GUEST OPINION: Removing dams is key to fish recovery
September 19, 2019
Siskiyou Daily News by Robert Lusardi, PhD
A 2017 comprehensive study of salmon, steelhead and trout in California showed that half of the steelhead and salmon populations native to the Klamath River are in danger of extinction within the next 50 years. Removing the four aging hydroelectric dams from the river would significantly improve ecological and geomorphic conditions throughout the Klamath watershed and play a key role in returning these fish to stable population levels.
Iron Gate, Copco 1, Copco 2 and JC Boyle dams create conditions that make it impossible for migratory fishes like salmon and steelhead to survive. These dams completely block passage to historical spawning and rearing habitats. The dams also increase river water temperatures and create ideal conditions for invasive species, salmon disease and the proliferation of toxic algae.
In addition, the dams impede the downstream movement of sediment and large wood, which are key drivers of salmon habitat. They also truncate numerous ecological processes and can change salmon food webs, ultimately reducing habitat suitability.
Reconnecting the Klamath River by removing these dams will provide native salmon and steelhead access to over 300 miles of historical spawning and rearing habitat. These fish are also keystone species and their return to abundance will signify the restoration of critical ecological and geomorphic processes across the Klamath watershed.
Six distinct populations of salmon and steelhead call the Klamath watershed home, and all of them are suffering from degraded habitat conditions associated with dams.
Upper Klamath-Trinity Rivers spring-run Chinook salmon face the greatest risk of extinction. These fish are currently at less than three percent of historical numbers. Blocked from the vast majority of their spawning and rearing habitat, they are extremely vulnerable to stressors including climate change and drought.
Southern Oregon-Northern California Coast Coho salmon are also in critical condition, with a population decline of 95 percent since the 1960s. Perhaps not coincidentally, Iron Gate Dam, which completely blocks passage to cold-water spawning and rearing habitats, opened in 1964.
Klamath Mountains Province summer steelhead mature in fresh water and rely on access to cold stream water during the hottest months of summer, similar to spring-run Chinook. The four lower Klamath dams contribute to reduced flows and the warming of water temperatures during summer, limiting important habitat for this species. Summer steelhead are also in critical condition according to the recently released State of the Salmonids Report.
Southern Oregon-Northern California Coastal Chinook salmon, though stable, are vulnerable to disturbances like wildfires and floods because of their small population size and limited range. Upper Klamath-Trinity River fall run Chinook salmon and Klamath Mountains Province winter steelhead are also in long-term decline, due in large part to a lack of historical spawning and rearing habitat in the upper basin.
Removal of the four lower Klamath dams will begin a long-anticipated recovery for each of these species. Passage to diverse and productive habitats in the upper basin will improve population resilience, ultimately allowing these species to persist in the long-term. Sediment and woody debris will be distributed throughout the system, restoring important habitat diversity and complexity, and enabling these fishes to thrive once again. Dam removal will also encourage historical flow and thermal regimes and help rebuild depleted food webs. With cold water flowing throughout the Klamath, the risk of fish disease and the prevalence of toxic algae will decline.
Dam removal, in tandem with habitat restoration, will support a comeback for these economically and culturally important fish and is the best hope for a resurgence of healthy waters along the Klamath River. Anglers and commercial fishermen, local communities, native tribes, and the fish themselves will all benefit for years to come.
Steelhead Win Landmark Victory/Water Flow Must Increase Below Cachuma Lake
September 19, 2019
Santa Barbara Independent By Nick Welsh
By any reckoning, the steelhead trout won a significant legal victory this week, along with CalTrout and the Environmental Defense Center, which have been arguing the case for two decades. But it remains uncertain exactly how much more water will have to be released downstream from Lake Cachuma to create a habitat wet enough along the main stem of the Santa Ynez River for the federally endangered fish to wage a meaningful comeback.
The State Water Resources Control Board voted decisively on September 17 that current release schedules, which have been in place for 16 years, have made little difference. The state water board ruled that more water needed to be released and timed more strategically. In addition, the water board ruled the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that built the dam, needed to conduct studies within two years examining the feasibility of getting the remnant steelhead population upstream past the barrier posed by Lake Cachuma. Once upstream, the water board concluded, the fish would find 48 miles of river in which to roost and spawn.
The Bureau has opposed such studies, arguing that Congress understood the dam’s impact on fish populations when it authorized construction in 1948 and that no provisions were made for fish ladders or trapping and trucking — two ways of getting the steelhead upstream. The state water board, the Bureau contends, lacks legal authority to tell a federal agency what to do.
The water agencies that rely on Lake Cachuma are less than thrilled; some have suggested the ruling could reduce water deliveries to customers by as much as 40 percent. Environmental documents indicate the loss between 1,600 and 3,600 acre feet a year.
