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July 25, 2013

For Immediate Release

Salmon Apocalypse Looming in California
Poor Government Policy Could Doom Record Runs

Recent reports of a pending salmon die-off on the Klamath River don’t address the full measure of this rapidly evolving and potentially catastrophic story.

“A record run of salmon are at risk on the Klamath unless anticipated flows from Trinity Reservoir are provided to cool the Lower Klamath River,” said Tom Stokely, an analyst for the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN), a statewide water advocacy group.  “But we have another disaster unfolding on the Sacramento River.  We had a dry winter, the reservoirs are low, and federal and state officials are draining them rapidly to pump water to the corporate farms of the western San Joaquin Valley.  If the current releases continue, we’re not going to have enough cold water in the Sacramento system to keep fall-run Chinook salmon eggs alive in the gravel this fall.”

Like the Klamath, the Sacramento River system is expected to post a very good year for Chinook salmon, with several hundred thousand fish returning to the river and its tributaries.

“And these are big magnificent fish, some of the fattest I’ve ever seen,” said Dan Bacher, editor of the Fish Sniffer Magazine.  “But I was just out on the river, and it was running extremely high – and that’s heartbreaking.  High water now means the cold water pools in Shasta, Folsom and Oroville reservoirs could be exhausted by the time the returning fish spawn.  The mature fish, their eggs and any fry that manage to emerge could cook in the low, warm flows we’ll probably see in the American, Feather and Sacramento rivers by late summer and fall.”

The Sacramento River is the workhorse of the salmon-bearing streams south of the Columbia River.  In good years, almost a million fish used to return to the Sacramento system.  The river is unique in that it supports four distinct runs of Chinook salmon. The winter-run and spring-run are both listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, while the fall-run and late fall-run are sufficiently numerous in most years to accommodate the commercial and sport fisheries.

All four runs are now in dire jeopardy. The spring-run Chinook is facing an especially tough summer, particularly in Butte Creek, its primary stronghold.  There was a major die-off of Butte Creek salmon in 2003 due to low flows.

“We desperately hope that there isn’t a repeat of the 2003 spring-run salmon deaths on Butte Creek,” said Jim Brobeck, a water policy analyst at AquAlliance, an organization dedicated to protecting the waters and fisheries of northern California. “At this time, the fish agencies are managing to keep thousands of spring-run alive with flows from PG&E’s reservoir, although another concentrated heat wave could radically change conditions for this iconic salmon run.”

Brobeck noted Butte Creek’s spring-run is a genetic rarity, and the source for re-stocking efforts on the San Joaquin River. It is thus essential, he said, to preserve the unique strains of salmon native to the Sacramento watershed.

“The potential fish deaths due to lack of water and warm temperatures on Butte Creek combined with the demand for Klamath, Trinity, Feather and Sacramento River irrigation deliveries threatens the existence of what remains of native fish runs in the Central Valley,” Brobeck says. “State and Federal agencies must redefine the ‘”surplus water”’ that is being pumped to industrial agriculture south of the Delta.”

Low flows could also  prove the death-knell for the winter-run Chinook, said Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

“We’re only in a second dry year, not even a declared drought, and the system is fundamentally broken,” said Jennings.  “The State Water Board has assured the Department of Water Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that it won’t enforce Delta water quality and flow standards.  The temperature compliance point on the Sacramento has been moved upstream, eliminating crucial spawning habitat for endangered Winter-run Chinook salmon.”

But the Sacramento’s “bread-and-butter” runs – the fall-run and late fall-run – are also at risk.  Their status is so imperiled by anticipated low summer flows that future salmon seasons could be curtailed, said Stokely.  Like Jennings, Stokely says agency mismanagement of water resources is the major reason for the crisis.

 “What’s particularly disturbing is the determination of state and federal agencies to violate their own mandates and regulations so they can maintain deliveries of subsidized water to a handful of huge corporate farms in the western San Joaquin Valley,” said Stokely.

Stokely notes various laws and regulations require sufficient cold water flows down the Sacramento system to maintain fisheries in good health.

“But in May, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the state Department of Water Resources asked the Water Board to allow lower Delta outflows so more water could be sent south of the Delta,” said Stokely.  “The Water Board agreed without due process, in violation of its own rules water right decisions – and with full knowledge of the impacts to the fish. ”

Jennings observes the crisis could have been avoided if the cold water behind California’s reservoirs had been properly conserved.  

“Water is only legally available for south-of-Delta export after Delta flow and water quality standards are met,” Jennings said. “But the state and federal projects are still exporting more than 8,500 cfs from the South Delta”      

Stokely concluded that the situations on the Klamath and the Sacramento are culminating in a potential apocalypse for California salmon.

“We had a huge salmon kill on the Klamath in 2002 due to low flows, but that could be minor compared to what we’re facing today,” he said. “It is a terrible irony. We’re seeing some of the biggest runs on record, and we could lose them all -- and lose future runs -- because of compromised government policy. If we’re going to avoid a repeat of 2002, we need to start conserving cold water now for release later in the summer and fall.”


Tom Stokely, California Water Impact Network 530-926-9727 cell 524-0315
Bill Jennings, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance 209-464-5067 cell 938-9053
Jim Brobeck, AquAlliance 530-521-4880
Dan Bacher, Fish Sniffer Magazine 916-725-0728

Originally posted to Dan Bacher on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 03:47 PM PDT.

