News & Stories

  • Saving Salmon from Drought Ravaged Waters

    April 3, 2014

    Millionaire Corner By Ken McDill

    California farmers get a lot of attention because of the damage being caused by the long-standing drought the state is suffering, but there are people doing what they can to save another key California industry.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife are overseeing a transfer of millions of juvenile Chinook salmon from live hatcheries to waterways where they can get to the ocean and avoid the drought-ravaged rivers they would usually travel on. Starting in late March and running through June, approximately 30 million fish will be transported by tanker truck to the town of Rio Vista in California’s Central Valley, where they will be dropped into the Sacramento River and urged to head out to the ocean to begin their next natural life cycle.

    The tanker trucks are climate controlled and the water inside is the temperature of the water in the river. The experiment began on March 25 and will continue for more than two months. An estimated 30 million salmon will be transported, according to state and federal officials.

    The fish would usually make the 270-mile voyage from their home at the area hatcheries to the ocean, but too many of the tributaries required for the trip are dried due to continued drought conditions.

    Topics: drought

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  • Broken Pumps Lead to 175 Endangered Steelhead Deaths

    March 27, 2014

    Santa Barbara Independent By Nick Welsh

    In the past year, 175 steelhead trout — a federally endangered species — died in Hilton Creek, a tributary of the Santa Ynez River, when pumps operated by the federal Bureau of Reclamation that feed water into the creek as part of a steelhead restoration effort failed to function properly and left the fish stranded in the mud. Another 65 steelhead were rescued, according to Randy Ward of the Cachuma Operations and Maintenance Board at this week’s board meeting.

    On March 1, the pumps failed at 3 a.m., but Bureau employees were reportedly prohibited from stepping foot on the barge where the pumps are located until daylight. Ward said his employees scrambled to fill the breach, noting that the early March rains saved hundred of fish from otherwise certain death.

    Ward said there were seven pump malfunctions in the past year. In that time, Ward said the Bureau was required to have a back-up pump, but failed to do so. Likewise, he said the Bureau has failed to make necessary repairs to the existing pump.

    Hilton Creek has long been one of the showcase channels in which steelhead restoration efforts have taken place. Over the years, water agency managers have grumbled about having to release water for the fish, particularly when it’s been in short supply for South Coast consumers. “At this point, we’re squeezing the rag to get a few drops out,” Ward said.

    Efforts to contact the Bureau of Reclamation proved unsuccessful by deadline. The National Marine Fisheries Service, which enforces the Endangered Species Act as it applies to steelhead, has been investigating the matter.

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  • Growers of thirsty pot are under fire in drought-struck California

    March 26, 2014

    Bellingham Herald By Rob Hotakainen 

    — In drought-hit California, marijuana growers are feeling the heat, accused of using too much water for their thirsty plants and of polluting streams and rivers with their pesticides and fertilizers.

    State officials say a pot plant sucks up an average of 6 gallons of water per day, worsening a shortage caused by one of the biggest droughts on record. They say the situation is particularly acute along California’s North Coast, where the growing pressure to irrigate pot threatens salmon and other fish.

    “This industry – and it is an industry – is completely unregulated,” said Scott Bauer, a fisheries biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “What I just hope is that the watersheds don’t go up in smoke before we get things regulated and protect our fish and wildlife.”

    California is also the most popular state for pot producers to grow crops in U.S. forests, accounting for 86 percent of the nearly 1 million plants federal officials seized in 2012.

    “Those are lands that you and I own,” said Rep. Mike Thompson, a California Democrat. “And when people are growing dope there and guarding their operations with guns and the likes, and sometimes with booby traps, we can’t use the land that we own. It happens all over.”

    The situation is a complicated one in California, which passed the nation’s first medical marijuana law in 1996, allowing people to possess and grow pot, even though the federal government still bans the drug.

    Medical growers who tend their crops on private property object to getting lumped in with the illegal growers who are trespassing on federal lands.

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  • Truckin': Salmon Take A Long, Strange Trip To The Pacific Ocean

    March 26, 2014

    OPB News, By Richard Gonzales

    In California, severe drought has imperiled millions of juvenile salmon who now face waters too dry to let them make their usual spawning trip to the ocean. So state and federal officials have embarked on a drastic plan to save them – by letting them hitch a ride on tanker trucks.

    Over the next two and a half months, some 30 million Chinook salmon will be trucked from five hatcheries in the state’s Central Valley to waters where they can make their way to the ocean.

    The trucking experiment formally kicked off Tuesday, when some 400,000 smolt – juvenile salmon about 3 to 4 inches long — hitched a ride on climate-controlled tankers from the Coleman National hatchery near Red Bluff to the Sacramento River, in the delta town of Rio Vista. A roughly 100-foot-long pipe then funneled the fish from the truck into a series of floating holding pens in the water.

    “If we don’t get any rain this year, the river may become too low, too slow and too clear,” Clarke says, “so that the fish would face too warm temperatures and too much predation.” The little guys wouldn’t make it, he says.

    These are certainly extreme measures, says Stafford Lehr, the chief of fisheries for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, but drought has left officials with little choice.

    “We are not necessarily in favor of trucking 100 percent of our fish,” he says. “So we would prefer to find other means to release these [salmon], to improve their homing ability to get back to their natal streams.”

    Officials worry that this hitch-hike for the fish will disrupt their ability to “imprint.” That refers to the process by which the fish learn the location of their home waters so that they can return there from the ocean in three or four years in order to spawn.

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  • Finley Creek

    March 17, 2014

     I walked the upper reach of Finley Creek from the limits of anadromy halfway to the confluence with Salmon Creek a few days after the epic 12.5" two-day event. With me was Doug Hooper, a former fisheries biologist. Turbidity limited visibility a bit, but we counted eight large (22-30+") steelhead and one coho—they all looked female. The coho had a bright pink tag on her upper left side by the dorsal fin, and her tail was mostly white. I haven't seen a redd and so didn't know what to look for, but Doug didn't see any either. Over the next couple weeks, I checked in on the fish nearest the trail down, and they all stayed put.

    Topics: blog