In a widely-broadcasted press conference held on the banks of the lower Yuba River yesterday, Governor Gavin Newsom, the Yuba Water Agency, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced a controversial plan to build a fish passage canal around Daguerre Point Dam and begin a reintroduction trap-and- haul effort around New Bullards Bar Dam.
Shockingly, no representatives of fishing groups, environmental groups and Tribes were invited to be part of the negotiations for the restoration effort nor invited to the press conference by a state government that has constantly gushed about “inclusion” and “diversity” but has done the very opposite in practice.
The press conference was held as recreational and commercial salmon fishing is closed on the ocean and recreational fishing is banned on inland rivers this year, due to the collapse of fall run Chinook salmon populations spurred by horrendous water management on the Sacramento and Klamath rivers by the state and federal governments.
This closure takes place after massive die offs of Sacramento River winter-run and Butte Creek spring-run chinook Chinook salmon took place in 2021 and 2012 — and as state agencies move forward with salmon-killing plans for the Delta Tunnel, Sites Reservoir and Big Ag voluntary agreements.
“California is taking action to restore vital habitats and return fish to their historic home – turning the page on outdated water infrastructure that has blocked passage for these fish for over a century,” claimed Governor Gavin Newsom. “Together with historic investments, we’re restoring crucial waterways across our state and laying the groundwork for a salmon resurgence that’s not only good for fish, but a lifeline for the communities and Native peoples who rely on a healthy fish population.”
“Where dams once broke up this important habitat, we can now use a holistic approach in returning anadromous fish to this important part of their native habitat in California,” gushed CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham. “This agreement envisions a much-improved big picture of a restored watershed, with surging rivers and healthy fish populations once again.”
The Department claimed the collaboration between California through the Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), Yuba Water Agency and NOAA Fisheries “will resolve years of conflict and includes major actions to help recover imperiled fish.” These include:
- Construction of a new fishway – “a channel resembling a natural river that salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and lamprey can follow to get around the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Daguerre Point Dam to reach more than 10 miles of healthy spawning habitat.”
- Construction of a modernized water diversion at Daguerre Point Dam to supply irrigation water south of the lower Yuba River that will protect fish passing the intake.
- The initiation of a “comprehensive reintroduction program to support recovery efforts of spring-run Chinook salmon with a goal of returning them to their original habitat in the North Yuba River above New Bullards Bar Reservoir as soon as 2025.”
The agencies said they have already committed at least $60 million, with part of the funds coming from funding proposed by the Newsom Administration and appropriated to CDFW by the California Legislature for river connectivity and salmon benefits.
The CDFW, Yuba Water Agency and NOAA Fisheries said they expect to finalize a settlement based on the framework agreement by the end of 2023.
However, the term sheet released by CDFW makes it clear that this agreement is “… a non-binding framework for developing a Settlement Agreement…
Fishing groups and environmental groups had a very mixed reaction to the agreement, noting that NGOS and Tribes were not part of the negotiations that resulted in the fish plan.
Interim Executive Director Aaron Zettler-Mann from the South Yuba river Citizens League (SYRCL), said, “We are frustrated that local and regional non- profits and partners, including SYRCL, were shut out of the negotiations and discussions to improve natural upstream migration and fish passage, while maintaining irrigation supply, at Daguerre Point Dam. Despite our attempts to collaborate, we and other non-profits and Tribes were not included as part of these negotiations.”
“The final agreement for a fish byway also ignores previously completed studies including ones by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2003 and by NMFS in 2014 which found that dam removal was the best option for fish passage. Of further concern is that there is no mechanism by which to enforce the on-going maintenance, operation, or monitoring of the proposed fish byway, nor is there modification or updating of the fish screens and water diversion points on the north side of the river, only the one which would require being rebuilt anyway for the fish byway channel,” said Zettler-Mann.
Zettler-Mann continued, “The closed-door nature of this agreement is also deeply concerning as it relates to the Water Transfer Program (WTP) and Water Purchase Agreement (WPA), which are part of the Yuba River Accord, and set to expire on December 31, 2025. This part of the Yuba River Accord guarantees that the Department of Water Resources (DWR) will purchase water from Yuba Water Agency for delivery through the Delta pumps to the Central Valley Project and State Water Project. The expiration of this deal means that Yuba Water Agency needs to renegotiate flow requirements in the lower Yuba River.”
