News & Stories

  • Benbow Dam removal to be completed soon

    July 24, 2017

    The Redwood Times

    California State Parks will complete the removal of the Benbow Dam later this summer or early fall, according to a news release from the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

    Most of the above ground portion was removed last summer, but work was suspended because of earlier than expected high water flows and the potential for salmonid migration through the work site.

    Portions of the state recreation area will be inaccessible to the public as work is being done to remove the dam. The area between the day use and river will be open except for a fenced haul road located through the day use area. A stretch of gravel bar and river about a mile downstream from the day use area will be closed as will the Pioneer and Mill trails. Some areas downslope from Benbow Dam Road to the river will be closed.

    The dam removal project is funded by NOAA Fisheries and the Fish Passage Forum through the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. The goal of the project is to improve fish passage and help restore river habitat. Some planting will occur this winter with additional monitoring of the vegetation over the next few years.
     

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  • Is re-introducing steelhead trout into the Arroyo Seco another fish tale?

    July 22, 2017

    Pasadena Star News By Steve Scauzillo, San Gabriel Valley Tribune

    The list of humans who made Pasadena famous starts with the Tongva, the native people who settled near the Arroyo Seco, followed by your Eatons, Wilsons, Huntingtons, Greenes, etc.

    As for the animal that put the city on the map, the answer may surprise you.

    Many say that creature was the Southern California Steelhead, a salmon-like species that between 1850 and 1940, attracted fisherman from across the country to the San Gabriel, Los Angeles and Arroyo Seco rivers.

    But the installation of dams and other flood control devices prevented the fish from swimming upstream to spawn, severely curtailing the population to about 500 today and landing it on the endangered species list.

    The great fishing era of Pasadena and the San Gabriel Mountains ended and was forgotten for decades — until now, as efforts to restore the fish to local rivers and streams are making headway.

    Since the year 2000, historians, biologists, nonprofit groups and government agencies have focused efforts on saving the endangered fish. Scientists are studying restoration of fresh water habitats and removal of impediments that would enable a replanting in local streams, in particular, the 22-mile Arroyo Seco that winds through the Angeles National Forest, West Pasadena, La Canada Flintridge and South Pasadena until it joins the L.A. River.

    “It is no minor undertaking,” began Tom Tomlinson, a fish historian and Sierra Madre resident, while standing in the Arroyo Seco beneath the concrete arches of the 134 Freeway bridge. “In fact, re-introducing steelhead trout to this watershed for that pinnacle fish would tell you that this stream has been made safe for what (19th century fisherman and naturalist) George Frederick Holder called the magnificent fish.”

    A BYGONE ERA

    The indigenous Oncorhynchus mykiss became as famous as Pasadena’s healing climate to Holder, who came to the region in 1885 to be cured of a lung ailment. After he and others, including Charles Fletcher Lummis, a journalist and preservationist whose landmark house still stands on the bank of the Arroyo Seco, wrote about the steelhead trout in national magazines, anglers from the United States and the world came west to cast their rods in the streams of what was then called the Sierra Madre Mountains.

    According to fishing lore, at Switzer’s resort off Angeles Crest Highway, three fishermen caught 340 trout in a single day.

    But after the glorious fishing era the fish gradually began to disappear through overfishing and concretization of the rivers, including construction of the first dam in Los Angeles County, Devil’s Gate Dam in Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco.

    The mark of civilization prevented the intrepid fish from returning upstream to reproduce or swimming back down to the ocean to fatten up, dooming them to eventual extinction. Until revitalization plans began in the next century.

    A SERIOUS UNDERTAKING

    Tim Brick, managing director of the Arroyo Seco Foundation, is leading the effort to restore the Arroyo Seco and return the native trout to an upstream section above NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

    His group recently received a $50,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to determine the best stream conditions for introducing trout.

    The foundation is awaiting the final results of a 15-year ecosystem study from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers looking at the stream from the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains to the confluence with the L.A. River. One of the options includes removing miles of concrete that boxed in the Arroyo Seco and the L.A. River — done by the same entity now studying the possible removal.

