Officials Consider Trucking Salmon Above Shasta Dam

A recent article in the Sacramento Bee reports on the National Marine Fisheries Services and Bureau of Reclamation’s plans to truck winter-run Chinook above Shasta Dam in an attempt to create population redundancy and improve adult returns.

On Thursday, federal fisheries officials laid out an ambitious and complex plan to provide emergency habitat for the Sacramento Valley’s population of winter-run Chinook, whose numbers have plummeted to critical levels during California’s four-year drought.

Under the plan, biologists in 2017 would begin trucking the offspring of winter-run Chinook raised at Livingston Stone National Fish Hatchery at the base of Shasta Dam to the cold waters of the McCloud River.

(Click here to read the full article.)

CalTrout has followed the development of the plan closely and, in general, has been supportive of National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Bureau of Reclamation (BoR) efforts to investigate the potential for reintroduction of salmon above Shasta Dam. We remain skeptical, however, of the ultimate feasibility of a trap and haul operation to create a self-sustaining population above the dam. Trap and haul operations are expensive to sustain and often don’t meet fish abundance and protection objectives.

While trap and haul of juvenile salmon below dams has been used somewhat successfully in the Columbia River basin, there are far fewer examples of successful two-way trap and haul programs (i.e., moving both juvenile and adults around dams) and the viability of such a method to sustain or even increase the relative population density of winter-run Chinook from the Sacramento River is questionable. The most successful operations are able to move abundant adult salmon above dams and then efficiently capture large numbers of juveniles in reservoirs as they migrate downstream. Capturing juvenile out-migrants, however, has proven to be extremely difficult.

Important questions remain about reintroduction methods including the short and long-term costs of those methods, the ecological conditions of recipient habitats and their ability to support winter-run Chinook, potential ecological changes to recipient habitats associated with such a program, and the effects to donor winter-run Chinook populations.

We feel strongly that the cost and feasibility of reintroduction efforts should be compared to other potential projects to benefit these species. Further, two-way trap and haul should not move forward exclusive of other projects aimed at improving other integral parts of winter-run Chinook life history. Examples of other projects include:

Improving Habitat Conditions on the Sacramento River

We recommend examining current limiting factors on adult and juvenile winter-run on the mainstem Sacramento River below Shasta Reservoir. Spending the time, effort and money to trap-and-haul will be wasted if conditions below the dam are not conducive to the juvenile salmon making it to the Pacific and/or the returning salmon making it back to Shasta Dam.

  • Minimize adult mortality
    Adult straying issues are especially important in Yolo Bypass and the Colusa Basin drain which have attracted migrating winter run into the dead-end canals for decades. In 2013, an estimated 600 winter run salmon strayed into the Yolo and Colusa Basin canals, representing approximately 10% of the total winter run escapement. Strategic investment to upgrade century-old water infrastructure would block fish passage into the canals and realign attraction flows so that salmon can be routed back to the river.
  • Restore Floodplain Rearing Habitat
    Over 95% of floodplain habitat has been lost. Through CalTrout’s Nigiri Project we’ve been able to show that by spreading water out and slowing it down on floodplains dense populations of bugs (zooplankton and aquatic insects) are produced, which in turn are consumed by birds and fish. Winter-run gaining access to high quality floodplain rearing habitat are likely to become more robust and increase their chance of successful outmigration and improve adult returns. Successful implementation of a Yolo Bypass project, which allows greater connectivity between the Sacramento River and its largest floodplain, has the potential to allow a large portion of out-migrating winter-run to access floodplain rearing habitat. Ultimately, this could substantially increase winter-run recruitment and improve overall population growth rates.
  • Mimic Natural Flows
    Current flow regimes below Shasta Dam are based on archaic, outmoded models that harm fish and do little to benefit downstream water users. For example, Shasta Reservoir flows could be better managed for juvenile fish by providing a better balance between fall drawdown and winter runoff. New models suggest water yield and timing of release of flows to benefit fish could be improved through more rigorous hydrologic models. A modification to Shasta Dam’s spillway would deliver a sizable increase in water holding capacity. Flows that better mimic natural cycles will benefit the Sacramento’s fisheries.

