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

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 Director@wrd.state.or.us 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. 

BACKGROUND:

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 http://www.fs.usda.gov/projects/rogue-siskiyou/landmanagement/projects and clicking on RF-38 Test Drilling #41652.

 

Smith River Update

smith-parmentier_9251

The Smith River is one of California’s premier “Salmon Strongholds.”  The Smith is home to coastal cutthroat trout (seen below), steelhead, and coho and Chinook salmon.  CalTrout has been a trusted partner with the Smith River Alliance (SRA) on decades of conservation projects in the watershed.  Read on for updates on the Smith projects.  For more information please visit www.smithriveralliance.org.

[Read more...]

Humboldt County Fails to Protect Salmon Stream

After two rambling hearings on Dec. 10 and Jan. 7, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 (Lovelace dissenting) to approve the Halvorsen Quarry reclamation plan without adequate protections for water quality, fish habitat, and nesting bald eagles.

The quarry is adjacent to Rocky Creek, a coho-bearing tributary of Humboldt Bay. Rocky Creek’s lower reach—which was once low-gradient slough and wetland habitat before being diked off from the bay’s tidal influence—has recently been restored to support juvenile over-wintering coho and tidewater goby.

Humboldt Baykeeper and CalTrout appealed the Planning Commission’s approval after many of our concerns were ignored.

For the full article as it appeared in the Northcoast Environmental Center’s Feb/Mar EcoNews click here.

Low Water Flows Prompt Closures

On January 29th, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) closed some waters to fishing in order to protect native salmon and steelhead from low water flows in California streams and rivers that have been significantly impacted by drought. CDFW is also recommending that the Fish and Game Commission adopt emergency regulations on other rivers.

The CDFW press release states

Current low stream flow conditions will prevent the movement of migrating anadromous fish, primarily wild steelhead trout. Stream flows in many systems are inadequate to allow passage of spawning adults, increasing their vulnerability to mortality from predation, physiological stress and angling. Furthermore, survival of eggs and juvenile fish in these systems over the coming months is likely to be extremely low if the current drought conditions continue. These temporary angling closures on selected streams will increase survival of adult wild steelhead.

With our mission of protecting and restoring wild trout, steelhead, salmon and their waters throughout California, we support these closings.

Still plenty of great places to fish out there but plan accordingly.

Quarry threatens to undermine the public trust

Imagine taking a 5-acre piece of hillside in a watershed surrounding Humboldt Bay, removing all of the trees and topsoil down to bare dirt and rock, exposing it to year after year of winter rains, and then expecting downstream neighbors and Humboldt County residents to believe “it’ll be fine.”  That’s what the county supervisors and the Schneider quarry operators are asking us to do.

Read the full article in the Eureka Times-Standard by CalTrout’s North Coast manager, Darren Mierau.

North Coast Manager Darren Mierau On Opening Day For The Yurok Tribe

First day of Yurok fishing season, Klamath

The first day of Yurok fishing season on the Klamath.

This from CalTrout’s North Coast Region Manager Darren Mierau:

I ended up at the mouth of the Klamath this morning with my wife, and witnessed the amazing and fascinating spectacle of the start of the Yurok fishing season. There was a focused energy and bustle, and a prevailing silence to the event and already over a hundred boats in the water. I felt privileged to see it and know it’s part of what we fight for… gill nets and all.

Klamath Salmon, Tribes, Fishermen, Conservation Groups All Breathing A Little Easier

Judge O’Neil Orders Increased Flows Down Trinity, Klamath Rivers To Protect Salmon

CalTrout members wondering if another massive fish kill is in store for the Klamath’s salmon can now breathe a little easier.

A Federal judge allowed a Bureau of Reclamation plan — which released extra water down the Trinity River (a Klamath Tributary) to prevent a salmon die-off like the one that occurred in 2002 — to proceed.

(From the Eureka Times Standard)

Trinity River water will be released to protect salmon after a federal judge lifted his order Thursday afternoon, finding the additional flows critical to preventing a repeat of the massive fish kill from 2002.