    Another possibility is dismantling Brown Mountain Dam, a small dam in the Arroyo Seco which was built in 1942 by the U.S. Forest Service and was rendered useless by 1947, Brick said.

    At a recent forum in Pasadena about putting native fish back into the Arroyo Seco, the foundation’s theme set the tone: “Fish or Concrete — What’s the future?”

    While acknowledging there will be push back on any proposal to remove concrete channel walls and check dams along the more natural, upper Arroyo Seco, moving ahead would beautify Southern California and return the region to a time when fishing in local rivers was a recreational, if not spiritual activity, enjoyed by the men who founded fishing clubs and built cabins as part of their ritual.

    Scientists estimate there are 500 steelhead in the ocean, perhaps near Alamitos Bay in Long Beach, that want to swim return up the L.A. River to the Arroyo Seco but are blocked by concrete channels and dams.

    “They are looking for streams to come back. Of course, it would require fixing the L.A. River and the Arroyo Seco,” he said. “We believe there are rainbow trout still in the Arroyo Seco. There are a couple of dark canyons that have them.”

    STARTING WITH RAINBOW TROUT

    Fish biologists would start by taking rainbow trout grown in fisheries to the Arroyo Seco. Rainbow trout are cousins of the steelhead. Though a salmonid species, they don’t make it back to the ocean. If they did, they would undergo a transformation that turns them into steelhead trout.

    Holder and sports fisherman Henry O’Melveny, who founded the prominent L.A. law firm O’Melveny & Myers, boasted about catching O. mykiss in the Arroyo Seco and the San Gabriel River. Holder, who spent time as curator of the American Museum of Natural History before coming to Pasadena in 1885, also advanced preservation efforts, such as introducing catch and release rules.

    “What makes the steelhead the sine qua non of fish to adore is not only that they can spawn a number of times, but in the Southern California range, they are extraordinarily adaptable,” Tomlinson said. Some may stay in the fresh-water streams and survive. Others may live in brackish, ocean waters.

    “So that would be a truncated version of what this magnificent creature could do,” he said.

    STEELHEAD TROUT 2.0

    When Aquatic Scientist A.J. Keith examined the conditions of the Arroyo Seco last year, he found parts of a stream choked with sediment from the 2009 Station Fire, which burned 160,577 acres above Pasadena and Sunland. Other sections were described as having “good aquatic habitat conditions” and “in relatively good condition.”

    In fact, water temperatures south of Devil’s Gate were the coolest of any of the 11 other streams he studied in the L.A. basin, Keith said. Cooler waters are key to the survival of rainbow and steelhead trout.

    “Can native fish survive here? Yes. Do they need our help? Yes,” he said, concluding his presentation at the forum last week.

    His colleague at Stillwater Sciences in Los Angeles, Wendy Katagi, agreed that transplanting these top of the food chain fish into the Arroyo Seco was doable.

    Katagi’s conclusion is partly based on a successful reintroduction of 300 arroyo chub, a much smaller native fish, into the central Arroyo Seco in 2007. They did thrive but may have been wiped out by the Station Fire, she said.

    “We don’t know if the arroyo chub were able to hang on. Regardless, we are seeing great habitat and the re-introduction of native fish is definitely feasible,” she concluded.
    Scientists like Katagi and Keith are buoyed by the efforts of the National Marine Fisheries Service, which published a 560-page document, called “The Southern California Steelhead Recovery Plan,” in 2012. It lays out steps toward stream restoration and recovery of the nearly extinct fish.

    Also, last year’s healthy winter rains may have helped the existing native fish population.

    Brick said engineers and government agencies must find more sustainable flood control methods that include biological protections.

    “With a little bit of engineering, they can engineer a way that the trout can get through Devil’s Gate Dam,” Brick said.

    Other problems include lack of water in the stream. The city of Pasadena has proposed diverting more water from the upper Arroyo Seco to augment its drinking water supplies.

    Agencies, such as the State Water Resources Control Board and local cities that have water rights, would have to make a choice between protecting fish and increasing water supplies.

    Striking a balance is key, Brick said, even though he’d choose fish over concrete.

    “We would all be a lot richer if there were fish in the Arroyo Seco. And it is good to have a goal like the steelhead,” he said.

    Read the article at the source »

  • Ocean fishing, salmon data and more discussed in Yurok

    July 20, 2017

    Siskiyou Daily News By David Smith

    Editor’s note: This is part two of a series of articles on a meeting between members of the Yurok Tribe and the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday regarding salmon.

    The discussion between the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors and Yurok Tribe representatives on Tuesday involved a great deal of data – and what might be done with it to inform efforts to restore salmon populations in the Klamath River system.

    Yurok Fisheries Program Manager Dave Hillemeier shared a slide show presentation during the meeting, covering a wide array of Klamath salmon data, including departing juveniles, estimates on how many salmon of each age class are in the ocean, and how many adults return to spawn in a given year.

    Board Chair Michael Kobseff, echoing concerns he voiced before State Water Board and State Water Resources Control Board representatives last week, said that the county can only work with the salmon that come back to spawn. He drew attention to years where few Chinook would return, expressing his concern that if fewer salmon come back from the ocean, fewer will be produced.

    Hillemeier indicated that the problem is not that simple, starting with data that indicate that low spawner abundance can lead to high densities of smolts produced. Drawing attention to a Ricker curve – a statistical model of returning spawners versus smolts produced – he showed that smolts produced go up with the number of returning spawners only to a point, after which more spawners actually begin to produce fewer offspring.

    Hillemeier offered a number of explanations, from increased risk of disease spread where fish are clustered together to overcrowding in spawning grounds.

    He and senior Yurok biologist Mike Belchick noted that a number of factors converge to create a complex system driving Klamath fall run Chinook survival. Belchick noted that rearing and spawning habitat is crucial, but said that there can be years where freshwater survival is high and oceanic conditions lead to higher mortality, as well as the opposite. He added that there are also years where freshwater and oceanic conditions are poor – which can have long-term repercussions, given the nature of the Chinook life cycle.

    Klamath fall run Chinook typically stay in the ocean for three, four or five years, and then return to their streams of origin to spawn. Because of that, if one year’s class of spawners has poor productivity, or if ocean conditions lead to high mortality, low salmon counts may not manifest until at least three years later.

    Seeking information on oceanic and in-river conditions that can harm populations, members of the board floated a number of questions for the tribal members in attendance.

    Kobseff asked for information about commercial fishing along the Pacific coast, specifically with regard to foreign fishing vessels.

    Hillemeier called attention to 1976′s Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which extended U.S. jurisdiction to 200 nautical miles off American shores. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, prior to the act, foreign vessels could conduct commercial fishing within 12 nautical miles of U.S. shores.

    Kobseff asked about impacts from Japan’s fleet of commercial vessels – in particular, he called attention to the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan and wiped out most of the country’s fishing industry and the large return of Klamath fall run Chinook in that same time frame.

    Hillemeier noted that the Japanese fleet has not typically caught Klamath Chinook ever since the Magnuson-Stevens Act was passed, given that Chinook from the Klamath do not typically stray beyond the act’s 200 mile boundary.

    Other questions about impacts and possible solutions were also discussed, including the use of hatcheries and the impacts of the Yurok Tribe’s commercial gill netting.

    A data gap
    Much of Tuesday’s discussion at the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors meeting focused on salmon data, but one gap in this year’s data will be outmigrating juveniles from the Scott River.

    According to county staff and the supervisors themselves, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife did not operate its rotary screw trap – which allows the counting of outmigrants – on the Scott this year, and the agency had failed to notify the county until it was too late.

    Board Chair Michael Kobseff noted that, with notification, the county likely would have offered assistance with operating the trap, much like what happened on the Shasta River - where a nonprofit stepped forward to fund the operation of that river’s trap this year.

    The board met with CDFW representatives earlier this year to share the county's frustrations.