Restoring Battle Creek

Winter-run were extirpated from all spawning sites within their historical range. All of the approximately 200 miles of historical winter-run spawning habitat in the Upper Sacramento, McCloud and Pit rivers are cut off behind Shasta Dam. The only independent Central Valley population downstream of Shasta Dam was Battle Creek. Accordingly the NMFS 2014 recovery plan states, “watershed restoration actions associated with the Battle Creek Salmon and Steelhead Restoration Project are expected to restore conditions that will allow for successful reintroduction of winter-run Chinook salmon to Battle Creek.” Dam removal and restoration of Battle Creek should be the highest priority action for winter-run Chinook.

There is no question winter-run Chinook salmon are in a tough spot. CalTrout will continue to work with the agencies to find creative ways to maintain the long-term survivability of this unique run of salmon. Critical to such a plan is a holistic restoration vision that encompasses the entire life cycle of winter-run Chinook.


BOR to Increase Flows to Help Klamath River Salmon

Last week the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) announced that it would release additional water from Trinity Reservoir for the lower Klamath River to help protect returning adult fall run Chinook salmon from a disease outbreak and mortality. Supplemental flows from Lewiston Dam would commence on August 21 and extendinto late September.  That’s good news for salmon.  Read the BOR’s announcement here.

But not so fast.  Shortly after the announcement,  the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority along with Westlands Water District filed a lawsuit in federal court to stop the Bureau of Reclamation from releasing Central Valley Project water from the Trinity Division to the Klamath River.  In their joint statement, they claim

“The decision by the Bureau of Reclamation to repurpose precious Central Valley Project water resources to augment Klamath flows for non-endangered fish, an action that is of questionable benefit, is both irresponsible and incomprehensible.”

We find their choice of the word ‘repurpose’ ironic given that the original ‘purpose’ of the water is to flow down the river, or be ‘flushed down’ as they put it. 

Yes, farmer’s are being impacted by the current drought. But they’re not the only ones.  As we and The Nature Conservancy mentioned in our letter to the BOR,

The low flows of 2002 resulted in the largest die off of adult salmon ever recorded in the United States. It is estimated that between 38,000 – 75,000 fish died during this period, mostly fall run Chinook salmon that were just beginning their spawning migration. This preventable event devastated the commercial fishing industry and severely impacted the local Tribes who rely on the fishery as a source of food, as well as centerpiece of their cultural heritage.

The water districts filed a similar lawsuit last year when increased flows were announce and lost.  Yesterday, the court denied the Temporary Restraining Order allowing for the increased flows from Trinity Reservoir to the Lower Klamath. You can read their ruling here.

Let it flow!

Your gifts makes it possible for CalTrout to engage and ensure there is enough water to sustain healthy, wild fish.  Donate now to support this and efforts like it.

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CalTrout and TNC Support Supplementing Flows on Klamath to Prevent Ich

With flow conditions on the Klamath River at historic lows and Ich, the deadly disease that cause the 2002 fish kill, having already been detected, CalTrout and The Nature Conservancy support the Hoopa Tribe’s recommendation to the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) to release water from the Trinity River supplementing flow on the lower Klamath during the fall Chinook migration season.

The two organizations submitted the following letter to the BOR outlining their support for increasing flows and the risks to the fall run Chinook fisheries.

Download (PDF, Unknown)

Notice: Higher Flows on Pit 5 Reach

On the weekends of August 15-16 and September 12-13, PG&E will provide high, whitewater flows on the Pit 5 Reach of the Pit River.  Flows will be be 1,200 – 1,500 cfs, or more, higher.

Download (PDF, Unknown)

Download (PDF, Unknown)

Please use caution and be safe!