”Releases are designed to prevent a potentially serious fish die off from impacting salmon populations entering the Klamath River estuary,” Judge Lawrence O’Neill concluded.

”There is no dispute and the record clearly reflects that the 2002 fish kill had severe impacts on commercial fishing interests, tribal fishing rights and the ecology, and that another fish kill would likely have similar impacts.”

CalTrout had broadcast an alert about the situation on the Klamath (“A Federal Judge To Decide The Fate Of The Klamath’s Salmon“).

CalTrout Conservation Director Curtis Knight applauded the decision to release approximately 20,000 acre-feet of water down the Trinity, pointing out the best available science was used to arrive at the number — which was considerably lower than the 69,000-109,000 acre feet originally forecast.

“We use adaptive management techniques whenever possible to arrive at the best solutions for fish, habitat and those who have other uses for the water. It’s the same kind of adaptive management that would be brought to the Klamath by the Klamath Basin Agreements, where science would be used to manage flows, not rigid guidelines.”

Knight also said “This whole episode underscores the need for a basin-wide solution to the Klamath’s problems. We can’t keep lurching from crisis to crisis, especially considering the impacts these water issues have on the whole state. It’s dumb and it’s expensive. We can do better.”

The increased flows are designed to protect high numbers of salmon currently entering the lower Klamath River from the same conditions — warm water, disease and overcrowding — that led to the massive 2002 Klamath River fish kill.

The original Bureau of Reclamation plan was delayed by a lawsuit filed by the Westlands Water District and San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority — water agencies located over 300 miles south of the Klamath River. They feared that water releases to protect salmon would deprive them of some of next year’s water allocation.

And while the outcome is welcome, not everyone was pleased by the delay. In a statement, Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) said he was happy the water was released, but was concerned it might still come too late:

“The legal squabbling over water that does not even belong to Central Valley irrigators forced a delay that could prove deadly to salmon migrating into the Klamath,” Huffman said. “I encourage the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to move swiftly in implementing its planned releases.”

For more details about the story, we recommend the Eureka Times-Standard story by Catherine Wong and the Earthjustice website

A Federal Judge To Decide The Fate Of The Klamath’s Salmon

The Fight For The Trinity’s Water Continues. Will Westlands Water District Win — And Possibly Doom The Klamath’s Salmon?

Chinook salmon are already heading into the Klamath and Trinity Rivers — straight into the teeth of one of California’s worst water years. Waiting for them are low flows, warm water, abundant parasites and the kind of crowding that led to the infamous Klamath fish kill of 2002 — where upwards of 60,000 salmon died.

2002 Klamath River fish kill (photo Northcoast Environmental Center)

2002 Klamath River fish kill (photo Northcoast Environmental Center

In early August — with an eye towards avoiding a replay of the 2002 disaster — the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) issued a plan to release an additional 109,000 acre feet down the Trinity River. These additional flows would cool the water, flush out the parasites, and relieve the stresses on migratory fish caused by crowding.

This move was widely supported by tribes, commercial fisherman, and conservation groups (including CalTrout who reviewed the proposal with the BOR because of our participation in the Trinity River restoration Project).

Unfortunately, the release plan sparked a lawsuit by the Westlands Water District, claiming these additional flows will jeopardize their flow allocations in future years. A Fresno area Federal judge issued an injunction against the releases (which were supposed to begin last week), and will decide the fate of the Klamath’s salmon this Friday.

The drought is hard on every sector of the state. But let’s put the demands on the Trinity’s water into perspective.

Trinity Lake currently holds 1.4 million acre-feet of water and is at 60% capacity. These emergency flows do not curtail this year’s water deliveries to Westlands (they already got their deliveries) and make up only 4% of water in Trinity Lake.

In other words, Westlands is willing to throw the dice on the Klamath’s salmon — despite the very limited amount of water involved.

