The Lower Snake River Dams are the subject of this trailer: The Greatest Migration
Take ‘em out – we won’t miss ‘em…
The Lower Snake River Dams are the subject of this trailer: The Greatest Migration
Take ‘em out – we won’t miss ‘em…
When the Gold Ray dam was removed from the Rogue River, a whole section of formerly flat water suddenly became salmon habitat again – the first time since the first days of the 1900s.
This piece from Underground Fav Outdoor Writer Mark Freeman (Mail Tribune) says it well:
Gould caught a big summer steelhead on a fly Oct. 21 at the new riffle, which was exposed when Gold Ray Dam’s removal this summer drained the reservoir that had been backed up behind it for 106 years. Then Gould lost a $1,000 rod and reel in the swift water.
Before heading home the next morning, Gould and two friends launched their one-man pontoon rafts at TouVelle State Park for a float back down to see whether they could retrieve the wayward rod.
“I caught a great steelhead there, lost my rod and then found it,” says Gould, of Sacramento. “So we decided to call it ‘Lost and Found.’ ”
Whether the moniker takes or not, Lost and Found is one of a string of new fishing riffles and pools waiting for new names along a nearly 1.5-mile stretch of the upper Rogue returned to its natural meander.
Spawning chinook salmon, summer steelhead and the anglers stalking them have all descended this month upon this new-look stretch of water, which reaches roughly from the mouth of Bear Creek down past where the old hydropower dam spanned the Rogue near Gold Hill since 1904.
The dam raised the Rogue’s surface level by 23 feet, transforming a free-flowing river into an artificial lake with adjoining sloughs.
With the impediment gone, the river flows naturally again through the old reservoir and dam area, with salmon and steelhead spawning and feeding in areas unsuitable for them since Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency.
Later, Freeman reports on an ODFW crew which found at least 34 salmon spawning nexts, and guides are already reporting excellent catches of steelhead.
In other words, it’s been a bumpy road at times, but – at a time where we typically lose salmon/steelhead habitat by the truckload – we got a little back.
You can read all of Freeman’s article here.
See you on the Rogue, Tom Chandler
The following is a press release received from Craig Tucker (of the Yurok Tribe) and the Klamath Riverkeeper. It’s not what you’d call great news: Excessive agricultural surface and groundwater withdrawals – and the willingness of state and federal agencies to look the other way – are imperiling salmon and steelhead populations in these two major spawning tributaries of the Klamath River:
Thursday, September 24, 2009
High numbers of fall Chinook salmon returning to the Shasta River are coming home to record low flows and extremely hot weather this week, creating ideal conditions for a large-scale fish kill in the Shasta River. Biologists and water managers with state and federal agencies are monitoring the situation closely as irrigators continue to maximize water withdrawals through the late September heat wave.
â€œWe need to get more water in the river immediately,â€ said Erica Terence of Klamath Riverkeeper. â€œUnfortunately, the fish are moving much quicker than the resource managers on the Scott and Shasta Rivers this year.â€ The USGS realtime streamflow gage on the Shasta River shows record low flows for the last several days, as it has much of the summer. Temperatures are forecasted to be in the 90s through the weekend.
With 1,319 fish past the California Department of Fish and Game’s counting station in the Shasta River canyon as of Sept 22nd, this year’s fall Chinook run is shaping up to be among the largest in the last 20 years on the Shasta. Whether the fish are able to migrate and spawn throughout the basin, or whether the fish turn up dead, will be determined by the extent of irrigation deliveries over the next week. CDFG’s fish counting station on the adjacent Scott River is not yet operational.
â€œUnfettered agricultural diversions are playing Russian roulette with salmon, and it’s the commercial fishermen and Tribal people downriver who will deal with the consequences,â€ said Terence. She noted that the sacrifices of commercial salmon fishermen, who face a season closure caused by low returns to the Sacramento River, may be in vain if river conditions do not allow a successful spawning season.
Klamath Riverkeeper is surveying the Shasta River for fish mortalities and is monitoring locations where fish are currently holding in deeper, colder pools. Representatives of multiple organizations and agencies are also keeping tabs on the situation. Unofficial reports indicate at least 7 dead adult Chinook have been documented in the river at this time and fisheries managers and advocates would like to avoid an increase in that number.
