State environmental group wants old Scott Dam on Eel River removed to help salmon and steelhead
March 16, 2019
Santa Rosa Press Democrat by Guy Kovner (Josh Fuller)
A state environmental group is calling for the removal of an old dam on the Eel River, contending it threatens the future of protected salmon and steelhead while acknowledging it is a key part of the North Bay’s water supply.
Scott Dam, a 138-foot concrete dam erected in 1922, is one of five aging dams California Trout asserts are “ripe for removal” to benefit their natural surroundings and communities.
The nearly 50-year-old nonprofit known as CalTrout said in its report, “Top 5 California Dams Out,” the Eel River represents “perhaps the greatest opportunity in California to restore a watershed to its former abundance of wild salmonids.”
Scott Dam, located in Lake County’s portion of the Mendocino National Forest, has been a longstanding target of other groups, including Friends of the Eel River, who want steelhead, coho and chinook salmon to swim freely within the 288 miles of habitat in the Eel watershed blocked by the dam.
The environmentalists see a “unique opportunity” to achieve their goal, as California’s largest utility PG&E, which has owned the dam as part of a small hydropower project since 1930, has filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy and abandoned plans to sell or seek relicensing of the project that diverts 20 billion gallons of water a year from the Eel to the Russian River at Potter Valley.
Eel River interests have considered the diversion a form of theft, while the water is critical to towns and ranches on the upper Russian River from Potter Valley to Healdsburg and part of the water supply for 600,000 residents in Sonoma and Marin counties.
How the future of the Potter Valley Project will play out over the next 18 months to two years is unclear, but it appears likely to result in either decommissioning or relicensing of the project, which includes a small powerhouse and two Eel River dams.
The bottom line is either PG&E or a new owner of the project may face a choice between paying more than $90 million for a fish ladder at Scott Dam or about $70 million to remove it.
North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and CalTrout both say federal officials are likely to require “volitional fish passage” at Scott Dam, enabling the threatened salmon and steelhead adults to swim freely to their spawning grounds and juvenile fish to get out to the Pacific Ocean.
“There’s no way around it,” Huffman said.
The National Marine Fisheries Service, under federal law, has the authority to require fish passage at hydropower projects that are either changing hands or shutting down, said Josh Fuller, an agency biologist based in Santa Rosa.
Fuller, who is involved in process, declined to name a preferred fate for the dam but said it should ensure the dwindling number of Eel River fish are “on a recovery trajectory.”
“We’re going to have to have some sort of fish passage at the facility,” he said. There are numerous ways to accomplish it, including trapping fish and trucking them around the dam, but Marine Fisheries favors volitional passage because it involves “less human intervention” in the fish population. Fuller said.
“It’s fair to say the status quo will not work,” he said.
Heavy rains could harm Marin salmon, steelhead recovery, surveyors say
March 8, 2019
Marin Independent Journal By Will Houston
The deluge of rain this winter may act as a double-edged sword for the recovery of protected fish runs in the Lagunitas Creek watershed, according to Marin County fish surveyors.
The strong rains ramped up stream flows, allowing spawning fish such as steelhead and endangered coho salmon to reach their spawning grounds. However, the historic loss of floodplains by development and dams in the watershed has resulted in rainfall concentrating into much stronger flows, which can scour creek beds where steelhead and salmon bury their egg nests, also called redds.
This year is being called the watershed’s best spawning season for endangered coho salmon in 12 years, and surveyors are concerned that recent powerful storms and resulting high flows could harm the newly hatched salmon fry and the thousands of precious eggs incubating in local creek beds.
Michael Reichmuth, fisheries biologist for the Point Reyes National Seashore, said the flows he and other researchers saw on the Olema Creek tributary were at a level they would normally see once every decade or so.
“Some may wonder what this means to the salmon,” Reichmuth wrote in an email. “For adult steelhead it means plenty of habitat to work with for spawning if they are entering the creeks now. For the eggs and fry that are currently emerging from nesting sites it could mean the end of their life.”
The rains also engorged Lagunitas Creek to peak flows of about 4,100 cubic feet per second, which is the level seen every eight years or so, according to Marin Municipal Water District aquatic ecologist Eric Ettlinger.
“Past floods like this have mobilized streambed sediment, either uncovering or entombing incubating salmonid eggs, and resulted in survival rates of only about 2 percent,” Ettlinger said.
