Northern California’s Mokelumne River has officially been designated a Wild and Scenic River, signed into law on June 27, 2018 by Governor Edmund G. Brown, becoming the 12th river in our state with this protection status. The designation applies to 37 miles of the North Fork Mokelumne and main stem running through Amador and Calaveras counties.
On June 5th, California voters approved Prop 68, the Parks, Environment and Water Bond, a record $4.1 billion bond package that will provide funding to a host of environmental priorities ranging from climate change resilience to stream restoration. This is a big win for protecting California’s natural resources and getting more people in nature, which is very important since you cannot steward what you do not know.
Prop 68 will likely be a boon for some long-delayed projects that have struggled to find funding. This is a significant start to help California’s fish and rivers recover. But only if the funds are put to work- and that’s where we come in.
Currently in our 47th year since establishment, CalTrout is working harder than ever: increasing the number and scope of projects, and therefore our impact, all over California. We will secure Prop 68 funds for projects like removing fish barriers in Southern California including Rindge Dam, which is a huge detriment to endangered Southern steelhead; and continuing to partner with farmers in the Central Valley on multi-benefit floodplain projects to help threatened salmon.
Staff Attorney for CalTrout, Redgie Collins, was recently quoted explaining how legislators and voters “are taking heed” of the policies and rollbacks coming out of Washington, D.C. The ballot measure, Redgie says, is part of “building a green wall in California.” (Read article from E&E News here.)
The Elk River in Northern California has had a contentious past. From the earliest logging of the old growth redwoods on up to the modern era of logging the Elk has been a productive watershed for timber but at the expense of native fish. The Elk was hit especially hard during the Maxxam take over of PALCO and was at the the center point of the Timber Wars in the mid 90’s leading up to the preservation of the Headwaters Forest Reserve. That era of heavy clear-cutting has left a legacy of degradation on the river system and is causing problems for landowners down stream. CalTrout sees an urgent need to address the most pressing problems in the watershed- both ecologically and socially- and has been leading technical studies since 2014 to document the issues facing the Elk River and coordinating with other stakeholders to formulate a plan for recovery.
For more on the Elk River, check out the Spring 2018 edition of The Current:
On May 2 CalTrout hosted the Eel River Forum at the Benbow Village Hall along the South Fork Eel River, in the heart of the ‘Emerald Triangle’. The topic of the day was the regulation of water diversions and other policies for the now-legal cannabis industry, many of which were rolled out in 2018 with legalization of recreational marijuana use.
The Forum heard from environmental scientists with the three State Agencies who are responsible for the protection of public trust resources, as well as primary regulatory authority over the water diversion practices commonly used for cannabis irrigation – including springs, wells, and surface water diversions. Staff scientists from the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife, the State Water Resources Control Board, and the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board were on hand to present updates on their individual agency policies and guidelines, and then help stakeholders identify the gaps that might exist where those policies overlap.
More than 30 people attended to hear the speaker presentations and participate in an engaging panel discussion. Key questions were posed for the group to discuss, such as:
- 2018 is a critical year in implementing cannabis cultivation regulations. How has it been going?
- Are policy outcomes being achieved based on the work that’s being done on the ground?
- What, if any, factors should be considered to limit the density of cannabis cultivation in local watersheds?
- What to do with the issue that only approximately 10% of the estimated 30,000+ cannabis growers statewide have applied for a cannabis license.
- Identifying priority watersheds that are too sensitive or critically important to allow any, or any additional, cannabis farms to be permitted. These are the stronghold watersheds that currently sustain the best wild salmon and steelhead populations.
- Where to focus funding resources for cannabis site cleanup and remediation in order to reduce or minimize the effects of legal and illegal cannabis production on our watersheds.
- How will state agencies adapt their regulatory policies and guidelines as permitting, enforcement, and market dynamics change the where, how, and how much cannabis is produced in California.
The Eel River Forum is led by CalTrout and comprised of 22 public agencies, tribes, non-profit conservation organizations, and other stakeholders. The Forum’s mission is 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.
CalTrout recently explored the Eel River Watershed with some of our partners, members, and Humboldt locals. We toured project sites on Strongs Creek, Rohner Creek, and Howe Creek (all tributaries to the Eel River) where we are implementing fish passage, flood control, and stream restoration projects.
We were inspired to see the City of Fortuna’s work to restoring fish passage, providing quality habitat, and reducing flooding in the middle of Fortuna. From the private landowner perspective, we are glad that excellent stewards of the land like Steve Hackett are out there providing cold clean water for spawning and rearing in the lower Eel River while managing his land for sustainable grazing and timber operations. There are many challenges to getting these types of projects on the ground, but the rewards are worth it.
Many thanks to Eric Stockwell of Loleta Eric’s Guide Service for being our tour guide and thank you to the funders, local expertise, and partnerships for your dedication in providing the best possible conditions for our native and wild salmon, steelhead, and trout.
We hope you will join us for more upcoming events and at the next Watershed Tour of the Eel River Estuary this summer. Tour date to be announced.
Please sign up to not miss any future events!
More pictures of the Eel River Watershed Tour:
Photos by Mary Burke and Eric Stockwell.
We’re excited to announce our partnership with FishOn Energy Co., who have created some sweet CalTrout apparel and are graciously donating 50% of CalTrout sales to our organization. We are very grateful for their support and commitment to help recover native fish populations.
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:
CalTrout is an active supporter of Proposition 68, the California Clean Water & Safe Parks Act, as it heads toward the vote this June. As our Executive Director Curtis Knight explains, “we need this important funding to support our state’s water needs and struggling fish. This is a valuable investment in our water security.” Californians have a responsibility to act, especially since our state can no longer rely on the federal government to protect our resources.
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 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.
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: