News & Stories

  • Salmon Release Planned for Bodega Bay

    February 9, 2017

    Klamath Falls Herald and News

    Transported by truck from the hatchery where they were raised, young salmon are released into a coastal pen before being set loose into the Pacific to feed and grow. This practice will be introduced in Bodega Bay in May.

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  • Court orders extra water to protect salmon

    February 9, 2017

    Klamath Falls Herald and News By Gerry O’Brien H&N Editor

    A U.S. District Court judge in San Francisco ordered federal agencies Wednesday to take steps to protect juvenile Coho salmon after several years of deadly disease outbreaks in the lower Klamath River.

    Klamath River Coho salmon are listed as threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act.

    The Yurok Tribe, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Klamath Riverkeeper and the Hoopa Valley Tribe sought a court order to compel the Bureau of Reclamation to manage river flows to protect juvenile Coho salmon. The case was heard last week.

    “Mismanagement of Klamath River flows below four major dams led to an outbreak of disease from a parasite called C. shasta in more than 90 percent of sampled juvenile salmon in 2015 and nearly that many in 2014,” according to a press release from

    “These fish are central to the cultural identity and survival of tribal nations along the river, and commercial fishermen rely on California’s second largest salmon producer for their livelihoods.”

    Withholding irrigation water

    According to court documents, the defendants claim the proposed flows will require withholding more than 100,000 acre-feet of water from the irrigation districts that rely on water for agriculture in the Klamath Basin.

    The Klamath Water Users and the Klamath Irrigation District, and others on the project, filed as intervenors on behalf of the federal agencies in the case.

    Scott White, director for the Klamath Water Users Association, said he had not seen the order yet, but bemoaned the fact that the issue was not resolved at the negotiating table.

    “It is my understanding that the federal parties are already discussing how to implement the judge’s order,” White said Wednesday.

    “What is unfortunate is that we are currently looking at an above average water year and discussing what a limited allocation to family farmers and ranchers would look like,” White said. “What a tragic ending to what once was a special and meaningful story of collaboration and concord.”

    A spokesperson for the Bureau’s area office in Klamath Falls said staff is reviewing the ruling and will comment later this week.

    Irreparable harm

    In his 53-page order, Judge William Orrick found that the Bureau’s operation of the Klamath Project is causing irreparable harm to the salmon and the Yurok Tribe and fishing families, and that the water levels also appear favorable this year for the mitigation flows needed to reduce that harm.

    He found that, based on the best available science, “Plaintiffs have demonstrated that flushing flows and emergency dilution flows would reduce C. shasta rates among Coho salmon. There is no meaningful dispute among the parties on this point.”

    He rejected pleas for delay to consider more evidence, stating, “Where plaintiffs have shown a threat of imminent harm to Coho salmon, waiting for perfect science is not appropriate.”

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  • Federal judge orders agencies to create new flow plan to protect Klamath River fish

    February 9, 2017

    Eureka Times Standard by Will Houston (Jim Milbury)

    A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and National Marine Fisheries Service this week to develop new flow plans to prevent future outbreaks of parasitic diseases in threatened Klamath River fish.

    The order comes after nearly nine months of litigation filed by local Native American tribes, environmental groups and fishing organizations, which claimed the two federal agencies violated the Endangered Species Act by allowing high numbers of juvenile fish to become infected by the intestinal parasite known as Ceratanova shasta.

    “This decision is a win for the tribe and all communities that depend on Klamath salmon,” Hoopa Valley Tribe Chairman Ryan Jackson said in a Wednesday statement.

    U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick ordered that the dam-controlling Bureau of Reclamation release both preventative flows from its dams on the river in winter and spring to flush out the parasite while also providing emergency flow releases should infection rates of juvenile Coho salmon exceed 30 percent. These emergency flows would be used between April and June 15, according to the order.

    “Plaintiffs’ requested flows are supported by the best available science and are likely to reduce C. shasta rates,” Orrick wrote in his Wednesday order. “Given the complexity of the Klamath Project, and the potential harm to endangered sucker fish, the parties’ technical experts will need to determine the precise details of a preliminary injunctive flow plan.”