CalTrout Receives Funding from Stewardship Council for Hat Creek Restoration Project

stewardshipThe Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council (Stewardship Council), a land conservation and youth investment foundation, announced it is providing nearly $2 million in funding for enhancement projects on lands owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) in the Hat Creek watershed in Shasta County.

These are the first major enhancement projects funded by the Stewardship Council’s historic Land Conservation Program, which seeks to conserve and enhance 140,000 acres of California’s watershed lands for the public good. The projects were developed through collective collaboration involving the Stewardship Council, CalTrout, the Pit River Tribe, Spring Rivers Foundation, PG&E, and other stakeholders.

Andrew Braugh, Shasta-Klamath Regional Director for California Trout, commented,

“The Stewardship Council’s grant support underscores what is possible when diverse partners commit to working together to achieve shared objectives and solve complex resource management challenges. With this project, we’re going to restore a legacy of fly-fishing in California, but more importantly, we’re working to re-connect the Illmawi Band of the Pit River Tribe as the long-term stewards of their ancestral lands on the banks of Hat Creek.”

Approximately $1.4 million of the Stewardship Council’s project funding will go to CalTrout and the Pit River Tribe to restore 1.5 miles of in-stream wild trout habitat and native vegetation along Hat Creek. The project will also build new trails, a pedestrian bridge, and scenic picnic area; enhance fishing opportunities; and protect several historic sites with new fencing, landscaping, and signage.

Read more about the Stewardship Council’s grant in click here. You can also read the Sacramento Bee’s coverage of the story here.


Understanding Northern California’s Spring Water Sources

The following Op-Ed by CalTrout’s Mt. Shasta/Klamath Director, Andrew Braugh, appeared this week in Redding’s Record Searchlight. 

Northern California Spring Water Sources Key to Weathering Drought and Climate Change

By California Trout 

The winter of 2015 was the driest winter in California’s recorded history. But despite the great drought—and perhaps the worst arid spell for California in 1,200 years—spring-fed water flows steadily in Northern California.

You read that correctly. Even with a fourth consecutive summer of record setting drought, water from the depths of Mt. Shasta, Mt. Lassen, and the Medicine Lake Volcano rises insistently to the surface providing life for people, fish and wildlife, agriculture, and hydropower.

Photo: Val Atkinson

Photo: Val Atkinson

As the drought reduces rain water and snow melt, spring water acts as an emergency reserve, currently pumping 1.7 billion gallons a day into Shasta Reservoir. In total, over two million acre feet per year of spring-sourced water flows from our region’s aquifers into Shasta Reservoir—California’s largest—accounting for about one-half of total storage capacity. Thanks to this water source, Shasta Reservoir is currently maintaining 61% of its historic average: more surface storage than any reservoir in the state (CA Department of Water Resources, 2015).

Despite the undeniable importance of this water source, we know surprisingly little about the complex geochemical processes that fuel our major regional spring systems.

It wasn’t until 2014 that researchers verified that the source of Fall River water—one of the largest spring-fed rivers in the entire western United States—originates from the Medicine Lake Volcano aquifer located just 30 miles east of Mount Shasta.

In response to our poor scientific understanding of source water, California Trout is launching a new assessment of California’s most valuable spring systems throughout the Klamath-Cascade region.

The purpose of the study is three fold:

First, establish a scientific baseline for all large-volume spring systems throughout the region. Second, identify important recharge areas and potential stressors. Last, inform decision makers tasked with making tough decisions about critical issues to California’s water and energy future, including geothermal development, groundwater pumping, additional surface storage, and water for agriculture and the environment.

The study will include, among others, Fall River, Hat Creek, the Shasta River, and the famous McCloud River. Our Fall River work is especially important as Calpine Energy proposes geothermal development in the Medicine Lake Highlands.

Not coincidently, the assessment will also include Big Springs, an important cold-water spring source to the Upper Sacramento River and lightning rod of controversy surrounding Crystal Geyser Water Company in Mt. Shasta.