CalTrout supports these additional releases; they’re needed to prevent another fish kill in the Klamath. Kudos to the Hoopa Valley Tribe and Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Association for intervening in the case.

Remember — all this is happening in realtime. Additional flows are needed now; salmon are already making their way into the lower river and the sizable projected run of 272,000 fish will peak in September.

An evidentiary hearing will be held this Wednesday (August 21) in Fresno. Scientists representing the BOR and the Hoopa tribe will present the facts and make the case for increased flows to protect salmon.

The judge’s decision is due on Friday August 23rd. Should the decision go against the Klamath’s salmon, then Californians will then see the very real results of another skirmish in the state’s water wars. In fact, the Redding Record-Searchlight noted:

Reclamation’s doing the right thing in leaving enough water in the river for fish to thrive, despite the real costs. The Westlands lawsuit just confirms that down-state irrigators’ thirst, in a pinch, will be slaked at the North State’s expense. And if the suit succeeds and the fish suffer as the worst-case scenarios predict, a few thousand extra acre-feet of Trinity Water won’t be nearly enough to wash the stink of dead fish off the irrigators’ reputation.

This fight offers us yet another example of the need for a more comprehensive, watershed-wide approach to managing the Klamath river and its tributaries.

We believe the Klamath Agreements (the KBRA and KHSA) provide real-world, realtime processes that will lead to a better managed system. The agreements remove the Klamath’s salmon-killing dams, manage flows in real-time, improve water quality and restore vital habitat.

The alternative is to continue lurching from crisis to crisis in the Klamath. That’s bad for its fish and those who depend on them – and far more expensive than the alternatives.

After the decision is handed down, we may very well need your help to protect Klamath and Trinity Salmon. Either way, we’ll be in touch.

Eel River Forum Tackles Issues Facing One Of California’s Great Rivers

While individuals and groups have been working to restore California’s Eel River for decades, CalTrout’s North Coast Manager Darren Mierau has added the organization’s horsepower to the fight with the formation and launch of the brand-new Eel River Forum — a group created to:

“Coordinate and integrate conservation and recovery efforts in the Eel River watershed to conserve its ecological resilience, restore its native fish populations, and protect other watershed beneficial uses. These actions are also intended to enhance the economic vitality and sustainability of human communities in the Eel River basin.”

“The Eel River is an amazing place” said Mierau. “But its native fish populations never recovered from the bad practices of the past.”

“The Eel drains 2.3 million acres and the potential is enormous, yet native fish populations are typically only 3% of their historic numbers. We think that we can work with all the stakeholders and build a better Eel.”

Eel River Delta

The Eel River

According to the story printed in the Redwood Times, public interest in the forum is high:

ERF, a coalition of public agencies, conservation groups, tribes, and other stakeholders concerned about fisheries on the Eel River, rotates the site of its monthly meetings. Its previous meeting in Benbow on Jan. 23 drew nearly 40 members of the public.

The Eel River Forum’s 21 Charter Members include many groups who have been working on the Eel for years. Charter members include:

  • California Trout
  • CA Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • CA State Parks
  • Coastal Conservancy
  • Eel River Recovery Project
  • Eel River Watershed Improvement Group
  • Environmental Protection Information Center
  • Friends of the Eel River
  • Friends of the Van Duzen River
  • Humboldt County Resource Conservation District
  • Mendocino County Resource Conservation District
  • National Marine Fisheries Service
  • North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board
  • Pacific Gas and Electric Company
  • Potter Valley Irrigation District
  • Round Valley Indian Tribe
  • Salmonid Restoration Federation
  • Sonoma County Water Agency
  • US Bureau of Land Management
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service
  • US Forest Service
  • Wiyot Tribe

Currently, CalTrout’s Mierau is most involved in the the Eel River Estuary Preserve project, the Bridge Creek railroad crossing removal, Salt River and PG&E’s Potter Valley project.

CalTrout is also hosting an Eel River Forum mini-site here, where you’ll find updates on the progress of the group.