Agricultural diversions and groundwater pumping have de-watered the Scott and reduced the Shasta to a trickle for much of the summer. Both tributaries were once abundant salmon producers and are recognized by scientists as key priorities in the effort to restore Klamath basin salmon. Terence added, â€œWe cannot rely on dam removal alone to fix this watershed, it’s time to address the steadily increasing agricultural demand on the Klamath’s water.â€ The Shasta River was once the most productive salmon stream, for its size, in the state of California. Peer-reviewed science on the adjacent Scott River has demonstrated that decreasing flows cannot be fully explained by climate change.
This year’s record low flows come as CDFG is releasing its final Watershed Wide Incidental Take Permit Program for the Scott and Shasta basins – a controversial and potentially precedent-setting project that would widen allowances for coho kills from agricultural de-watering and other impacts. Klamath Riverkeeper is joining with other salmon allies to oppose the program. Terence said, â€œWith conditions deteriorating for fish every year on the Scott and Shasta, CDFG should be proposing programs that expand protections for fish, not destroy them as the watershed wide permits would do.â€ She added, â€œthe Scott and Shasta are now growing more alfalfa than they are fish – and its time for that to change.â€
Irrigation season ends on the Scott and Shasta Rivers during the month of October.
I’d love to add a poignant twist to all this, but in truth, I’m too pissed off to do so. The politcal environment up here is so backwards (those who participated in our Stream Access/Land Use Planning Nightmare know the County Board of Supervisors would happily see every last fish disappear from the area), and it seems the agencies charged with protecting wildlife are willing to turn a blind eye in efforts to maintain good working relationships with irrigators.
How’s that working for us?
Just so you can watch the water levels dwindle in near realtime, here’s the USGS Streamflow Gage for the lower Shasta River can be found here.
More information on this summer’s Shasta and Scott flow crisis can be found here.
A week ago I wrote about fly fishing a little alpine creek that was glorious in the spring, but threadbare and fly-ridden at the end of summer – courtesy the cattle that had grazed it bare.
At least Stream Y had only been denuded of its greenery; Singlebarbed’s now-famous “Little Stinkin’” river has been stripped of its water(courtesy an irrigation district), and yesterday he visited it again in the hopes of finding a little wet stuff in the streambed.
What he found instead would make any fishermen throw back his head and howl at the moon:
Dead and desiccated beaver were scattered near their burrows. While agile underwater they’re clumsy prey on dry land, easy pickings for coyotes or someone’s Rottweiler.
The pelts were too far gone for my road kill honed reflexes, and I left them for the buzzards.
Even the deep stretches were dry, at best with a bit of dampened mud at the bottom. No fish carcasses were evident but they would’ve been picked clean and skeletal.
It’s a complete wipe. Bugs dead, fish dead, and the wildlife in the area foraging for water as best they can. I found a couple muddy traces that had an inch of water remaining, and the volume of animal tracks nearby were moot testimony to the deer, coyotes, and birds having to make do.
It’s a riveting post, thought not a manifestly happy one. It’s tempting to shrug it off as an isolated incident, but it’s not.
In fact, it’s potentially more a model of California’s water future than elegant-yet-ugly essay.
With Big Ag drumming up support on the back of a string of lies about unemployment, what’s causing that unemployment, and the negligible effects of a short-term halt in pumping from the Delta, it appears that California’s prevailing sentiment about water has swung toward the “dry ‘em up” side of the pendelum.
California – one of the most hyrdologically altered landscapes on the planet – is now in the grip of a drought, but it’s also witness to a war being waged for the stuff that runs in its veins.
While the media largely buys the spin offered up by those profiting from the taxpayer’s largess, the California Delta’s ecology remains in free fall, and politicos seemingly can’t hand out the corporate welfare checks fast enough.
Now – with new water “storage” and “conveyances” planned (at taxpayer expense), and a growing sense that any trickle of water that makes it to the ocean is wasted – we’re witness to what may be the last call for any sizable populations of salmon & steelhead in this state.
It’s grim and getting grimmer, and because he sums it up better than I can, I’ll let Singlebarbed wrap it up for us:
Something stinks, and it’s not the corpse of my creek. She smells of hot rock and a few posies â€¦ all that remains.
Salmon swimming in the Upper Sacramento once again??
You could say the news caught my eye.
The court-ordered biological opinion on restoring salmon to California’s largely salmon-free waters was just released, and this tidbit from the Redding Record Searchlight suggests salmon could be restored to the Upper Sacramento River above Lake Shasta?
