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- #KlamathDam removal from the fish' perspective, written by #CalTrout's Mike Wier. Excerpt: "A fall-run Chinook we i… https://t.co/XuHlH5xE72 ->
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To celebrate World Fish Migration Day, we’re sharing this creative article written by our own Mike Wier on the removal of Klamath Dams from the perspective of fish. Currently, the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) is hosting informational meetings about dam removal and encourage the public to attend as this is best place to hear what’s going on and to ask questions.
Controversy over Klamath Dams removal has some native fish excited while some local fish remain apprehensive.
By Michael E. Wier
The Klamath Basin is on the verge of what could be the largest river restoration project in the history of the United States, maybe the world. Last year settlements were procured between the dam operating company PacifiCorp and a multitude of other stakeholders (including farmers, tribes, commercial fisherman, local government, and conservationists) to remove four dams on the mainstem Klamath River. After years of negotiations it was decided that retrofitting the dams for new safety standards and updating operational facilities would cost more money for PacifiCorp, rather than forfeiting their license and removing the dams altogether. Funding methods have now been implemented and plans are being drafted to begin the dam removal process as soon as 2020.
Removing the four dams will re-connect over 300 miles of historic habitat that was once accessible to native salmon and steelhead. Isolated tribes of native fish persist high in the tributaries of the downstream reaches of Klamath River. Many of those fish have been waiting patiently for decades for the opportunity to return to their native waters.
Wild Bill, an elder from the last of the winter steelhead tribe and one of the greatest proponents of dam removable commented: “The upper Klamath basin is our ancestral water. We used to have spawning ceremonies in the great springs of the Wood and the Williamson. Now we are stuck in the isolated lower tributaries. Most of these small rivers have snowmelt source waters that are no longer reliable. Our fish brothers and sisters have been suffering. It’s our right to return to the sacred lake and our historic spawning springs.”
Over the past few decades, living conditions in the lower stretches of the river have significantly declined. In some years, algae blooms on the reservoir warmed the water temperatures and depleted oxygen down to lethal levels.
A fall-run Chinook we interviewed a few years back had this to say: “I waited years to be ready for the Fall Spawn Prom. After a couple weeks of Singles Mixers in the estuary, a large group of us decided to head up river for the annual migration ceremony. Things were going good until we hit mid-river. All of the sudden the water started getting really hot and I was having trouble breathing. By that point we were too far up river to turn back. I looked around and a lot of the better-looking hens started losing their eyesight. Everyone started gasping for breath and then went belly up right in front of me. It was like a scene from a zombie horror movie. I didn’t get to spawn at all that year. Needless to say I was bummed, man!”
Many wild salmon and steelhead were completely pushed out of their cold home springs once the dams were installed. However, other fish have since moved into those neighborhoods and taken up permanent residence. If native salmon return, local trout know they will mostly likely be bullied out of the prime feeding lanes.
Mr. Planterton, a trout from below JC Boyle Dam, remarked: “I’m a fifth generation transplant. My grandfather’s grandfather fell from the great truck tank back in 1985. I’ve been stuck in this reach for a long time. I’ve been trying to find a way out of here. How the heck does one get to the ocean from here? I swam up the river and down the river, and back up and down, yet I always just end up in this stupid lake. I really want to see the great ocean, but I am also nervous about running into those giant salmon squach I have heard legends about.”
Many wild fish from across the state of California are very happy about the dams’ removal. It’s exciting to imagine all the new territory to explore.
Even strays from neighboring watersheds are hopeful for the prospect of someday visiting the Cascade Range. One noted: “I’m from the Smith River area, but I’ve always wanted to visit the Klamath. Some strays I ran into a few years back in the ocean school talked about miles of river roads leading to some truly amazing cold springs. As the Smith gets warmer, those cold springs sound better and better. We never imagined it could be possible for an ocean fish to make it out of the coastal range. But rumor has it that once those road blocks come out we’ll be able to make it all the way to the great redband basin and beyond. There’s bound to be some epic cold springs up there.”
However there is still some resistance from local fish who will be most affected by removing the four dams. Stretches of river that were once superhighways for salmon and steelhead have now been filled up behind the dams. All those new warm water housing developments are now occupied by non-native fish who migrated here from other areas looking for a better life.