Also republished by Central Valley Kossacks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Could a Hoover Dam be constructed today? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    What about the dams created under the TVA?

    Learn about Centrist Economics, learn about Robert Rubin's Hamilton Project.

    by PatriciaVa on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 03:59:38 PM PDT

  •  At the first Earth Day in 1970 ..... (6+ / 0-)

    and when the word 'ecology' was first being used.... we heard all the dire predictions that we were fated for in the 'next 30-40 years'. The predictions are now our reality.

    Thanks for your post.

  •  It is sad that even in Calfornia big business wins (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tgypsy, Kombema, Mindful Nature, mookins

    over the environment.

  •  That water is going to the crop factories (9+ / 0-)

    That put up all those ridiculous anti-government signs along I-5.

    While they're getting their gov't subsidized water at a tiny fraction of what urban users pay. To grow subsidized or inefficient crops like cotton, alfalfa, rice, feedlot cattle, etc.

    Salmon were a huge resource that was killed by dams and the water diversion to greedy desert landowners.

    This Rover crossed over.. Willie Nelson, written by Dorothy Fields

    by Karl Rover on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 04:06:48 PM PDT

    •  Worse than you think. They are growing crops (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      PeterHug, mookins

      for export to China.

      if a habitat is flooded, the improvement for target fishes increases by an infinite percentage...because a habitat suitability index that is even a tiny fraction of 1 is still infinitely higher than zero, which is the suitability of dry land to fishes.

      by mrsgoo on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 07:18:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  More of the same... (0+ / 0-)

      ...anti-govt sentiment but only after they have fed fully at the taxpayers they are on the other side of the fence and sense the govt will have to ween them off for the betterment of the whole not only the fortunate few. This applies to many if not most industries that have for years...if not decades are provided significant benefits at public expense and cost. It must change fast if not, we will become an oligarchy where the small super wealthy rule over the lesser masses. Are we to become what we see happening worldwide...the military and various police forces play the part of "fair arbiter"...or referee.  Sounds unfathomable but if the republicans continue to blockade orderly govt it could become reality. I know, I know, take off the tinfoil hat and layoff the mind bending aperitifs.

      Our nations quality of life is based on the rightousness of its people.

      by kalihikane on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 08:10:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Your organization and press release (0+ / 0-)

    might seem more credible to me, at least, if your hunting section didn't advocate sport hunting.

    From your "About Us":

    "The Fish Sniffer now also covers all hunting activities in Northern California with the “Hunting Journal” section that runs in every issue. You will see news and feature articles on deer hunting, duck hunting, upland bird hunting, pig hunting, varmint hunting and much more. Feature articles will detail seasons, regulation changes, and “how to” articles about sport hunting in California and beyond.

    I understand how low water levels effect salmon runs and your bottom line and how recreational fishing contributes millions of dollars to local economies.

    To be clear, it is the hunting for the pure sport of it that I dislike. I don't expect anyone else to agree with me.

    religion is the smile on a dog...

    by lbl1162 on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 04:30:50 PM PDT

    •  I agree that I dislike hunting for plain sport. If (0+ / 0-)

      you are hunting for the table, that is another issue in my opinion. Would rather eat a deer shot in the wild than a steer from a corporate feedlot. Same with my Salmon. I refuse to eat farm raised Salmon.

      if a habitat is flooded, the improvement for target fishes increases by an infinite percentage...because a habitat suitability index that is even a tiny fraction of 1 is still infinitely higher than zero, which is the suitability of dry land to fishes.

      by mrsgoo on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 07:22:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Wait, wait, why are record runs desirable? (0+ / 0-)

    So they run less now and then so what?

    •  The counts are a relatively recent phenomenon (7+ / 0-)

      in the system I'm most familiar with, the Eel River, they've only been doing official counts since the 1930s. At that point, the population was already substantially diminished. How do we know that? Because there used to be a cannery, and they counted the tens of thousands of fish that went into the cans.

      The populations of California salmon are pretty small. We'd like them to be larger so that they'd get to be more resilient in the face of various potential catastrophes and to widen the genetic diversity.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 05:21:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The counts depend upon the river system (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        renzo capetti, mrsgoo, etbnc, PeterHug, atana

        Historical numbers of fish can only be estimated, but pre Gold Rush the Sacramento had four runs of salmon that numbered in the millions. Like you note, the Eel has only had official counts since the 1930s.

        The counts on the Sacramento and Klamath River systems  are a relatively recent phenomenon, a combination of river salmon carcass counts, hatchery fish counts and modeling by biologists.  

  •  Just when we are starting to see good numbers. (0+ / 0-)

    Even heard of incidental catch Salmon down by the Antioch Bridge within the last month.

    if a habitat is flooded, the improvement for target fishes increases by an infinite percentage...because a habitat suitability index that is even a tiny fraction of 1 is still infinitely higher than zero, which is the suitability of dry land to fishes.

    by mrsgoo on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 07:32:20 PM PDT

  •  Phew (0+ / 0-)

    I thought this diary was going to be about an anadromousnado.

    "Well, I'm sure I'd feel much worse if I weren't under such heavy sedation..."--David St. Hubbins

    by Old Left Good Left on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 08:11:36 PM PDT

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