A federal plan to revive salmon in the Sacramento River could put the fish upstream of Shasta Dam for the first time in seven decades and would mean the end of Lake Red Bluff.
The National Marine Fisheries Service made the two recommendations in its 800-page biological opinion for the Central Valley Project released Thursday. The Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Shasta Dam and the Red Bluff Diversion Dam, has tentatively approved the federal court-ordered plan while it reviews the lengthy document.
The Keswick and Shasta dams have blocked spawning beds on the Upper Sacramento and McCloud rivers north of Shasta Dam since the bureau began construction on the dams in the 1930s.
Federal and state scientists will develop a pilot project to truck fish trapped in the lower Sacramento around the dam by 2011, said Maria Rea, supervisor of the fisheries service’s Sacramento office. A permanent plan for moving the fish past the two dams should be created between 2012 and 2015, she said.
What? I thought – frankly – that it was just a mixup due to terminology (some call the Sacramento River near Redding the “upper” part of the river).
Then we went digging around the Sacramento Bee’s should-be-award-winning California water wars coverage, and found this:
The rules require the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to restore access for fish to waters above Nimbus and Folsom dams on the American River, Shasta Dam on the Sacramento, and New Melones Dam on the Stanislaus.
Those dams were built decades ago without fish ladders and have blocked access to hundreds of miles of historic spawning grounds.
The Bee’s Matt Weiser is not the kind of writer to get this stuff wrong, so I’d suggest moving salmon around Shasta Dam is at least a consideration.
Frankly, I’m not all that sanguine about the potential for trapping and trucking salmon – it hasn’t exactly been a raging success in the Columbia basin. And the mechanism for doing so – or returning the salmon smolts to the ocean – isn’t at all clear.
Then again, I’ve also long heard that Shasta Dam effectively blocked access to better than 80% of California’s salmon and steelhead spawning habitat.
One Thing Is Clear
With many of California’s native and anadramous fish populations in a state of collapse, the water wars are firing on all cylinders – including a broadside from Arnold “Fish Terminator” Schwarzenegger, who has consistently cast this as an issue of “fish vs people” – an idiotic stance, especially given the clearly unsustainable nature of current water projects, and the fact a lot of commercial and recreational fishing dollars are also being lost (I’m waiting for someone to ask Ahhnold why heÂ favors Alfalfa over People).
Still, salmon swimming again in the McCloud, Upper Sacramento, and Pit Rivers?
I’d be surprised. Still, we’re all about news here at the Trout Underground. I bet there’s plenty more of it to come.
UPDATE: Note from Underground Fave Reporter Matt Weiser in response to my question about whether the plan really provided for Upper Sacramento salmon passage: “Yes it does, in great detail, starting with trial reintroductions, then full permanent fish passage by 2020.”
For now, I’m going fishing. See you on a stream, Tom Chandler.
Finally, some good news for salmon: The Nature Conservancy just dropped $14.2 million to buy the Shasta Big Springs Ranch – the source of much of the cold spring water that formerly turned the Shasta River (in northern Siskiyou County) into one of the most productive salmon rearing habitats on the West Coast.
When I spoke to him this morning, CalTrout biologist Curtis Knight said “This is a critical element to restoring coho in one of the Klamath’s most important tributaries. It’s huge. It’s cool.”
For those unaware of the topology, the Shasta River runs through the Shasta Valley and empties into the Klamath River. Upwards of 80,000 Chinook salmon used to jam into the river, and it’s some of the most productive Coho salmon rearing habitat on the West coast.
One of the former owners of Big Springs Creek (the trib bought by the Nature Conservancy) remembers that, as a child, she was awakened at night by the “thousands of thrashing salmon” in the creek.
Last year, only 30 coho salmon returned to Big Springs Creek. In total.
Dewatering, Cattle Damage Main Culprits
Dewatering, overgrazing and other cattle damage, diversion dams, and Dwinnell Dam (Lake Shastina) have absolutely hammered salmon populations on the Shasta River, and while Chinook populations are in trouble, Coho salmon have taken the biggest hit.
That’s because Coho live in the watershed for a whole year before heading to the ocean, and despite the spring-fed nature of the Shasta River (and Big Springs Creek), dewatering and destruction of habitat by cattle drove summer water temperatures into the lethal zone.