But Ettlinger said there are encouraging signs that this will remain a good year for coho recovery. About 600,000 coho eggs are estimated to have been deposited during this year’s winter coho run, and Ettlinger said survival rates don’t have to be high to produce normal numbers of fry.
“The biggest risk now is that a late-season storm will wash out coho fry after they’ve emerged from the gravel,” Ettlinger wrote in an email.
Downed trees, wood and other debris in the creek can provide shelter for the young rearing fish during floods and strong flows.
“In the summer time when the flows have receded we will be able to take inventory on the habitat and remaining fry to give us insight on how detrimental these floods were on the population,” Reichmuth said.
While the coho spawning season ended last month, steelhead spawning is ongoing. Surveyors haven’t had many chances to count fish because of the storms and high flows. By the end of February surveyors had found about 99 steelhead redds, which Ettlinger says is average.
National park fish surveyors have only been able to conduct a few surveys on the Redwood Creek watershed and on the Chelda Creek tributary, but have not been able to go out for several weeks due to the high flows. Total counts so far show 45 steelhead adults, one carcass and 13 redds on Redwood Creek. One steelhead and one steelhead redd were also found on Chelda Creek.
Both Reichmuth and Ettlinger said they hope to do more surveying once the flows recede.
Stanford removes dam, giving endangered fish room to roam/Section of San Francisquito Creek restored following decades of controversy
March 6, 2019
Palo Alto Online by Sue Dremann
Water is now flowing freely along a 480-foot stretch of San Francisquito Creek after Stanford University removed the aged Lagunita Diversion Dam.
The 120-year-old dam was located near Alpine Road and the Stanford Weekend Acres neighborhood. The latter is in unincorporated Menlo Park. Removing the 8-foot-high structure now allows water to flow freely downstream to support endangered-fish-species habitat in the creek. San Francisquito is home to a population of the Central California Coast Distinct Population Segment of steelhead.
Removal of the concrete structure began in June 2018 and took five months to complete, according to the university. This section of the creek has been restored to include large rock boulders, logs and crib walls to create pools and riffles (rocky shallows) similar to other parts of the creek favored by the steelhead.
The dam was part of a decades-old controversy regarding Searsville and Lagunita dams. Two environmental groups, Our Children's Earth Foundation and Ecological Rights Foundation, sued Stanford in 2014 claiming that the university had violated the Endangered Species and Clean Water acts by continuing to keep the Lagunita Dam in place.
The dam created a flume that filled Lake Lagunita with drinking water, but the flume and dam have not been operational since the 1930s, according to the university. Stanford added a fish ladder in 1954 to help the steelhead move over the structure, but the ladder was prone to debris jams that caused the steelhead difficulty navigating through the structure, according to a 2014 National Marine Fisheries Service biological opinion on the university's Steelhead Habitat Enhancement Project.
The dam also created about a 1,000-foot-long area of sediment upstream and a deep plunge pool downstream, which impeded the steelhead from spawning, according to the university's November 2017 funding application to the state Department of Fish & Wildlife.
The university and plaintiffs reached a temporary settlement to halt the lawsuit and a separate legal action regarding Searsville Dam until Stanford could obtain regulatory approvals to change water flow at the Jasper Ridge Road Crossing and remove Lagunita Dam. Stanford has completed the so-called low-flow crossing at Jasper Ridge Road.
Removing the structure and adding the improvements created about 14.6 miles of high-quality habitat upstream of the dam.
"Looking ahead, we have a 10-year monitoring plan to keep an eye on the improvements that were constructed at the site and make sure the structural components and vegetation remain in place," Tom Zigterman, director of water resources and civil infrastructure for Stanford, said in a statement to Stanford News Service.
Salmon season forecast shows ‘slightly improved’ prospects
March 4, 2019
Eureka Times Standard by Philip Santos
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced California’s 2019 ocean salmon fishing season is looking “slightly better than last year’s,” in a statement released Friday.
According to the statement, ocean abundance projections put estimates for Sacramento River fall Chinook salmon at 379,000 adult salmon, with Klamath River fall Chinook coming in at 274,000.
Chenchen Shen, an environmental scientist with the CDFW Ocean Salmon Project, said she believes there “likely will be a season.”
“It depends on how the council decides,” she said. “There is some good news, and ocean abundance levels are higher than last year.”
Shen said the situation is a bit complicated. Although the ocean abundance projections are looking better than last year, for the most part, both Klamath River fall Chinook and Sacramento River fall Chinook are in an “overfished status.”