    The tribes, federal agencies and environmental groups were also ordered to develop new flow plans and submit them to the court by March 9.

    Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Wilbert Louis Moore stated that the agency is still in the process of reviewing the order.

    “We are aware of the order, but we are reviewing everything right now to determine what it is,” he said. “We will comply with the law as we always do. It’s so fresh that we have to figure out its meaning.”

    National Marine Fisheries Service spokesman Jim Milbury echoed Moore’s statements.

    With Klamath and Trinity River tribes having just experienced one of their lowest salmon runs in recent memory last year, Hoopa Valley Tribal Fisheries Director Mike Orcutt said the new flow plans will improve the natural hydrology of the river.

    “Given the poor runs in recent years, this will provide a much needed rebalancing of water towards the needs of the fish,” Orcutt said in a Wednesday statement.

    The Hoopa Valley Tribe filed the lawsuit against the two federal agencies in July 2016 after parasitic infection rates of juvenile Coho salmon, which are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, rose as high as 90 percent in 2014 and 2015.

    The Yurok Tribe, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association, the Institute for Fisheries Resources and Klamath Riverkeeper filed a second lawsuit against the agencies in December.

    Under a 2013 National Marine Fisheries Service’s biological opinion, up to 49 percent of surveyed juvenile salmon on the Klamath River can be infected by the intestinal parasite as a result of the Bureau of Reclamation’s dam operations. Should the infection rates climb above 49 percent, the Bureau of Reclamation is obligated to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service to discuss possible changes of operations.

    The bureau did consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service, but the service stated in a letter to the bureau that these high infection rates are “expected” during dry years and that no changes in operation were necessary.

    In his order, Orrick dismissed one of the Hoopa Valley Tribe’s claims that the National Marine Fisheries Service unlawfully allowed threatened Coho salmon to be severely injured or killed by the parasite in 2014 and 2015. Orrick stated that the service is not responsible for controlling dam water releases and therefore the agency’s actions “do not directly lead to the ‘taking’ of any species.”

    However, Orrick did find there was sufficient evidence that the bureau’s actions did result in harm to the threatened fish.

    Infection rates for juvenile Coho salmon were 48 percent — 1 percent below the maximum allowance — in the much more wet year of 2016, which Orrick stated “is not particularly comforting.”

    “And, given the three-year lifespan of the Coho salmon, the failure to protect them this year could cause irreparable harm,” Orrick wrote. “Plaintiffs have made a strong showing that infection rates are likely to exceed the incidental take statement’s 49 percent trigger in 2017 if the Bureau continues to operate the Klamath Project in accordance with the 2013 (biological opinion’s) minimum flows.”

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  • California races to rescue fish caught in muddy waters beneath fractured Oroville Dam spillway

    February 9, 2017

    Sacramento Bee by Ryan Sabalow, Dale Kasler and Philip Reese

    OROVILLE — With a break in the weather and increased outflow from Oroville Dam’s heavily damaged spillway, state officials said Friday morning they no longer believe the swollen reservoir will breach the dam’s emergency spillway.

    After a grim assessment late Thursday, officials announced Friday morning they think they can avoid using the dam's emergency spillway, which they've been working feverishly to avoid. The emergency structure feeds into an unlined ravine, and the water would propel soil, trees and other debris into the Feather River.

    The announcement came after William Croyle, director of the state Department of Water Resources, told reporters Thursday evening that water levels in Lake Oroville could reach the brim sometime Saturday, forcing activation of the emergency spillway. The emergency system, which has never been used, would dump water onto an exposed hillside, dislodging trees and earthen debris into the Feather River and potentially affect communities downstream.

    If the emergency spillway has to be used, “you’re going to get a lot of debris and erosion,” Croyle said.

    The cavernous fracture in the dam’s main spillway continued to grow Thursday, splitting the massive flood-control structure in two and sending a powerful rush of sediment and debris into the Feather River that threatened the lives of millions of fish at a principal downstream hatchery.