Attorneys with the Environmental Defense Center noted that water releases will mimic the feast or famine fluctuations of nature and that conservation initiatives could free up to 7,000 acre feet as well. Losses in deliveries can be mitigated by conservation and the deployment of desalinated water from the City of Santa Barbara’s desalination plant. The City of Santa Barbara argued unsuccessfully that it owns and operates the desalination plant and can’t be expected to make that water available to offset water losses incurred by other water agencies.
Among other things, the water board’s ruling mandates the Bureau of Reclamation conduct studies on mitigating the impact of invasive, nonnative fish that eat steelhead fry — like the bass planted in Lake Cachuma every year by County Parks officials. Before Lake Cachuma was built, the Santa Ynez River was home to as many as 30,000 steelhead a year. Today, the number hovers around 200.
Fishing the North Coast: Klamath River full of kings
September 18, 2019
Eureka Times Standard By Kenny Priest
If you want action, the Klamath River has plenty to offer at the moment. The fishing has been pretty spectacular for almost two weeks now, and it doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon. In fact, it could be quite the opposite. Currently, the river is plugged with jacks (two-year-old male salmon) as well as adult steelhead. And there’s a good mix of small adult kings around now too. But with over an inch of rain this week, this could really entice the bulk of the run to make their way in from the salt. Historically, the adult salmon have followed the jacks into the system. If history repeats itself, the best fishing could still be yet to come.
Klamath River quota update
According to Dan Troxel, an Environmental Scientist on the Klamath River Project, we are roughly 41 percent of the way through the sub-area quota for closure at the mouth, and 35 percent through the entire lower river quota. Through Sept. 16, 1,329 adult salmon have been harvested from the Hwy. 96 bridge at Weitchpec to the mouth towards the lower river quota of 3,819. Of those, 468 adults were caught below the Hwy. 101 bridge, leaving 677 adult salmon left to catch below the 101 bridge prior to the spit fishery closing.
Only the spit area will close to fishing once this quota is met, fishing will remain open upriver of the spit until the 3,818 quota is met. The lower river, from the Hwy. 96 bridge at Weitchpec to the mouth has roughly 2,490 adults remaining for sport harvest. Once the quota has been met, anglers may still retain a limit of Chinook salmon under 22 inches in length. Anglers may keep track of the Klamath and Trinity river quotas by calling 800-564-6479.
Steelhead trout trapping underway to help the endangered species
September 17, 2019
KEYT By Tracy Lehr
GOLETA, Calif. - A Steelhead trout rescue effort is underway in Santa Barbara County.
Environmental scientists say the trout are indicators of watershed health.
Trout trapping is taking place in an undisclosed portion of Gaviota Creek in Goleta where the water is drying up.
There are more than a dozen barriers that restrict the movement of the fish when they get trapped below them.
Scientists said they are endangered due to human interference in their habitats.
Kyle Evans is a California Department of Fish and Wildlife environmental scientists who hopes people will help the trout.
He said the information will be passed to wardens.
"They will be able to investigate poaching activity, or if it is a situation of a stranded fish or wildlife not being where it is supposed to be, then they are able to contact local biologists, and we are able to relocate those animals," Evans said.
Evans says the fish are a litmus test for healthy creeks.
"If you happen to see any illegal fishing or any suspected poaching, please contact the California Department of Fish and Wildlife at 888-334-Cal Tip."
Feather River Fish Hatchery prepares for return of fish
September 16, 2019
ABC Sacramento by Trevor Fay
Dozens of people visited the Feather River Fish Hatchery on Sunday before the return of their Steelhead fish and fish ladder on Monday.
Visitors say they're especially excited about the return of the fish from the Thermalito Annex Complex in Oroville.
The hatchery is where fish are tagged and studied while being raised by the staff.
It's also a popular spot for getting an up close look at local wildlife.
Chuck Olsgard is an Oroville local who came to visit with his grandchildren.
"I came out just to see the fish and bring the grandkids out. I have other grandkids, they're off doing things and one didn't get to go with us," said Olsgard.
The hatchery is divided into two sections including the fish barrier dam, observation platform, and underwater viewing are on the east side. The spawning room, hatchery, and rearing ponds are on the west side.
The hatchery's important to people not just because of their work with marine animals, but because of local traditions like the Oroville salmon festival on September 28th.
"We enjoy it every year, you know we come every year. And we live here in town, we're local, so we do get to enjoy it quite often," said Olsgard.
The hatchery's fish ladder and ladder viewing window are set to open Monday at 7:00 a.m. after routine maintenance and inspections to the facility.