    Read the article at the source »

  • Ocean fishing, salmon data and more discussed in Yurok

    July 20, 2017

    Siskiyou Daily News By David Smith

    Editor’s note: This is part two of a series of articles on a meeting between members of the Yurok Tribe and the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday regarding salmon. Part three will be featured in Friday’s edition of the Siskiyou Daily News.

    The discussion between the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors and Yurok Tribe representatives on Tuesday involved a great deal of data – and what might be done with it to inform efforts to restore salmon populations in the Klamath River system.

    Yurok Fisheries Program Manager Dave Hillemeier shared a slide show presentation during the meeting, covering a wide array of Klamath salmon data, including departing juveniles, estimates on how many salmon of each age class are in the ocean, and how many adults return to spawn in a given year.

    Board Chair Michael Kobseff, echoing concerns he voiced before State Water Board and State Water Resources Control Board representatives last week, said that the county can only work with the salmon that come back to spawn. He drew attention to years where few Chinook would return, expressing his concern that if fewer salmon come back from the ocean, fewer will be produced.

    Hillemeier indicated that the problem is not that simple, starting with data that indicate that low spawner abundance can lead to high densities of smolts produced. Drawing attention to a Ricker curve – a statistical model of returning spawners versus smolts produced – he showed that smolts produced go up with the number of returning spawners only to a point, after which more spawners actually begin to produce fewer offspring.

    Hillemeier offered a number of explanations, from increased risk of disease spread where fish are clustered together to overcrowding in spawning grounds.

    He and senior Yurok biologist Mike Belchick noted that a number of factors converge to create a complex system driving Klamath fall run Chinook survival. Belchick noted that rearing and spawning habitat is crucial, but said that there can be years where freshwater survival is high and oceanic conditions lead to higher mortality, as well as the opposite. He added that there are also years where freshwater and oceanic conditions are poor – which can have long-term repercussions, given the nature of the Chinook life cycle.

    Klamath fall run Chinook typically stay in the ocean for three, four or five years, and then return to their streams of origin to spawn. Because of that, if one year’s class of spawners has poor productivity, or if ocean conditions lead to high mortality, low salmon counts may not manifest until at least three years later.

    Seeking information on oceanic and in-river conditions that can harm populations, members of the board floated a number of questions for the tribal members in attendance.

    Kobseff asked for information about commercial fishing along the Pacific coast, specifically with regard to foreign fishing vessels.

    Hillemeier called attention to 1976′s Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which extended U.S. jurisdiction to 200 nautical miles off American shores. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, prior to the act, foreign vessels could conduct commercial fishing within 12 nautical miles of U.S. shores.

    Kobseff asked about impacts from Japan’s fleet of commercial vessels – in particular, he called attention to the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan and wiped out most of the country’s fishing industry and the large return of Klamath fall run Chinook in that same time frame.

    Hillemeier noted that the Japanese fleet has not typically caught Klamath Chinook ever since the Magnuson-Stevens Act was passed, given that Chinook from the Klamath do not typically stray beyond the act’s 200 mile boundary.

    Other questions about impacts and possible solutions were also discussed, including the use of hatcheries and the impacts of the Yurok Tribe’s commercial gill netting.

    A data gap
    Much of Tuesday’s discussion at the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors meeting focused on salmon data, but one gap in this year’s data will be outmigrating juveniles from the Scott River.

    According to county staff and the supervisors themselves, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife did not operate its rotary screw trap – which allows the counting of outmigrants – on the Scott this year, and the agency had failed to notify the county until it was too late.

    Board Chair Michael Kobseff noted that, with notification, the county likely would have offered assistance with operating the trap, much like what happened on the Shasta River - where a nonprofit stepped forward to fund the operation of that river’s trap this year.

    The board met with CDFW representatives earlier this year to share the county’s frustrations.

    Read the article at the source »

  • Water Wars Loom As State Plans to Boost Streamflow for Imperiled Fish/

    July 18, 2017

    KQED/Water Deeply By Matt Weiser

    On the heels of of the worst drought in California history, state officials are telling water users in the San Joaquin River basin to give up a major share of their water supplies—permanently.