Knight said “The issue in the Shasta is they can’t make it through the summer due to all the diversions. The water heats up, and they’ve got no place to go. That’s why restoring Big Springs Creek is one of the big keys to restoring the Shasta River. ”
Ideal Rearing Habitat
The meandering, spring-fed, nutrient rich Shasta River is critical to salmon recovery because smolt growth rates in the river are exceptional. Given the proper water temperatures, the salmon smolts that are headed to the ocean are bigger than those coming from less-rich streams, which leads to much higher survival rates in the ocean – and much higher return rates later.
The San Francisco Chronicle covered the story here, and details the reasons for the precipitous decline in salmon:
Conservationists had been trying to get hold of the land for 30 years, but it was only in the last year and a half that biologists noticed a deadly plume of warm water flowing down from the ranch.
Cattle had tramped the banks so much that the creek spread out, making it shallow and slow-moving. The summer heat warmed the water, and there was no vegetation left to shade it from the blazing sun.
That’s when the conservancy stepped up efforts to persuade the last owner, Irene Busk, to sell. Besides the ranch, the conservancy purchased a conservation easement on 407 acres where Busk will continue her ranching operation.
The purchase, which was made with private funds, also will protect 3 miles of salmon and steelhead habitat along the upper Shasta River.
It’s a good day to be a salmon. Now I’m getting the heck out of here.
See you in the river, Tom Chandler.
[TC: Originally written for a fly fishing magazine which never published it, the article below outlines the Klamath River dam removal issue - one of the most contentious water issues in the West. In light of today's announcement of a non-binding dam removal agreement, I'm posting it here for the Undergrounders' enlightenment]
For more than a decade, Northern California/Oregon’s Klamath River has been ground zero in the salmon wars: a vicious legal and public relations battleground that’s pitted commercial fishermen, irrigators, big ag, tribal interests, environmental groups and an electrical utility against each another.
Fought amidst a volley of lawsuits, threats, PR campaigns and high-end political intervention, the results haven’t been pretty; salmon populations continue to dwindle, and in 2006 and 2007, plummeting salmon populations in the Klamath and Sacramento Rivers forced a large-scale closure of the commercial salmon fishery along the West Coast.
Against this backdrop, some of the west’s most gripping water wars have played out – largely to nobody’s advantage.
In 2001, 1/3 of the water headed for irrigators was put back in the river to protect endangered suckers, salmon and other species.
Mass protests and civil disobedience reigned in the small, largely agricultural communities along the Klamath, including threats and a largely symbolic â€œBucket Brigadeâ€ that actually moved water from the river to irrigation ditches via a human chain.
An influx of extreme private property rights groups followed, and the area became the center ring in one of the biggest water circuses the west’s ever seen.
Massive Fish Kill Ignites Controversy Over Cheney’s Role, Future of Salmon
In 2002 – after direct intervention by the Bush administration and Vice President Cheney – water again flowed to irrigators, which lead to one of the biggest salmon kills in history (estimates range from 30,000 dead salmon to 80,000).
Shortly thereafter, 28 organizations came together, looking for a way out of the endless web of lawsuits. After years of negotiation – and the ejection of two of the groups who refused to sign a working framework – the group released the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement – a proposal aimed at restoring the Klamath’s troubled salmon populations and ending the Klamath’s water wars.
At stake is the future of the Klamath’s faltering salmon runs, which have been plagued by habitat loss (removing PacifiCorp’s four dams would open 300 miles of spawning habitat), agricultural water diversions, poor water quality, poor returns due to ocean conditions, and overfishing.
The agreement can’t force the removal of the lower four aging PacifiCorp dams – the dams are currently in the midst of a federal relicensing process – but it is dependent on dam removal before it’s put into effect.
After the restoration agreement was released, participants seemed stunned by the wave of protest pouring forth from groups on both sides of the issue, and PacifiCorp – the Warren Buffet-owned electrical utility who must agree to remove its four Klamath River dams or the agreement is a bust – continued playing its cards close to its chest.
Proponents – including diverse groups like Trout Unlimited, CalTrout, upper Klamath irrigators and several nearby native American tribes – say the restoration agreement charts a way forward after years of lawsuits.
Steve Rothert of American Rivers said “By releasing the proposed Basin Restoration Agreement today, we’re saying that there is a better way, and that ongoing environmental degradation is no longer an option.â€
Opponents Decry Pork, Priorities
Opponents point to â€œporkâ€ projects unrelated to salmon recovery (the Klamath tribe wants $21 million to purchase lands for a new reservation), and Felice Pace – longtime Klamath activist, author of the Klam blog water-related Web site and critic of the agreement – argues that the flows mandated in the agreement won’t result in salmon recovery.