“The term sheet released by CDFW states that no changes will be made to the Yuba Accord instream flow requirements from 2008. This is despite the fact that the environmental impact of those flows on the Yuba and the Bay-Delta have not been analyzed since the original Environmental Impact Report from 2007. YRCL is also unclear about how these negotiations relate to water quality certifications pertinent to dam relicensing which is not clarified in the term sheet other than to say that the Accord Flows were ‘described’ as part of the on-going Yuba River Development Project relicensing,” he explained.
The agreement also includes a reintroduction effort for spring-run Chinook salmon above New Bullards Bar Dam.
“SYRCL is opposed to trap-and-haul as a supposed solution to the continued decline of salmon fisheries across California,” he stated. “Academic research shows that removal of barriers, which allows for the free, natural movement of fish, not trap-and-haul, is what is necessary for salmon recovery. The promises of enhancing our understanding of the salmon lifecycle above New Bullards Bar Dam is encouraging, if it will lead to expanded studies of the available habitat in the Middle and South Yuba which could support exploring fish passage alternatives at Englebright Dam,” says Zettler-Mann.
“It is wonderful that State and Federal agencies, and Yuba Water Agency are excited about, and are investing in the health of salmon in the Yuba River watershed. But we have serious concerns about the closed-door process, lack of open collaboration, and failure to discuss project alternatives,” he added.
The Golden State Salmon Association (GSSA) also reacted to the Yuba River press conference and plan by the state and federal governments in a tweet thread — and also noted the exclusion of NGOs from recent talks that led to this agreement.
“Saving salmon and improving their spawning and rearing habitat is critical for jobs, businesses, culture, communities and functional ecosystems. Non-governmental organizations working on the Yuba River were not included in recent talks leading to this agreement.”
“Administration has abundant additional opportunities to address State’s salmon emergency by setting temp/flow standards, ending practice of waiving salmon protections, improving temp conditions on Feather River & forcing PG&E to pull salmon killing dams out of Battle Creek.”
“Thus, it’s hard to comment, as we simply have not seen the terms of the deal. In principle, we support both passage around Daguerre Point Dam and reintroduction to the upper Yuba. But the details matter.”
Salmon are at their worse ever crisis in California history at this time, due to the collapse of salmon populations on the Sacramento and Klamath rivers that was caused by terrible water management during a drought. It is extremely hypocritical for state and federal officials to portray themselves as “saviors” of the salmon when they are the very ones whose policies and actions caused the destruction of salmon populations in the first place.
In addition, the claim by the state and federal governments that opening a passageway past Daguerre Point Dam will somehow make things better for spring-run Chinook salmon is spurious when you realize salmon already have little problem ascending the small diversion dam. On a positive note, this fish passage canal will allow white and green sturgeon, Pacific lamprey and Lamprey eel to get upriver, which they couldn’t do previously.
The closure of salmon fishing on the ocean and rivers this year is just one example of the many fishery disasters caused by federal and state water project diversions from Central Valley reservoirs and rivers to enrich agribusiness contractors during recent drought years.
In one of many fish kills that took place in 2021, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife published a monitoring report on 2021's spring chinook salmon run on Butte Creek, a Sacramento River tributary, revealing that 91 percent of the adult fish died before spawning.
An estimated 19,773 out of the more than 21,580 fish total that returned to spawn in the Butte County stream perished before spawning. Only an estimated 1,807 adults survived to spawn in a year with a record return of fish.
Fish advocates have criticized the CDFW and other government agencies for failing to exert needed pressure on PG&E, the current owner of the hydroelectric project on Butte Creek, to release colder flows when they were needed to alleviate the massive fish kill.
Also in 2021, only 2.6 percent of endangered Sacramento River winter run Chinook juveniles survived, according to another CDFW report. These fish perished due to lethally warm water conditions caused by the failure of the federal government to release cold water to save the fish.
Rather than conducting staged photo opportunities greenwashing their fish-killing water policies like the one held yesterday, the federal and state government heads must finally take the necessary actions to save salmon and other fish species, starting with cutting back and water diversions to Big Ag oligarchs like Stewart and Lynda Resnick, who have contributed many millions of dollars to both the Republican and Democratic parties to control the regulatory process. It may be hard for some to believe, but fish DO need water to survive!