    The timing, in some ways, couldn’t be worse for farmers who struggled through the drought. On the other hand, the time is right for imperiled salmon that live in the river and its tributaries. This iconic species may not survive the next drought without more water.

    The State Water Resources Control Board announced in September that it plans to return the San Joaquin River to 40 percent of its “unimpaired flow.” This means the amount of water that would naturally flow through the river without existing dams and diversions.

    The goal, according to the water board, is to rebalance water demand on the state’s second-largest river. Policy and practice have long favored human water consumption over water quality and wildlife like Chinook salmon, a species in a steep decline for decades.

    The board plans a similar process for the Sacramento River, the state’s largest river.

    “We recognize this is very hard to do,” said Les Grober, the water board’s deputy director for water rights. “We just have to be smarter about how water is used overall.”

    To reach the 40 percent goal on the San Joaquin River, hundreds of companies and individuals will have to give up a portion of their right to divert water from the river and three of its tributaries: the Tuolumne, Stanislaus and Merced rivers. The biggest water users are farms and irrigation districts, who use the water to grow crops like almonds, cherries, peaches, apples and tomatoes.

    Major municipalities will also be affected, including San Francisco, which diverts water from the Tuolumne River.

    The water board has the legal authority to take back water rights when public trust resources, like Chinook salmon populations, are threatened. But it has rarely exercised that authority, partly because to do so requires long and painful deliberations that are likely to result in litigation.

    The board’s process is effectively a water-quality action: The board is proclaiming that streamflows aren’t sufficient to keep water temperatures cold enough for salmon survival.

    In fact, the federal Clean Water Act requires the water board to review streamflows every three years to maintain healthy water quality. The state water board holds this responsibility under a custodial arrangement with the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

    In the case of the San Joaquin River, the board is 20 years late reviewing streamflows: They have not been comprehensively updated since 1995. As part of the water quality plan it adopted that year, the water board also set a goal to double salmon populations, a target that has never been achieved.

    Supporters of flow increases note that the San Joaquin River today is routinely far below the 40 percent target – sometimes near zero. In many of its reaches, the river becomes a series of stagnant pools for weeks or months at a time.

    “The board’s ability to revise water rights in order to rebalance the system and protect public interests is very powerful,” said Doug Obegi, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Significantly more water is going to be required to achieve the salmon doubling goal.”

    The water board acknowledges that the 40 percent goal is a compromise. Recent studies have shown salmon actually need 60 percent, including a 2013 “flow criteria” report by the board itself, and analysis that same year by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

    But Grober said 40 percent acknowledges that river flows must continue serving multiple purposes in the 21st century. So it has called for a range of 30–50 percent of unimpaired flow, with 40 percent as an interim target.

    “If you were only considering protection of fish, you’d of course be at the upper end of that range,” Grober said. “The measure isn’t adopting an objective that provides absolute protection, but what is the number that reasonably protects fish and wildlife.”

    To those who have to give up water, however, the number isn’t reasonable at all.

    “It will have enormous economic consequences,” said Jake Wenger, general manager of Modesto Irrigation District. “During a dry year, we would essentially have no water.”

    Wenger’s district serves about 100,000 acres of farmland with water diverted from the Tuolumne River. It stores much of that water in Don Pedro Reservoir, which it owns jointly with Turlock Irrigation District and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

    The water board has received more than 20,000 comment letters from supporters and opponents of the flow increase measure. While many of these are form letters generated by interest groups, Grober said “thousands” are unique letters sent by individuals.

    The water board staff is in the process of reviewing all these comments, and will then prepare a revised proposal for the board to vote on by the end of this year.

    Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts estimate the streamflow revisions could cost their region $1.6 billion in economic output. They launched a website, WorthYourFight.org, to rally support for their cause.

    Wenger is critical of the state’s proposal, he said, because it requires the 40 percent unimpaired flow target to be met continuously between February and June of every year.

    “That means you’re putting a lot of water downstream when fish are not present,” he said. “Whereas the state’s plan is sort of a shotgun approach, we’re proposing a sniper approach.”