    The dam was releasing about 40,000 cubic feet of water per second Thursday afternoon, Croyle said, including about 35,000 cfs from the damaged main spillway. But that was not enough to compensate for the 190,000 cfs pouring into the reservoir from continued storms in the vast Sierra Nevada watershed that feeds the Feather River and its tributaries.

    “This storm came in a little warmer, a little wetter,” he said.

    DWR spokesman Eric See said late Thursday that engineers had ramped up releases at the main spillway to 42,000 cubic feet of water per second, an increase of about 7,000 cfs. That put total releases, including water pouring out of the dam's power plant, to nearly 50,000 cfs.

    In addition, See said officials were working on a plan to increase releases from the power plant, which has been running below its maximum.

    Use of the emergency spillway could be avoided if the rain stops, or officials are able to ramp up water releases from the damaged main spillway to bring down lake levels, he said.

    The damaged spillway sits beside the main earthen dam that holds back Lake Oroville, the state’s second largest reservoir and a central piece of California’s government-run water delivery network. The dam can store 3.5 million acre-feet of water, which is divvied out through the year for farming and drinking water needs across great stretches of California. Much of Southern California’s drinking water is stored in the reservoir.

    The dam also is a critical piece of the state’s flood-control infrastructure, protecting downstream communities including Oroville, Marysville and Sacramento. The spillway is generally operational only in the rainy season, as a flood-control outlet. Routine water deliveries flow through a power plant at the dam.

    DWR officials acknowledged that continued use of the cracked main spillway would cause additional erosion, and might well wipe out the entire bottom half of the structure. As it was, the two test runs held Wednesday roughly doubled the size of the crater that was discovered in the spillway Tuesday, to the point that it severed the concrete, side to side, into two halves.

    Kevin Dossey, a DWR engineer, said the department thinks the upper portion of the spillway sits on a layer of solid bedrock. That means officials should be able to continue using the chute without causing serious erosion in the upper reaches, where the spillway gates could be compromised.

    “It’s going to continue to chew down,” he said, but “they are very confident it won’t continue to erode to a point of danger.”

    As the Feather River below the spillway turned brown with silt, staff with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife raced to transport by truck 4 million baby salmon from a downstream hatchery, fearing they would die in the thick, muddy waters.

    “They have turbidity in the river like they’ve never seen before,” said Harry Morse, a spokesman for the department. Turbidity refers to how cloudy the water is. Morse said the hatchery has no method of filtering water as brown as it was Thursday.

    Morse said hatchery officials were concerned by the looming possibility of more earth and debris washing into the Feather River should Lake Oroville fill to the point that water would rush uncontrolled over the emergency spillway on the north side of the dam. Work crews from Cal Fire and other agencies were busy chopping down trees in the ravine below the emergency spillway to reduce the amount of debris that would flow into the river if it is triggered.

    “Our goal is to get that ravine cleared out,” said Russ Fowler, a Cal Fire battalion chief.

    At the fish hatchery just below the dam – one of a handful the state counts on to sustain its $1.4 billion commercial and recreational fishing industries – 4 million salmon were being trucked to holding ponds adjacent to the nearby Thermalito complex, a system of downstream reservoirs. Those ponds would be safe from the cloudy water conditions, Morse said.

    That represents just half the baby fish at the hatchery. Morse said the Thermalito facility can’t accommodate all the fish at risk, so more than 4 million will remain in the hatchery while filtration experts try to devise a solution.

    Each year the Feather River Hatchery releases 7 million baby salmon into the Central Valley’s waterways. Last March, state officials estimated that fish raised in the Feather River accounted for 63 percent and 76 percent of the state’s recreational and commercial ocean catches, respectively.

    “The loss of hatchery-produced salmon from Feather River Hatchery would be a major blow to salmon fishermen in California,” said John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association.

    At the hatchery Thursday, workers waded waist-deep through concrete holding ponds filled with water the color of chocolate milk. They used screens to push baby fish toward tanker trucks that would transport them a few miles southwest to Thermalito.

    Morse said that wild steelhead and salmon are spawning in the Feather River, fueling concern that sediment could overwhelm their nests and kill eggs and juvenile fish.