Billy the Bass commented, “I am a third generation Siskyou bass. My family has been herding crawdads and farming dragonfly larva in the shallows of Irongate as long as I can remember. We’re tough as any bass out there. I’ve heard stories of our Shasta kin having angler-fighting rodeos. They let humans catch them for fun, then they fight their way free. Maybe if more people were paying attention to us, we could have one of those fancy tournaments here. I bet that would bring some human tourists to the area. We sure like to entertain.”
A young wild summer steelhead named Steely Dan responded, “Forget fighting humans. That’s lame. All I need is some frosty bugs and some tasty cold river waves, dude. Once those dams come out I plan to be one of the first steelhead up there. I can make that swim in a couple days. I’ve heard there are still some cute landlocked hens up there. I can’t wait to introduce myself and hopefully dance with some. And if I run into any of those foreign bass, I’ll kick their tales off! That’s my grandfather’s river.”
Whichever way you feel about it, it will be interesting to see the changes along the Klamath River in the coming decade. Exciting times ahead.
Photos by Mike Wier.
California’s best remaining watersheds offer us a significant opportunity to secure our future water supply in the face of climate change, yet these areas are often under researched and under protected. The Sierra Nevada mountains, for example, provide 60% of California’s developed water supply, yet nearly half of the high mountain meadows that capture and store snowmelt and rainwater are severely degraded.
CalTrout and partners have been hard at work in the Capitol helping to create and champion legislation that protects California’s most vital source water areas. We are pleased to report that Assembly Bill (AB) 2528, a measure that incorporates four important state watersheds in California’s Climate Adaptation Strategy report, passed the Assembly of Natural Resources on April 16th. AB 2528, authored by Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), will help the state create more climate resilient habitats and protect the state’s largest estuaries and most pristine river systems.
We called upon our followers earlier this month to contact their Assemblymembers in support of AB 2528. Over 100 letters were signed and mailed! THANK YOU for taking action.
In the bill, four watershed zones have been identified as ‘habitat resilience areas’- salmon and steelhead strongholds, spring-fed source watersheds, mountain meadows, and estuaries. By adding these zones, the bill would require the Natural Resources Agency to research the importance of these resilient watershed areas in its next Climate Adaptation Strategy.
For more on AB 2528, read the Press Release from Assemblymember Bloom’s office:
If passed, $4 billion will be invested in protecting our own unique natural resources, fighting climate change, and ensuring every Californian has access to clean drinking water and safe, accessible parks. Of that, $1.6 billion will go towards ensuring clean drinking water, increasing local water supplies, and protecting our state from future droughts. Through critical and cost-efficient investments in water supplies and water quality, Prop 68 addresses water at its sources—rivers, lakes, streams, natural areas, and groundwater—and provides funds to make localities more self-reliant by increasing water capture and recycling.
Prop 68 will allow our organization to keep moving forward on projects that support habitat resiliency, resource enhancement, and climate preparedness, such as:
* Our work in Southern California planning for the removal of Matilija Dam to restore the Ventura River Watershed;
* Innovative efforts in the Central Valley helping to restore endangered salmon and improve agricultural practices;
* A South Coast Steelhead Coalition project CalTrout is involved in replacing a bridge on the Santa Margarita River that blocks the migration of Southern steelhead and puts the public at risk due to flooding after storms.
In this cycle we’re in of drought and extreme weather, now is a critical time to support this legislation to protect our communities from ecological degradation and flooding. Vote Yes on Prop 68 to protect our communities from ecological degradation and flooding, and provide a better California for future generations. We can give them the same chance to experience the natural wonders of California as we and our ancestors before us did.
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CalTrout is launching a new regional conservation program focused on efforts in the San Francisco Bay Area, headed by Program Manager, Patrick Samuel. Patrick has recently completed an eight-month fact-finding mission – meeting with stakeholders and conducting site visits throughout the greater Bay Area – to assess fisheries conservation, restoration, and educational outreach opportunities from Marin to Santa Cruz counties. The addition of the Bay Area program brings the number of CalTrout’s regions to six along with North Coast, Mt. Shasta/Klamath, Central Valley, Sierra, and South Coast.
The Bay Area program will implement a mix of restoration projects in highly productive estuaries and heavily altered urban/rural watersheds both on the coast and in San Francisco Bay itself, and develop targeted outreach and education on how the salmon and steelhead in our backyards are indicators of healthy watersheds that we all depend upon.