    Wenger says his district is willing to give up some water for what he calls “functional flows.” This means releasing water for instream habitat when monitoring shows salmon are actually present in the river. This ensures the water will be there when fish need it for migrating and spawning, and won’t require farmers and others to give up so much water.

    The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission supports this approach, as well. The agency delivers water not just to San Franciscans, but also as a wholesaler to several other Bay Area cities. This water comes from Sierra snowmelt in the Tuolumne River that is stored in Hetch Hetchy and Don Pedro reservoirs.

    Steve Ritchie, the commission’s assistant general manager for water, said the hit to his agency could be even worse than the water board has estimated because of contract language between San Francisco and the Turlock and Modesto Irrigation districts. The contract, which involves their partnership to operate Don Pedro Reservoir, may require San Francisco to absorb 52 percent of any required streamflow increases.

    As a result, Ritchie said San Francisco could be required to build 900,000 acre-feet of new water storage to make up for the proposed streamflow losses. To put that in perspective, 900,000 acre-feet is nearly triple the capacity of its existing Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

    It could also require the city to impose conservation measures “that we just wouldn’t be able to achieve,” Ritchie said. That’s because San Franciscans are already the state’s water conservation leaders. Their daily water consumption during the drought fell to just 41 gallons per person, the lowest in the state.

    “How low can you go when you are the lowest? It’s a real issue when you are already that efficient,” Ritchie said. “We would have to generate some new water.”

    San Francisco says “functional flows” would ease the pain by ordering more water only when and where needed, not all the time.

    “We know we have to give up some water,” Ritchie said. “But the state board proposal really doesn’t work for us.”

    Grober counters that the state’s proposal accomplishes something similar. By phrasing the flow increases as a percentage of unimpaired flow, it is naturally flexible. Water users would be required to give up a percentage that varies according to the season and according to the presence or absence of drought.

    Obegi, the environmental attorney, notes that continuous flow increases over a period of months is important because more than salmon need that water. More flow boosts the food chain, helping to breed aquatic insects that salmon and other species depend on, and it sustains plants that create vital riparian shade in the scorching San Joaquin Valley.

    “Rather than prescribing specific flows for all different times and places, it’s really providing a budget of water – an account of water that can be used to best provide the benefits to fish and wildlife,” Grober said. “We’re not locked into a set flow objective.”

    Adjusting water rights in the traditional manner requires the board to start a complicated adjudication process. This is similar to a court proceeding in which the board functions like a panel of judges, hearing testimony as water users summon witnesses.

    It is tedious and time consuming: Resolving all the water rights to increase streamflow could take years.

    In hopes of a faster result, Grober said the state is “vigorously” encouraging water users to offer settlements as an alternative to simply taking back water rights.

    A settlement would make streamflow improvements happen much faster. Water users would voluntarily enter into a binding agreement to give up some lesser amount of water in addition to making other habitat improvements, such as controlling invasive species and restoring streambed spawning gravels.

    To push the process along, the state brought in a high-powered mediator: Bruce Babbitt, the former U.S. Interior Department secretary under President Clinton. Babbitt has been holding a series of closed-door meetings among the parties in hopes of reaching settlements between water users, environmental groups and state officials.

    Participants were required to sign a confidentiality agreement, so little information is available about how the talks are proceeding. But word is that the parties remain far apart.

    Some environmental groups, for example, view the state’s 40 percent unimpaired flow target as a starting point, and they want to see an even higher number in any negotiated settlement. Water users, of course, want less than 40 percent – a lot less, in some cases.

    If they can’t reach a settlement, the water board is expected to adopt a new flow requirement by the end of this year. Then it would move into an adjudication process to actually begin amending water rights to make the flow increases happen.

    This is likely to bring separate lawsuits from water users, which would further delay any streamflow improvements.

    “Essentially, you have this piano hanging over your head with someone waiting to cut the string,” said Wenger. “We have a lot of hope that we can move these settlement talks along.”

    Read the article at the source »

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