5-year limited water license is open from June 24 until July 8, 2014.

Click here for the public comment section for the project or email the Oregon Water Resources Director at or phone at 503-986-0900

Dear Director:

The Oregon portion of the North Smith River watershed on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest is being targeted for a large nickel mine that would devastate the area for recreation and pollute water for municipalities of California. Proposed test drilling for the nickel mine requires thousands of gallons of water. The Red Flat Nickel Corp (owned by St Peter Port Capital, United Kingdom) applied to Oregon Water Resources Department for a 5-year limited license to take public water from Taylor Creek for industrial mining purposes.

I believe the limited license LL1533 should be denied because the water use would impair one of California’s last remaining salmon and steelhead strongholds. The Smith River is an economically important recreation area and water extraction by the mine would be a detriment to the public interest.

This proposed water diversion is the first of many potential impacts to the Smith River if this strip mine is approved.  The strip mine will also leach toxic metals, increase sediment loads, and result in the accidental release of processing chemicals. 

Smith River is one of California’s premier “Salmon Strongholds”.  The Smith is home to coastal Chinook salmon, steelhead, coho salmon and coastal cutthroat trout.   The Smith is the largest undammed river in California.  The Smith deserves full protection from the threats of strip mines. 

I urge you to protect the Smith River and deny the Red Flat Nickel mine’s application for a 5-year limited license to extract water from the headwaters of the Smith River. 


Red Flat Nickel Corp. plans to drill 35 3-inch diameter holes to a depth of 50 feet to obtain core samples of minerals adjacent to existing roads. The location of the proposed mine is 8 miles east of Gold Beach, Oregon, in the area known as Red Flat within the Hunter Creek and North Fork Pistol River watersheds in the headwaters of the Smith River.

These exploratory mining operations are being reviewed by the Forest Service and there will be a NEPA comment period, anticipated for November 2014.

You can find more information at and clicking on RF-38 Test Drilling #41652.


The Week’s Newsbytes

The Week’s Newsbytes

Indiegogo Campaign Going Strong

We’ve just past the $10,000 mark with our crowdfunding campaign for the Hat Creek Restoration Project!  Almost half way there with just over three weeks to go.  We can get there!

To help the effort, we’ve added a new incentive at the $150 giving level -a beautifully illustrated Wild Trout Waters of Hat Creek Map. Many thanks to former CalTrouter, Dick Galland, for the map contribution.HatCreekMapFrontsmall

And thanks to our growing list of supporters. Let’s hear it for: Arthur Strauss, Dennis Cakebread, Greg Robinson, Jeffrey Hutchinson, William P Markwood, Wayne Ginsburg, Rich & Val Osborne, Ray Hilliard, Bruce Whelan, Joseph H Williams, John Wyro, Connie Mar, Hugh Barron, David Shaw, Curtis Knight. Scot Bruesewitz, Tracey Diaz, Peter Dascalos, Dave Moore, Jason Shaffer, Matt Edens, Scott Smith, Douglas Higgs, Jack Duncan, Bob Rowlands, Brent Patera, Mayson Neel, Bruce Olitzky, Ken Handy, Mori Costantino, Henry P Rogers, Ryan McGraw, Stan and Janis Ohara, Peter Towle, Louis Fry, Susan Wilpitz, Chris Crofford, Wayne Hofer, Dale Yamashita, Jay Kaneshige, Clark Blanchard, Joe Wangsness, Jim Tolonen, Tony Cate, Cynthia Anderson, Matt Markiewicz, and the many donors who chose to remain anonymous.

The Week’s Newsbytes

CalTrout, EDC Plan to Sue Federal Government Over Deaths of Endangered Steelhead Trout

CalTrout and Environmental Defense Center yesterday issued a 60-day Notice of Violations and Intent to Sue to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act.

The letter puts the Bureau on notice for its actions causing deaths of endangered Southern California steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) at Hilton Creek, below the Bradbury Dam and Cachuma Reservoir.

Between March 2013 and March 2014, the Bureau’s pumps failed to properly function and release water, causing Hilton Creek to run dry, and leading to the death of roughly 176 federally-endangered Southern California steelhead.  This past week, the pumps failed yet again – an outage which has killed over 200 steelhead.


Download (PDF, 193KB)

For coverage of the pump failures and action taken by CalTrout and EDC read the Independent article and the Noozhawk story.