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Raising the vulnerable levees protecting California’s Central Valley from Sacramento River floods is an expensive project; a small group of growers and conservation groups (including CalTrout and Trout Unlimited) are looking for a different way — to connect the Sacramento River to its ancient floodplains (from the SFGate site):
Five acres of mud and rice stubble doesn’t look much like fish habitat, but the rectangular patch of summertime cropland is in the process of being converted to a teeming marsh filled with young salmon.
The conversion to wetland of the rice paddy at Knaggs Ranch, north of Woodland next to the Yolo Bypass, is an experiment that conservationists hope will eventually lead to the restoration of ancient floodplains all along the Sacramento and San Joaquin River corridors.
The small piece of soon-to-be-flooded cropland is an attempt to combine agriculture with habitat restoration, flood prevention with the creation of more floodplain.
Projects like this promise better flood control, richer agricultural land, and healthier salmon runs, making them well worth studying.
- Eating invasives: Plans to harvest crayfish commercially from Lake Tahoe move forward | Aquafornia http://t.co/HiiJPCVK #
- Climate change could reduce trout habitat in western US by 50% over the next 70 years (Trout Unlimited blog): http://t.co/Dw6EuNLd #
- RT @monicaprelle: no #snow but lots o' #trout — gotta love the sierra. #
- Yikes! RT @matt_weiser: No precip. in NorCal forecast the rest of December, says AccuWeather. http://t.co/NrpvjZ2u #
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Interview with Jenny Hatch, CalTrout’s Northern Sierra Manager
Q: You recently helped run an electroshocking program on Lake Tahoe where you were photographed holding a 24″ Koi fish; were you surprised at what you found?
Koi fish and other ornamental species are being found in the Tahoe Keys Marina area with some regularity, though that’s clearly the biggest Koi so far (we found it a home in a collector’s pond). A lot of species have been introduced into Lake Tahoe via fishtank or “bucket biology,” though the Koi don’t concern us as much as some of the other warmwater species like smallmouth bass, bluegills and catfish.
It’s part of the program; we’re partnering with DFG and UNReno to implement a two-year warm water invasive fish control project out of the near shore environment of Lake Tahoe.
What we’ve seen is intriguing; the migration patterns of cold water species vs. warm water species around the marinas seem to shift based on time of the year. Earlier in the year we were finding naturalized non-native trout species in the same areas where later in the summer warm water species like bass, bluegill and catfish dominate.
We expect to release the program’s first-year preliminary results sometime this winter.
Q: What’s your biggest concern with the warmwater invasives?
A: Warm water invasive fish prey on the native forage fish in Lake Tahoe. Recent studies by UNReno have demonstrated a steep decline in the lake’s native minnow species, probably due to warm water invasive species. In addition, research tells us the warmwater nonnatives have made their way to the far sides of the lake.
Q: I understand they’re reintroducing Lahontan Cutthroat into Lake Tahoe; how do non-native species affect the Lahontans?
Lahontan cutthroat trout — the only truly native Lake Tahoe trout — have been reintroduced to diversify the sportfishery in Lake Tahoe, where other trout species have been stocked for years. CalTrout helped provide funding to UNReno for a tagging program that will help track movement, depletion rates and learn more about the Lake ecology at Emerald Bay.
Non-natives like Lake Trout — of which there are a lot of — prey upon Lahontans, while warm water fish compete with and prey upon juvenile trout and native forage fish. Rainbow trout have also been stocked in Lake Tahoe and can hybridize Lahontans.
Q: Tell us more about CalTrout’s plans for Lahontan trout recovery?
CalTrout is working on a lot of projects, though I can highlight a couple here.
The first goal is to protect existing wild population; the only self-sustaining population of Lahontan Cutthroat trout in the Tahoe Basin resides in the Upper Truckee.
We’re trying to obtain a Wild & Scenic designation for the area, which will force the creation of a management plan.
Next year we plan to expand the presence of Lahontans in the Walker River Basin and other areas, and we’re funding the ongoing monitoring of Lahontan Cutthroat Trout at Independence Lake.
Finally, we’re garner more support for native trout protection and recovery — many members of the public are opposed to Lahontan Cutthroat Trout reintroduction because they don’t want to lose the naturalized fish species (Brookies’s, Brown’s & Rainbows).
There’s more going on, but those are the highlights.
Q: Good luck; we’d love to see those Lahontans back where they belong.
So would I.
