Regulators must do everything possible to ensure that rivers below dams are cold enough for salmon to survive.
Last summer and fall, the vast majority of endangered juvenile chinook salmon in the Sacramento River were killed by deadly hot river temperatures, while a handful of farmers got the lion’s share water available. This was made possible by the water rules established in the 19and century before salmon were regularly threatened by drought and overheated rivers.
Many fall run salmon from the Sacramento River — the backbone of California’s billion-dollar salmon fishing industry — were also lost in the warm waters. The same was true for a significant number of endangered spring-run salmon. A recent announcement from the Federal Bureau of Reclamation suggests that a repeat of fish kills is likely this year unless we do something different.
Immediate action is to move the salmon to cooler waters.
Central Valley salmon are currently restricted to the remaining 10% of their historical habitat below the dams at the bottom of the valley. But that’s where the water gets hot. To deal with climate change, regulators must do all they can to cool rivers below dams enough for salmon to survive. They must also give the four Central Valley salmon runs access to habitat at higher elevations, above dams, in reliable cold water reaches of the river.
It should start with the winter run salmon returning to their native McCloud River – and the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. This reintroduction has been stalled for years.
On the Feather River, that means moving beyond an agreement made 15 years ago but never implemented. In 2007, the Feather River Habitat Expansion Agreement was negotiated around a simple idea.
Rather than returning spring chinook salmon – listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act – to the upper Feather River, the Department of Water Resources and Pacific Gas and Electric Co., who own the dams on the Feather River, agreed to restore suitable spring run habitat below the dams. Since DWR and PG&E have failed, the National Marine Fisheries Service should use its authority to compel parties to move adult salmon over dams and trap and bring their offspring downstream.
This can’t happen soon enough, given that the National Marine Fisheries Service is considering reclassifying the spring run as endangered, instead of threatened, due to the growing threats they face.
There are similar successful reintroduction models in Oregon and Washington that California can build on. This approach has been adopted by leaders of state and federal fisheries agencies. After 15 years of blockages on the Feather River, it’s time to act.
Other opportunities for salmon to expand their spawning habitat include the Eel River, where the Scott Dam blocking unwanted PG&E salmon is expected to come out. Small, outdated dams on Battle Creek that PG&E owns, but no longer wants, should also come out, allowing the natural spawning of several runs of salmon in this cold water creek.
On Putah Creek, a diversion channel is needed to allow fish to swim around a small salmon-killing dam. On the Yuba River, the US Army Corps of Engineers should allow spring and fall run salmon to pass the Englebright Dam to reach upstream habitat.
These effective ideas for expanding salmon habitat aren’t new, but they’ve been stalled or overlooked for years. The health of our salmon runs, our rivers, and the California salmon fishing industry compels us to advance these blocked opportunities to improve the climate resilience of salmon.
John McManus also wrote about balance the pain of dryness on farmers and fishermen fairly and that Governor Gavin Newsom must lead state agencies to counter Trump administration attack on california environment.