Crystal Geyser plans to invest $50 million to upgrade an existing bottling facility that draws water from the same aquifer that fuels Big Springs. Although Crystal Geyser is confident their operations won’t affect the springs or groundwater levels, their plans naturally raise questions about the vulnerability of the aquifer.

To begin addressing these questions CalTrout has developed a detailed study plan for Big Springs, which includes four new gaging stations and a real-time monitoring system that will measure possible changes in flow or water quality.  Crystal Geyser fully supports this effort.

As with all our restoration efforts throughout the state, CalTrout is committed to pursuing scientifically-based solutions to complex natural resource issues. With the right approach, we can elevate public policy that balances the needs of fish, water, and people.  But in the context of extreme drought, a changing climate, and increasing water demand, we need to improve our scientific understanding of these systems because spring-sourced water is more important than ever.

Mount Shasta Mud Flows Water Talks Tonight

Living near a beautiful mountain there is always an enjoyable view, and sometimes exciting events like mudflows.

On Thursday, May 28th from 6 to 8 pm, six regional scientists will give a rounded presentation on Mount Shasta’s unique mudflow processes at the Mt. Shasta Sisson Museum located at 1 North Old Stage Road in Mt. Shasta. The program is free and open to everyone.

“Mount Shasta Mudflows” will feature presentations from:

  • Andrew Calvert, Research Geologist, United States Geologic Survey (USGS), on the “Eruptive History of Mount Shasta,”
  • Craig Ballenger, Fly Fishing Ambassador and Historian, California Trout on “A Brief History of Mud and Debris Flows on Mount Shasta,”
  • Nick Meyers, Lead Climbing Ranger, USFS, and Forrest Coots, Climbing Ranger, USFS on “A First Hand Account of the September 2014 Mud Flow on the Konwakiton Glacier and Mud Creek,”
  • Juan de la Fuente, Geologist, USFS, on “Debris Flow Processes,” and,
  • Steve Bachmann, Hydrologist, USFS on “Forest Service Response.”

For more information visit

Sportsmen Support Klamath Dam Removal

The push for congressional approval for the Klamath dam removal is now.

CalTrout, along with a host of other organizations, fly shops, and outfitters, submitted this joint letter to California’s congressmen seeking their support for the Klamath Basin Settlement Agreements.

Download (PDF, Unknown)

Water Talks: New Groundwater Policy and Regional Science – April 30th 2015

For Immediate Release: April 9th, 2015

Meadow Fitton, California Trout 530.859.1411

Siskiyou County-CA
Shasta County-CA

 How will the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act change groundwater management in California? What is the basic groundwater science of the volcanic Northern California Cascade region?

California Trout invites the public to an educational Water Talks presentation, “New Groundwater Policy and Regional Science” on Thursday April 30th 2015 from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm at the Mt. Shasta Sisson Museum located at 1 North Old Stage Road in Mt. Shasta. The program is free and open to everyone.

[Read more…]

Plan to Raise Shasta Dam Takes Hit

It looks like the plan to raise the 521-foot-high Shasta Dam by 18.5 feet has encountered a hurdle that even the strongest salmon couldn’t clear.

As reported in the San Jose Mercury News,

Biologists at the main federal agency that oversees the Endangered Species Act have concluded they cannot endorse a $1.1 billion plan to raise the height of the dam at California’s largest reservoir, Shasta Lake, because of its impact on endangered salmon.

CalTrout published a op-ed on the issue back in September of 2013 and are delighted with the findings by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.  In that op-ed, Curtis Knight, Executive Director of CalTrout, stated,

Shasta Dam is clearly an engineering marvel. It’s our mission to see that it doesn’t become a larger environmental disaster.

Its impacts on California’s fisheries have already been sizable. But we believe proper management and a little vision — like the very promising restoration of wetlands and floodplain rearing habitat — mean future generations of Californians won’t view Shasta Dam as the engineering marvel that killed California’s once-abundant salmon and steelhead fisheries.

To read the full story in the Mercury News, click here.  For the op-ed piece, click here.