- CalTrout December 2011 Enewsletter | Dams & Pretty Pictures – http://t.co/D48PnkOQ #
- Promising Salmon Run Needs Sufficient Water to Thrive | Friends of the Eel River http://t.co/HC6uD7L0 #
- RT @matt_weiser: Commercial harvest of Lake #Tahoe #invasive crawdads OK'd by Nevada officials. http://t.co/MDaXBB77 #
- Want to know what's being done to restore California's Fall River? http://t.co/XFtVhLqb #
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Val Atkinson is one of fly fishing’s best-known names; you’ll find his photographs on magazine covers, catalogs, posters and books. He’s been kind enough to donate photographs for use on CalTrout’s website and the Fall River Conservancy site (and other places), and we thought it was time to see what he’s up to these days.
Meet Val Atkinson
Q: You’ve been a fly fishing photographer better than 30 years; what originally made you decide to try and make a living in the fly fishing field?
I went to Columbus College of Art & design (Ohio) and studied commercial art & photography for six years, plus my father had been a serious amateur photographer and I picked up the passion from him.
After graduating in 1971, I decided to come to California, but I wasn’t sure what to do with my photography trade. I shot architecture and weddings, but then one day I went fly fishing on Hat Creek for a few days with a bunch of friends.
I photographed our adventure and sent those pictures into Fly Fisherman magazine and they bought them all for a photo essay. I got a check for $500 and thought “bingo”…I could combine my two passions.
In those days everything was black & white, and because I’d attended an Ansel Adams workshop, I could print vivid black and whites in my home darkroom and my compositions were classical (learned in art school). At the time, there were really only three or four competitors in the whole country.
Q: How has digital photography changed your business?
Digital is absolutely fantastic for the world of imagery, but it’s made it tougher for professionals to make a living in photography.
Couple that change in technology with the economy — nobody’s got extra money in their budget — and it’s gotten harder to make a living in the fly fishing world.
There’s also an emerging attitude from some in the industry that “good enough” works. It’s my biggest nemesis.
However, I’m still working and traveling constantly and couldn’t be happier about that.
Q: You’ve been generous in your support of groups like CalTrout and the Fall River Conservancy; what do these groups mean to you?
I’m proud to say I was with California Trout when it first got started; I became friendly with Dick May (ED: one of CalTrout’s founders), and they even gave me my first assignment when I barely had two nickels to rub together. I drove around for a month and took B&W pictures of all the newly designated Wild Trout streams.
As someone who cares about the environment, I know that CalTrout can accomplish more than I can as an individual. We have to protect these things, and nobody’s going to do it for us.
Q: You’ve traveled the world on assignment (and we can’t help but notice you’ve fished a little along the way). If you won the lottery and could pick one place to live (and fish), where would it be?
If I was starting all over again I would move to New Zealand. I’ve been there 23 times and I’ve fallen in love with the place.
It’s just a wonderful place to trout fish. The little towns are great, the people are delightful and it’s so beautiful I can’t put it into words.
I’m really in love with nature so even when I’m not shooting pictures or fishing I love just being out in the New Zealand countryside.
Q: Where are your home waters, and where are your favorite places to fish in California? (If the latter include remote small streams with Brook trout, please include GPS coordinates)
Fall River. I love the pastoral beauty of the spring creek settings, and I enjoy fishing for trout with dry flies. It’s my favorite home river fishery.
Q: I can tell you love it from your pictures.
Susan Rockeries and I bought an old two-story house on Fall River and restored it over the last 20 years, and it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. We still have a place in San Francisco but I get up to Fall River whenever I can.
Happiness for me is selling a few images to an art director in the morning and then going out fishing in the afternoon.
Q: One of your better-known pictures has to be the drake sitting atop the pint of Guinness; how did that picture come about?
I had gone to fish some spring creeks in England and Ireland. We were in Ireland and we’d been fishing in the morning, but found our way to the pub in the middle of the day.
The drakes were coming off the little creek right behind the bar, so as a joke, we picked up one and put it on a beer.
It immediately sank. So we ordered six more Guinness in turn, each of them with bigger, thicker heads until on the sixth we were finally able to float the green drake.
It’s one of my favorite pictures, and of course we had to finish the beers.
Q: Can you offer a couple quick tips for better outdoor photographs?
There are plenty of “how to take better pictures” articles out here, but I can give you a short list of the things that most amateur photographers should know, but often forget:
- First, read the manual
- Dead batteries ruin everything (carry spares, make sure they’re charged)
- Light is everything (the light’s best early and late in the day)
- Get high or drop low; gain an unusual angle
- Look for support (use a tripod or brace your camera on a rock or tree)
- When in doubt, get closer
Q: You’re running hosted trips to exotic locations; where are you going next?
