The Week’s Newsbytes

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.


Marijuana cultivation to face environmental regulation

For Immediate Release
September 12, 2015

Nina Erlich-Williams, 510-336-9566
C: 415-577-1153,

Marijuana cultivation to face environmental regulation thanks to AB 243

New law aims to reverse environmental damage, regulate water and pesticide use

Sacramento – Late last night, the California Legislature passed a package of ground-breaking legislation aimed at bringing the state’s $16 billion marijuana cultivation industry in line with other agricultural operations around the state. The move was prompted in part by significant environmental damage caused by the industry in California’s northernmost counties, where production is concentrated.

“California’s watersheds and wildlife have taken a serious hit from an unregulated cannabis production industry in recent years, with the ongoing drought making the situation even worse,” said Curtis Knight, executive director of watershed and fish advocacy group California Trout. “Thanks to the leadership of Assemblymember Wood, we will finally see significant resources dedicated to protecting and restoring lands and waters that have been decimated by bad actors in this industry.”

Marijuana production has spiked in California since the state legalized medical use of the substance in 1996. The state has provided virtually no oversight over marijuana farms despite a tremendous growth in the industry. The industry has boomed in recent years, with increasing numbers of producers overtaking remote areas and illegally diverting water out of North Coast rivers, creeks and streams that provide critical habitat for imperiled species like steelhead trout and salmon. Portions of the Eel River and other significant creeks and streams have run dry due to unregulated water diversions.

Assemblymember Wood’s efforts to ensure that environmental protection was included in the package of marijuana regulation bills have been lauded by a long list of conservation organizations. Supporters of AB 243 include California Trout, Pacific Forest Trust, Sierra Club California, The Nature Conservancy, the Trust for Public Land and Trout Unlimited.

AB 243 is one of a package of bills passed today by the Legislature aimed at providing increased oversight – and the necessary accompanying funding – to ensure that the marijuana industry complies with state standards and regulations with regard to water use, water discharge and pesticide and insecticide use. Governor Brown is expected to sign the bills into law.

“California Trout is grateful for the clear vision and quick action from the Senate and Assembly leadership as well as Governor Brown in addressing this critical issue,” added Knight.

In addition to increasing regulation over marijuana cultivation, AB 243 establishes the Marijuana Production and Environmental Mitigation Fund, which will provide dedicated resources to environmental cleanup to restore critical habitats. It also makes the multiagency task force pilot program that responds to cultivation damage a permanent and statewide program.


The Week’s Newsbytes

Klamath Basin Agreements Town Hall Meetings

California Trout has been a long-time supporter of the Klamath Basin Agreements, which would dramatically improve long-term prospects for salmon and steelhead in the Klamath Basin. The Agreements ensure that fish will receive enough water (even in dry years) for successful migration and include provisions for significant habitat restoration as well as the removal of four hydroelectric dams. Congress must pass legislation for the Agreements to move forward. If legislation is not passed by the end of 2015, the Agreements will expire and we’ll be back at square one.

Congressman Doug La Malfa represents significant portions of the California side of the Klamath Basin. Despite strong support from his constituents, he has not taken a public stand in support of the Agreements. If you would like to see the return of healthy salmon and steelhead runs to the Klamath River, please attend one of these upcoming events with Congressman La Malfa to urge him to support the Klamath Agreements.

Anderson Town Hall
September 21st
Anderson VFW Hall
3210 W. Center St., Anderson

Butte County Water Forum
September 22nd
With State Senator Jim Nielsen and Assemblyman James Gallagher
Chico Elks Lodge
1705 Manzanita Ave., Chico

Congressman La Malfa has already heard from the agricultural community that there is strong support for these Agreements. Please let him know that the angling and conservation communities also support the Agreements and urge him to take leadership on this important issue. La Malfa held a town hall meeting last week in Tulelake. To read about that meeting and some of the issues raised, click here.

If you offer comments at one of these meetings, here are some points you may wish to make:

  • Full implementation of the Klamath Agreements would create more certainty for irrigators, wildlife refuges, and fisheries.
  • Fish habitat restoration, expansion of fish habitat into the upper basin, and other fishery programs would increase the resilience of fish populations to survive droughts.
  • The recreational and commercial fishing industries provide important economic benefits. Healthy salmon and steelhead fisheries would stimulate significant economic activity in the region.
  • If the Agreements are implemented, ocean commercial and sport harvests of Chinook salmon are forecasted to increase by about 50 percent, the in‑river tribal harvest would increase by about 60 percent, and the in-river recreational fishery would increase by about 10 percent. The increased harvest will add several hundred new jobs in California.
  • Implementation of the water, habitat, and fisheries programs in the Agreements would add $346 million in direct benefits in California.

If you are unable to attend these meetings, please consider sending Rep. La Malfa an email registering your support for S. 133: Klamath Basin Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act of 2015.

Thank you!


The Week’s Newsbytes

Field Report: Golden Trout Wilderness

By Mikey Wier
August 25, 2015

Clicks Creek Trail

Clicks Creek Trail

Recently I had the opportunity to spend a little time in the Kern River drainage and Golden Trout Wilderness. In addition to documenting some meadow restoration projects Cal Trout is involved with, I spent a few days trying to document two of California’s unique native trout species that are endemic to this area.

First on the list was the Little Kern Golden Trout. These fish are native to the North Fork of the Kern River also known as the Little Kern. They look like a cross between classic Volcano Creek Goldens and Kern River Rainbows. Due to cross breeding with rainbows in the lower reaches and main stem, the fish with the most pure genetics are tucked away high in the remote tributaries.

With limited time, I decided to try a hike into Clicks Creek on the western edge of the Golden Trout Wilderness. There were some fires burning in the area so the air was very smokey. I first encountered a few fish in a series of 5 very small pools on the south fork of Clicks Creek. The pools were completely disconnected from each other and there was no flow above or below for miles. There were 2 to 3 fish in each pool and, though it looked pretty dismal, the temperatures were low enough that they seemed like they would survive until winter. Each pool had a large rock or some kind of woody debris, like a fallen tree, that provided nooks for the trout to tuck up and avoid predators. All these pools, however,  were subjected directly to cattle, which were grazing in the area.

Little Kern Golden Trout

Little Kern Golden Trout

I didn’t encounter flowing water for a few more miles down the canyon. The trail descended quickly into the steep canyon and I didn’t come to the main creek until around mile 4. There I found some flowing water and a lot of nice little granite plunge pools full of happy Little Kern Golden Trout. I spent most of the day just filming the fish both from above and below the water’s surface. They were pretty skittish for how far in they were. There were few signs of people and angling. I managed to get some decent photos and videos of a few willing specimens. After filming for several hours I took out the rod and caught one fish to get a close up photo. It was a long hike out and I reached the car after dark but the mission was a success.

The Week’s Newsbytes

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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The Week’s Newsbytes