â€œAccording to independent scientists who have reviewed the flow plan, the flows that would result from this agreement and which would be capped by federal legislation will not lead to Salmon Recovery.â€
Pace adds â€œthere are no provisions that will make it possible to adequately address climate change impacts.â€
Pace has a point; minimum flows in dry years would fall below those recommended by the biological opinion as being necessary for salmon recovery, and when I asked one of the leading figures in the negotiations about the implications of climate change, he offered a not-very-helpful response about a paragraph in the agreement “acknowledging the potential for climate change.”
Another biologist who was part of the negotiations – and supports the accord – admits to some concern about the water available to salmon in wet years, when recovery should be aided by high recruitment.
In low-flow years, salmon populations fall off, but high-flow years should allow populations to recover quickly. However, with upstream irrigators receiving a lot of water in high-flow years, populations won’t “bounce back” like they should.
Pace also suggests that this agreement – which provides guaranteed flows and heavily subsidized power to irrigators – isn’t necessary. Saying that PacifiCorp can’t meet water quality standards (the Klamath River often runs pea green due to toxic algae blooms in the summer), so they can’t relicense the dams.
Local Politics Flare Up
Meanwhile, the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors held a series of public meetings, on dam removal, and with the help of a lot of questionable scare tactics via the Underground’s old friend Supervisor Marcia Armstrong – who alleged dangerous levels of dioxin in the sediment behind the dam when tests suggested only trace amounts – the Board passed a resolution opposing dam removal.
While the county has some legitimate concerns about the loss of property taxes, the heavily timber-and-extractive-industry leaning board (typically) failed to consider the economic benefits to the county of healthy salmon and steelhead fisheries.
Fisheries advocate CalTrout commissioned a study which suggested a salmon was worth $200 to the state economy, and given the Klamath’s history as the third most-productive salmon river on the West Coast, the economic benefits to sport and commercial fisheries could be substantial.
While the Karuk, Yurok and Klamath tribes support the agreement, the Hoopa tribe have refused to sign.
In a Sacramento Bee opinion piece, Hoopa Reservation Chairman Clifford Lyle Marshall argued that â€œWater rights are upside down in the agreement. The agreement guarantees water for Bureau of Reclamation project irrigators and refuge users, while Hoopa and Yurok senior fishing rights, dating back to 1855 and 1864, are not guaranteed. The agreement puts all the drought-year risks on the fish.â€
Craig Tucker – the Klamath Coordinator for the Karuk tribe and longtime proponent of dam removal on the Klamath – wrote a sharply worded opinion piece in the Eureka Times-Standard.
He supported the deal with â€œThe proposed deal addresses the need for increased river flows for fish, dependable power and irrigation diversions for agriculture, and funding to restore fish habitat,â€ then castigated opponents: â€œThe reality is that many critics of the deal simply hate the other side more than they love their own self-interests.â€
The estimated costs of the settlement agreement have been estimated a $1 billion (over ten years).
And frankly, all this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Before agreeing to any removal, PacifiCorp will likely insist someone else assume the risks and costs of dam removal, which would be the largest dam removal project in history [ed: this appears to be true, at least given the reports coming out about the agreement]
This stance belies the fact that the utility benefited from the power produced by the dams for decades, only to try and dump the liabilities associated with them on taxpayers.
Unresolved Water Quality Issues
A hidden issue in all this is the Klamath’s horrible water quality – the product of toxic algae blooms behind the dams in Iron Gate and Copco Lakes.
During the late summer, the Klamath actually turns green, and in places human and pet contact with the river is discouraged. Residents and tribal members offer up stories of rashes that won’t go away after contact with water, and that level of water quality has to have an effect on endangered species.
Felice Pace suggests that these water quality issues mean PacifiCorp can’t get their dams relicensed, and thus, a sweetheart deal for irrigators (the settlement agreement) isn’t necessary.
With rumors of federal/state/PacifiCorp negotiations in the works, the next chapter in the Klamath’s history remains to be written.
The health of California’s Delta has become a hot topic, with plummeting populations of native speciesÂ (salmon, Delta smelt, etc) blamed on water diversions, habitat loss and water quality issues.