A few years ago I hosted a few trips; the last couple years I’ve expanded my trips. I pick a special designation — usually a nice lodge — and then try to interest
a few folks into sharing the adventure. We recently went to India to fish for Masheer and to experience the magic which is India. It was totally an amazing trip.
I’m going to Argentina to fish for sea-run browns. Anyone interested in catching giant trout from a really nice lodge (Kau Tapen) should contact me at my web site or email me at (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Val Atkinson Resources
Val Atkinson’s “Why I Fish” video
The Trinity River is enjoying a renaissance with California’s steelhead fishermen, and while steelhead populations seem to be prospering, salmon populations remain a bigger question.
In this piece, CalTrout’s North Coast manager Darren Mierau looks at the Trinity’s recent history and (maybe) comeback.
By Darren Mierau
More than a decade has passed since the Trinity River Record of Decision (ROD) was signed in December 2000 by Bruce Babbitt, then Secretary of the Interior under President Clinton. Since then, there has been uncertainty about what has been done and the effectiveness of the work on the Trinity.
A Little History
A brief reminder of the Trinity’s illustrious background may be useful to set the stage.
At 2,900 square miles, the Trinity River is the largest – and arguably the most important – tributary to the Klamath River, joining the Klamath 45 miles upstream of the Pacific Ocean.
Historically, the Trinity River and its tributaries provided many hundreds of miles of salmonid habitat, and supported robust runs of spring and fall-run Chinook salmon, winter and summer steelhead, coho salmon, coastal cutthroat trout, sturgeon, lamprey, and other native fish and wildlife species. The Trinity River Flow Evaluation Study (TRFE; USFWS 1999) estimated up to 75,500 fall-run Chinook returned to the Trinity in good years.
Up To 90% Of Flows Diverted
Construction of Lewiston Dam on the Trinity River was completed in 1964 and blocked salmon and steelhead access to over 100 miles of habitat above the dam. Water operations then began diverting up to 75-90% of the annual water yield at Lewiston over to the Sacramento River for agricultural uses in the Central Valley.
The dramatic reduction in flows below the dam had severe consequences for the river channel and salmonid populations. In addition to habitat loss upstream of the dam, the river’s spawning gravel supply was cut off, the river became confined by riparian berms, spawning gravels and pools became degraded by fine sediment, and low baseflow releases provided poor water temperature conditions during the spring smolt outmigration period.
In addition, water quality conditions in the lower Klamath River had deteriorated to the point where survival of Trinity River juvenile salmonids heading out to the ocean was probably very low in many recent years.
The Trinity River Record of Decision, and the Trinity River Restoration Program (TRRP) built upon it, are intended to reverse degraded river conditions and bring back robust salmon and steelhead runs. But how does the TRRP propose to accomplish recovery. Casting aside the past paradigm of single-species management, the TRRP pursues recovery through several important program components:
- Streamflow management to re-establish the natural, physical processes (annual flood flows, gravel supply and transport, bank scour and floodplain inundation, plant desiccation, etc.) that create and maintain high quality aquatic habitat
- Mechanical reconstruction of channel banks and floodplains to rescale the river to fit the post ROD flow regime
- Sediment management to increase beneficial coarse-sized spawning gravels and reduce detrimental fine sediment
- A rigorous science and adaptive management program to learn from this fundamentally important experiment in river restoration.
To date, the TRRP has accomplished the following:
- All of the infrastructure upgrades (bridge replacements, road work) have been completed to allow Lewiston Dam high flow releases up to a maximum of 11,000 cfs
- The ROD recommended flow regime has been fully implemented since 2005, with the first-time peak of 11,000 cfs released from Lewiston for three days in May of 2011
- The sediment augmentation program has placed approximately 65,000 cubic yards of coarse gravel and cobble to recreate spawning habitat and other river features
- A total of 23 bank rehabilitation sites have been built in Phase 1 of mechanical reconstruction, and another 23 sites are planned and designed for Phase 2.
So, how are these accomplishments impacting the salmon and steelhead returns?
Two fish trapping weirs are operating on the Trinity River, one near Willow Creek (for enumerating fall-run Chinook, coho, and fall-run steelhead) and one near Junction City (for enumerating spring-run Chinook). Fish returning to the Trinity River Hatchery are also counted.
Estimates of the total run size of fall-run Chinook salmon upstream of the Willow Creek weir show annual returns to the Trinity River in recent years to be fluctuating in a range typical of the past three decades – with run-size estimates ranging between 23,000 and 64,000 fish. No post-ROD rebound in adult Chinook counts appears in the data, but Chinook seem to be holding steady.