The reason both types of Chinook are in an “overfished status” is due to low “spawning escapement” for the past several years, meaning most fish made it to spawning. A three-year geometric mean is used to determine current escapement levels, and if the number falls below what the minimum escapement threshold is, the fish is labeled as overfished.
Shen said the minimum escapement level for Klamath River fall Chinook was about 41,000, with over 50,000 returning last year. Next year, the escapement level would have to be about 63,000 if the Klamath River fall Chinook are to move out of the overfished status.
Dave Bitts, a local commercial fisherman, said the numbers looked “a little bit scant.”
“It should be enough for people to have some success fishing and still put enough in the river,” he said. “It’s far from great … we start to get excited if predictions are around a half million or more.”
The numbers for Sacramento River fall Chinook, which Bitts called the “bread-and-butter stock,” are much better than the previous year, he noted. Last year there were 50,000 to 70,000 available to catch.
“70,000 fish doesn’t go very far,” he said.
If the forecast is accurate, he said, there could be as many as 200,000 Sacramento River fall Chinook for all parties to catch this year.
Aaron Newman, another local commercial fisherman, said he feels like the projections are a bit lower than they should be and worries they might lead to a shorter season.
“I hope things work out good this summer for a good season,” he said.
Steelhead, salmon thriving in Northern California
February 21, 2019
The Grass Valley Union by Denis Peirce
Over the past ten days the Feather River Hatchery has been planting juvenile steelhead into the Feather River. This year the hatchery produced 460,000 fish for planting in the river and it took over a week with three trucks to get them all down to the Boyd's Pump launch ramp. The ramp at Boyd's Pump is a few miles below the mouth of the Yuba River and this year the conditions for planting the steelhead have been ideal.
The worst case scenario is low clear water where predators can find concentrations of small fish in shallow water. In these conditions both the birds as well as the stripers can devastate the juveniles as they slowly work their way down river. This year's conditions were perfect.
Although the Feather has had modest flows as Lake Oroville is being refilled, the Yuba has been running high and dirty. At the start of the fish releases the Yuba was up above the 3,000 cubic feet per second level which is double the 1,500 level we had been seeing. By the 14th the heavy rains spiked the flows above 21,000 cubic feet per second and since then the flows have gradually dropped back to the 4,500 level. In addition to the water depth, the speed of the current probably has some of them into the delta already. The other factor is the silt in the water so that the juveniles can't be seen.
It is these same conditions on the Sacramento River in January 2016 when the steelhead were released from the Coleman Hatchery into the Sacramento River which are credited with the record return of 10,000 fish to that facility this past fall. The Coleman Hatchery releases 600,000 steelhead in a good year where as the Feather River Hatchery aims for 400,000. All other conditions being equal, autumn of 2021 should be a banner year on the Feather for steelhead fishing.
The Feather River Hatchery releases steelhead at this time each year to go in and maintain the facility for the next generation of fish that are currently in the incubators. The hatchery crew began spawning steelhead the last week of December and finished on Feb. 1. This year's take was just below 1,400,000 eggs. This is projected to produce more than the 400,000 fish target for release in February of 2020.
For the salmon population, the fall of 2018 was a good year. Close to 30,000 salmon were processed through the hatchery. This is way above what is needed to plant in the Feather River. This year all of the inland lake "land locked" salmon in California are coming from the Feather River Hatchery. Some of the eggs will be moved to the Silverado facility in the Napa Valley to be raised until it is time to plant the lakes next fall.
Since the end of the drought the Sacramento Valley salmon and steelhead have bounced back very nicely.
With all of the wet weather we have had, fishing locally has not been stellar. The rivers have been high and muddy at the lower elevations and up the hill skiing is the order of the day. The best location for boat anglers has been Bullards Bar. The lower end of the lake has relatively clean water. The kokanee will bite when you find them. Guides report good success when you have the correct combination of speed, depth and color. Anglers not getting the right combination are struggling.
The spotted bass at Bullards Bar are getting close to spawning. They are close to the bank in 12 to 15 feet of water. A recent report from some bass anglers referenced some good sized spots.
Over the hill at Pyramid Lake, Nevada, this year has been producing fewer but larger cutthroat trout. The Truckee River has been putting dirty water into the south end. Many of the anglers have been staying away from the murky water in the south and fishing the middle and north end. The problem recently has been getting over the hill on I-80.
In the near future the water levels on the Feather and the Sacramento Rivers will be dropping. Anglers have been seeing sturgeon on the move in both rivers. I expect we will have a good sturgeon fishing as the water conditions improve.