Last year, a federal judge dealt the final blow to “business as usual” by limiting the amount of water that could be pumped from the Delta, citing damage to the fast-shrinking Delta Smelt population.
Fueled by unchecked population growth (and a growing demand for water), a drought, and the specter of global warming, Judge Wanger’s decision ignited what had been brewing for years.
The moment Wanger issued his order, California’s modern water wars began.
Will California’s water wither in the face of population growth?
The real result of California’s water wars has been a kind of hyper-gridlock, with advocates for irrigators and SoCal residential users desperately trying to stave off reductions in deliveries while fisheries and environmental groups demand water be used to protect endangered/commercially compromised fish populations.
With proposals predictably spanning the spectrum (“More storage” says the farm lobby, “Use less” say the fish folks), little, if anything, has been accomplished.
Now a widely anticipated report from an independent study group says that the peripheral canal – a project whose very name brings epithets to the lips of Northern Californians unwilling to see any more water shipped south – is the best, most cost-effective strategy for ensuring California’s water supply and for saving the California Delta.
What They’re Saying
The only real constant in all this has been the wide-ranging coverage provided by the Aquafornia blog, which quickly threw together a post summarizing reactions to the report’s announcement.
They followed that with two cautionary pieces, one suggesting the problem isn’t conveyance, it’s that water’s going where it shouldn’t, and yet another SF Chronicle opinion piece cautiously endorsing the idea of the Peripheral Canal provided more than lip service is paid to salmon recovery efforts:
Any proposals for new infrastructure, whether a Peripheral Canal or new water storage, must go beyond lip service about restoring salmon, and actually do it. There must be a complete package that ensures sustainable restoration of the delta’s valuable fisheries. We need to provide the water that fish need when and where they need it. There must be money available to ensure that key restoration projects are not merely planned, but executed. We need to create financial incentives that will encourage everyone to do a far better job of conserving water. Most critically, we need guarantees that our waterÂ anagers will be held accountable to ensure that promises are kept.
For those not familiar with it, the Peripheral Canal would divert Sacramento River water before it even reaches the California Delta, reasoning that it’s far less environmentally damaging than using massive pumps to remove from the south end of the Delta.
Most experts agree in theory, but the environmental and fisheries communities – groups with little faith in those running the Central Water Project – can’t see past the potential for massive diversions of water around the Delta, which – combined with even limited pumping – would lead to the complete collapse of the ecosystem.
In essence, the Peripheral Canal issue could come down to trust – something the state’s water users haven’t exactly earned.
Can We Trust the Water Project?
Enviros – most of whom can’t forget the nightmare of the Trinity River, where a pair of dams – which were “guaranteed” to be operated so as not to damage the Trinity’s robust fishery – immediately began robbing the river of as much as 90% of its water.
(The majority of that water was shipped to Westlands Water District – the same politically-connected water district who now want to flood miles of trout streams by raising the Shasta Dam.)
After literally decades of litigation, groups like the Friends of the Trinity got a little water returned to the Trinity River, and the result has been steelhead fishing so good that fishermen can’t find places to park on weekends.
More recently, the water project’s massive pumping from the Delta and apparent disregard for the health of the Delta (and the state’s commercially viable fisheries) has pretty much soured the milk as far as enviros are concerned.
Yet Another Water Grab?
Where some see a Peripheral Canal as a solution to the state’s water woes, many environmentalists see yet another water grab, and sadly, history (see above) suggests they might be right.
Dan Bacher – well known writer and fisheries activist, said:
In spite of the hypocritical rhetoric that Feinstein and Schwarzenegger and the Public Policy Institute’s authors spin about â€œecosystem restoration,â€ the only purpose of the peripheral canal is to create the capacity to export more water from the Delta. We need increased conservation of water so that we can restore Central Valley salmon, delta smelt, longfin smelt and other fish to historical levels, not increased water exports.
Even those who believe the Peripheral Canal could be helpful fear its potential for shunting massive amounts of Sacramento River water south (that trust thing again).
Others – as quoted in this largely negative Stockton Record story about the Peripheral Canal – are even less interested in seeing it built:
One of the canal’s most outspoken opponents, Stockton attorney Dante Nomellini, had this to say: “The basic thrust of their effort is to try and maintain exports from the Delta and turn the Delta into a saltwater bay.”
Given the history and the potential for overwhelming political pressure to move water south, there’s not much faith that – should water supplies tighten even more – water interests would resist the intense pressure to “keep it flowing.