    While problematic for spawning fish, the sediment and debris shouldn’t significantly raise the prospects of flooding in communities downstream of the dam, said Ben Tustison, an engineer who contracts for the Central Valley Flood Control Association.

    “I don’t think there’s enough material to make a significant contribution to sediment downstream (that) would really jeopardize the capacity of the system,” he said.

    As of Thursday, state officials said they didn’t know what had caused the spillway breach, nor when they might be able to begin repairs. Eric See, a spokesman for the Department of Water Resources, said fixing the spillway could be months off, given that the top priority is using the chute to keep the reservoir from overtopping.

    “We need to keep using the spillway to evacuate water from the lake,” he said. “If the weather changes and dries out, we could potentially do a repair.”

    With heavy snowpack in the Northern Sierra, it’s possible the state will have to rely on the damaged spillway well into May, said Joe Countryman, a member of the Central Valley Flood Protection Board and a former engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

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  • Peer-reviewed study: Salmon don’t want too much water

    January 24, 2017

    The Fresnow Bee by the Editorial Board

    Salmon don’t read memos or get emails from the state Department of Water Resources, nor do they consult U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service instruction manuals. So how can they possibly know when it’s time to spawn?

    Over hundreds of thousands of years, salmon have learned to “read” signals that nature provides and only they truly understand. Those signals tell them when it’s time to swim upstream.

    A group of FishBio scientists working on the Stanislaus River have crunched 11 years of meticulously kept data to better understand those signals. FishBio concluded that, using “adaptive management” techniques, government regulators often sent the wrong signals. In fact, their efforts were sometimes counterproductive in helping salmon populations recover.


    Why? Because more water does not equal more fish. This is something federal biologists should consider as they reintroduce salmon in the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam.

    In a peer-reviewed study published this week, FishBio looked at river conditions and flows from October through December, when the most salmon were moving up the Stanislaus River. The scientists caution against jumping to conclusions, but they say the state frequently releases too much water.

    Optimum flows to entice salmon to spawn are around 700 cubic feet per second, says the study. That’s roughly 5,100 gallons per second; a lot of water. But it’s far, far less than what the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates New Melones Dam, usually releases. In 2010, the bureau released at least three times that much for 14 straight days – exceeding 10,000 cfs (15 times the optimum) for three days.

    How much water is that? About 4.4 million gallons in a minute, enough in three hours to flood Oakdale 3 feet deep. Over the course of these “spike” flows, the bureau usually sent some 25,000 acre-feet of clear water to attract salmon that often never came.

    “If you hold (flows) up for more than a day or two, it’s not providing any benefit,” said FishBio’s Andrea Fuller, one of the authors with FishBio partner Doug Demko and staffer Matthew Peterson. “If we didn’t have the dams in place, we’d have a very flashy system – the flows would spike up to a high degree, then recede quickly. The volume of water we’re putting down in October wouldn’t have happened in even the wettest years.”

    Does this mess with the salmon’s internal signals? “Big time,” Fuller said.

    “What led to the study, (the bureau) started doing these (adaptive management) releases in the 1990s and there was an agreement that there would be an assessment to see how well they worked,” Fuller said. “But that was never done. We were left asking, ‘How did you come up with the volumes of water you think is needed?’

    “This finally gives us a study to see how the fish are responding.”

    Those who still cling to the writ of “more water equals more fish” will dispute FishBio’s studies. But the prestigious North American Journal of Fisheries Management subjected it to review by three scientists not associated with FishBio. It’s solid.

    The study doesn’t directly address the State Water Resources Control Board’s ongoing efforts to double the amount of water dedicated to environmental purposes on the Stanislaus, Merced and Tuolumne rivers. But it does argue that the state’s “adaptive management” assumptions should be subjected to close scrutiny. It should also convince the Bureau of Reclamation to reduce the water it releases each fall, meaning more would be left behind the dam in April and early May when juvenile salmon are trying to exit the river.

    FishBio’s study contains some very important signals. Not for the salmon, but for state and federal scientists. They should reconsider their positions and base their demands on the facts they find on our rivers – not disputable dogma.

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