Coho salmon, on the other hand, appear to be declining further in the Trinity River, despite being supported by a hatchery. Similar declines are being observed in many other rivers throughout the North Coast. Following several good years in which adult coho estimates exceeded 20,000 fish, the past four years have not topped 10,000 adult coho, and have dipped as low as 5,750 adult coho.
Steelhead, the elusive salmonid that defies our best efforts at population estimation, appear to be doing well in the Trinity River, and maybe better than the salmon runs.
As of early October 2011, DFG biologists reported seeing “large numbers of steelhead pass through Willow Creek [weir] and have surpassed the number trapped there all of last year.” They also noted “a large percentage of Chinook salmon are two year old jacks (grilse). This potentially bodes well for next year’s run, particularly the three year old adult component.”
A fish rebound may not be entirely clear from available data, but some program participants think even this year may be the first clear uptick, and the next few years may continue to see larger salmon and steelhead returns.
So, while the outcome of the TRRP is unclear, one thing is certain – the past decade has brought tremendous change to the Trinity River. And more change is certain to come.
CalTrout will continue to support the ROD and the river restoration program. We also encourage program managers to conduct a thorough review of Phase 1 implementation, and to respond to concerns voiced from outside the program on the outcome of restoration actions.
CalTrout Supports Dam Removal… Where It Makes Sense
One of the largest threats to trout, steelhead and salmon are dams. And California has plenty of them — more than 1,200 dams greater than 25 feet high.
These dams submerge rivers, block fish migration, and reduce or eliminate downstream water flows — the lifeblood of healthy rivers. In the Sierra Nevada alone, dams have flooded and blocked over 90% of the rivers that drain this majestic mountain range.
CalTrout is involved with many projects throughout the state to mitigate the impacts of dams, including providing fish passage, improving flows below dams to decrease water temperatures, and, in some cases, advocating for the removal of dams.
Outlived Their Usefulness
Many of the largest dams built in the west are between 50-100 years old and have outlived their usefulness for flood control or water supply — usually due to filling in with sediment. Many are now being evaluated and dam removal is a serious consideration.
When these dams were built our knowledge of how river systems worked was limited.
Consider the progress we’ve made in other areas such as science, technology and health. Fifty years ago we had yet to place a man on the moon, personal computers did not exist, and we did not fully understand the adverse effects of smoking.
Similarly, we did not fully understand river systems and could not begin to predict the impact dams would have on rivers systems and their inhabitants.
We now understand more about the true cost of damming rivers and for some, dam removal makes sense. Following are some examples of dam removal projects CalTrout has been involved with throughout California.
Which Dams Should Come Down?
On the Klamath River, CalTrout has worked with many stakeholders, including PacifiCorp (the dam owners), to remove four dams on the river. The aging dams produce relatively small amount of power and block over 400 miles of steelhead and salmon spawning habitat. PacifiCorp has determined the cost of removal is cheaper than upgrading the dams to meet mandated fish passage requirements such as fish ladders. As a result, a Settlement Agreement is being implemented now that will lead to dam removal in 2020.
In Southern California, CalTrout has advocated for the removal of Matilija Dam on the Ventura River. Completed in 1948, the dam has had two disastrous impacts. The Southern steelhead population, estimated at 5,000 fish in 1940, immediately collapsed starting with a massive fish kill in 1949. And, the dam trapped sediment thus starving local beaches and drawing the concerns of surfers and beachgoers.
Today, the dam is completely silted in and does nothing for flood control or water supply. CalTrout has been active in developing removal plans that include the incremental notching of the dam to facilitate the safe and steady transport of sediment downstream.
San Clemente Dam on the Carmel River has been rendered useless due to sedimentation. The 106 foot high structure blocks access to over 25 miles of threatened steelhead habitat and has major safety deficiencies. In 2008, a Carmel River reroute and dam removal project was initiated. Like most dam removal projects, what to do with the sediment is a primary issue. To address this, the Carmel River will be rerouted for a half mile into San Clemente Creek, allowing the abandoned stretch to act as a sediment storage area. Dam removal is being led by the state Coastal Conservancy and Cal Am (the owners of the dam). In 2011, CalTrout supported legislation to help fund this project.
Rindge Dam on Malibu Creek in Southern California is also being considered for removal. The 100 foot high dam was completed in 1924 and blocks access of Southern steelhead to the upper reaches of Malibu Creek. The dam has long been obsolete – filling in with sediment within a decade of being built. CalTrout has long advocated for the removal of Rindge Dam and this fall a report on the feasibility of dam removal will be released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others.