This region is critical to addressing the recovery of critically endangered Central California Coast (CCC) coho salmon and Central California Coast steelhead. Marin County is the southernmost extent for wild CCC coho salmon. According to the 2017 State of the Salmonids report by CalTrout and UC Davis, their populations have declined in excess of 95% in the last half-century due to habitat degradation, dewatering, and impacts from climate change − increased stream temperatures, streamflow variability, and changing ocean conditions – that dictate salmon growth and survival. Nearly all the remaining CCC streams with coho have populations of fewer than 100 spawning adults, unless enhanced through hatcheries. The Bay Area program will prioritize watersheds for restoration that have the most promising potential to support salmon recovery and are in most need of attention. These areas will include estuaries, critical land-sea interface habitat for salmon rearing and growth; working agricultural and ranching landscapes surrounding coho streams; and waterways that have been blocked by infrastructure, prohibiting volitional fish passage.
Stay tuned to find out where CalTrout is considering conservation efforts in coastal and San Francisco Bay watersheds. We’ll be announcing more information in the Spring 2018 issue of The Current, CalTrout’s quarterly e-magazine.
We’d like to hear from you! What aspect of CalTrout’s Bay Area Conservation Program is most important to you? Please take our survey.
Check out Patrick’s photos from his site visits:
- This report speaks to why CalTrout is committed to better understanding and protecting our water at its SOURCE.… https://t.co/BIXjxoizWZ ->
- Don't miss the Int'l Fly Fishing Film Festival this month in #SouthernCalifornia! #CalTrout-hosted screenings in… https://t.co/0YWogmSqle ->
- Eel River Estuary Restoration project recently received over $5M in grant awards! We are restoring tidal marsh land… https://t.co/F7xAhp5KVZ ->
- Reflecting back on another rollercoaster #steelhead season. Photo: Mike Wier #CalTrout #wildsteelhead #riversmatter https://t.co/dO3ACM0dy3 ->
- The #McCloudRiver has been through enough. It is still at risk of being inundated by expansion of #ShastaDam. Learn… https://t.co/ZdsC97hpx6 ->
- There's still time to help #California's at-risk #fish, wildlife, & plants with a #donation on your tax form. There… https://t.co/HQLo35LwUT ->
- With a changing climate and major threats continuing to put our water supply at risk, it is more important than eve… https://t.co/b7a7FCokBe ->
CalTrout has been working for several years with The Wildlands Conservancy and other partners to revive the degraded Eel River Estuary. We are excited to announce that more than $5 million was recently approved to fund its restoration– $1.5 million approved by the Coastal Conservancy and $4.87 by the Wildlife Conservation Board. The goals of the Eel River Estuary and Centerville Slough Enhancement Project are to restore tidal marsh lands and improve native fish access to quality habitat, while protecting and enhancing the agricultural productivity of some of California’s richest farmland.
Approximately 85 percent of the tidal marsh in Humboldt Bay and the Eel River Delta has been lost since the Gold Rush, leading to dramatic losses of fish and wildlife, worsened water quality, and increased turbidity in the Bay. As the Estuary shrank in size, the natural flood control benefits it gave the surrounding communities were lost as well, leading to an increase in the need for dredging.
Historically, the Eel River was a major salmon and steelhead producer with runs estimated to exceed a million adults (~800,000 Chinook, ~100,000 Coho, ~150,000 steelhead) during the best years. Estuaries provide important habitat for juvenile rearing and fish passage moving between freshwater and ocean. The damaged Eel River estuarine conditions and lost habitat resulted in severely depressed native fish populations over the last several decades. Today, fall-run Chinook and steelhead runs fluctuate between 1,000 and 10,000 adults; Coho likely number less than 2,000 adults annually.
The site of the project is the Eel River Estuary Preserve, formerly known as Connick Ranch. The Wildlands Conservancy acquired the land in 2008 with a goal to restore the wetland system and provide public access to the scenic area.
For more on CalTrout’s Eel River estuary restoration work, check out our short video below:
CalTrout is taking a headwaters to estuary approach to restoration in the Eel River watershed. In Part I of this four-part series, we look at the Eel River Estuary and our work, in partnership with The Wildlands Conservancy, to help the degraded estuary by restoring tidal marsh lands and passage into tidal slough channels. Doing so will provide salmon and steelhead high-quality rearing habitat where they can grow big and strong before entering ocean.