Recently, CalTrout and partners (American Rivers and the Beyond Searsville Dam Coalition) are urging Stanford University to assess the feasibility of fish passage and removal of Searsville Dam on the San Fancisquito Creek which flows through the Stanford campus.
For over a century, Stanford University’s antiquated Searsville Dam has impacted San Francisquito Creek watershed and the greater San Francisco Bay estuary. Built between 1890 and 1892, the 65’ tall x 275’ wide Searsville Dam has lost over 90% of its original water storage capacity as roughly 1.5 million cubic yards of sediment has filled in the reservoir. Searsville Dam does not provide potable water, flood control, or hydropower. CalTrout and partners are advocating for fish passage or dam removal at Searsville to allow steelhead to return to over 10 miles of habitat in the upper watershed.
Successful Dam Removal Projects
In recent years, there have been successful dam removal projects in California. Seltzer Dam on Clear Creek near Redding was taken down in 2000. At the time, this was one of the largest dam removal projects in the state. Last year, the process to remove five dams on Battle Creek began to open access to 48 miles of endangered salmon and steelhead habitat.
And this year in Washington state, two long-anticipated and ambitious dam removal projects are starting, underscoring that the age of dam removal is upon us.
In September, two dams on the Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula are being removed. One of these—Glines Canyon Dam—is 210’ tall and will be the tallest dam ever removed.
Condit Dam on the White Salmon River is also being removed this year. Condit Dam is owned by PacifiCorp, the same owners of the Klamath Dams. Both of these long anticipated dam removal efforts help set the precedent for removing dams that no longer serve their intended purpose.
CalTrout will continue its work assessing the possibility for dam removal where it makes sense. Not only have many dams become useless and hazardous, but they are one of the primary impacts on our native fish. Dam removal can be one of the most efficient and effective ways to bolster salmon and steelhead stocks by providing access to historic spawning and rearing areas. CalTrout will continue to advocate for this.
Everyone Wants the Now-Useless Matilija Dam Removed. So Why Hasn’t It Been Taken Out?
Matilija Dam, on the Ventura River, was constructed in 1948 and is completely ineffective today. Full of silt and sediment, it does nothing for flood control or water supply and it completely blocks Southern steelhead passage. Efforts to remove Matilija Dam started in the mid-1990’s. But, like many other environmental projects, the removal of the Matilija Dam on the Ventura River has been impacted by the world’s economic crisis.
A full spectrum of community stakeholders and agencies came together and by 2007, they had developed a preferred preliminary design, a budget (approximately $145 million), and a schedule. At that time, Congressional approval for the project was obtained.
The project design included: the removal of the Matilija Dam structure, the disposal of the 6 million cubic yards of sediment currently sequestered behind the dam, and the complete habitat restoration of the river canyon. Since 2007, however, the U.S. budget crisis has made it impossible to appropriate funds for progress on the Matilija Project.
In the face of bleak funding prospects, project leads (County of Ventura Watershed Protection District and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) went “off the reservation” and developed a modified, potentially less expensive project design that failed to meet the ecological restoration goals of the project. Instead, their plan would permanently store as much as 2.5 million cubic yards of the fine sediment in the river canyon itself, covering the existing riparian habitat (which includes native oaks, springs, and other critical habitat values) and constraining the river into an unnaturally inhibited channel.
CalTrout worked closely with Matilija Coalition Director, Paul Jenkin, to stop this “imposter project” and remind the agencies of the original intent of these efforts: 1.) to restore the Ventura River and the Matilija Canyon area for the benefit of Southern California steelhead (and other native species and habitat) by providing fish passage and habitat, 2.) to restore the natural processes that allow the river to carry and deposit the sediments that naturally replenish our Ventura beaches.
Over the course of a year and many meetings, CalTrout and Paul Jenkin successfully persuaded with stakeholders and agencies to reaffirm the eco-restoration project goals, and to consider and refine adjustments to the original 2007 “approved project.” These changes could potentially save money, prevent additional sediment accumulation behind the dam prior to its removal, and allow some forward motion to begin, even with the meager economic outlook.
Accordingly, the Matilija Dam Removal Project appears to be “back on the rails.” Plans to begin notching the dam to current sediment levels are being developed. And adjustments to the larger project are being explored – including non-habitat impact alternative storage areas for the sediment.
Progress on this work is constrained by funding. But the liability of the Matilija Dam and the threat of increase removal costs in the future if additional sediment accumulates are motivating continued efforts by agencies and stakeholders. Ventura County is moving ahead with the design and permitting for dam notching, and CalTrout will continue to work closely with the Matilija Coalition to assure that progress continues to be made.