Interestingly, a Sacramento Bee writer (Dan Walters) wrote an opinion piece stating it’s time for everyone to abandon their agenda and get the peripheral canal built, and actually accused environmental groups of sacrificing the delta for their own causes, a startling statement given that environmentalists have not been pumping record amounts of water from the Delta the last five years:
While shedding public tears over the Delta’s plight, they have been, in effect, willing to sacrifice its environmental health for their other agenda.
Even more interestingly, a majority of the normally conservative SacBee commenters (on the SacBee Web site) weren’t in favor of the canal, a signal to proponents that they’ve got an uphill battle in front of them.
That’s fine with some environmental groups, who feel that rather than look for better ways to move more water south, California needs to seek real solutions to its problems, including residential conservation programs, taking marginal farmland (and the accompanying water rights) out of production, offering farmers incentives to grow less water-intensive crops, etc.
They too face an uphill battle; a water-hungry southern half of the state wants water, not sanctimony, and in several Southern California communities, calls for voluntary reductions in water use actually resulted in net increases in water use (fearing mandatory conservation, people used more water so a compulsory 20% reduction would hurt less).
Just yesterday (Friday, 7/19),Federal Judge Wanger ruled that pumping water from the Delta almost certainly imperils endnagered salmon populations, and though he hasn’t yet outlined a plan of action, he’s certainly set the stage for even more restrictions on water removal.
For the state’s water projects, this is yet another shove forward into the abyss.
Meanwhile, Governor Schwarzenegger and Senator Diane Feinstein have jointly floated legislation for a $9.3 Billion water bond, and opponents were quick to note the state has yet to spend all the money from a previous bond issue.
The plan includes some money for fisheries restoration efforts, but most will be directed at increased storage and infrastructure spending projects, so the bond carries the support of irrigators and the business community.
It’s tempting to look at the bond issues as long-overdue spending on badly needed infrastructure, but in truth, prospects for a solution that will make everyone happy are slim.
The Prognosis? Not that Good, Really.
To those looking to preserve and restore what’s left of California’s native fisheries, the problems are clear. Too many people are using too much water, and until now, nobody – save fish – has been asked to do without.
Yet the state’s political apparatus runs on money, and the money in CA lies in Southern California and with agri-businesses (often corporate farms) rather than in fisheries restoration.
That kind of pure political clout isn’t likely to result in limits to growth, radical conservation measures, or farmland retirement.
It’s easy to suggest that farming water-intensive crops in arid regions – and building cities in virtual deserts without their own water supply – is a bad idea.
Yet turning back that clock – and instituting draconian water use restrictions seems unlikely. The state hasn’t instituted much in the way of water usage restrictions for new construction, and even cities in dry regions are only now getting around to it.
Some cities still don’t even meter their water – not exactly a prod to conservation.
In other words, the political will to do the right thing – before we do the Peripheral Canal Thing – is apparently wholly lacking.
Some even point to desalinization of seawater as an answer to many of Southern California’s woes, but solutions like these are tightly linked to energy costs, which are not exactly falling.
It’s possible desalinization could make a dent in the water supply, but only if nuclear plants were built (nuclear power typically runs at a minimum of $.30/kwh) or large scale alternative energy sources were developed (like putting photovoltaic solar panels on the roofs of California’s typically sun-drenched houses).
Actually building the Peripheral Canal could solve some problems, but given the conclusions offered by the report’s authors, it seems clear that Delta recovery isn’t really part of the agenda.
In fact, much of the report was concerned with the danger posed to the state’s water supply by fragile levees in the Delta, and “restoring” the Delta was largely ruled out.
That larger reality can’t help but force us to ask some troubling questions about California’s problems with its hugely over-promised water supply.
Are we willing to compromise every last shred of what’s natural in the name of money and convenience – especially in light of looming challenges like global warming?
Stay tuned. The wars have really just begun.
See you in the water, Tom Chandler.
With literally billions of our tax dollars being spent to recover salmon in the Columbia River basin — and populations continuing their downward spiral (Coho are essentially extinct in the system) – you have to wonder how long this will continue before the Snake River dams come down.
So does CBS News, who ran a solid (if uncreatively titled) 60 Minutes segment on the subject: “Fish Fuss Over Salmon.”
In the thirteen minute segment, they focus on the Snake River dams, and sadly, the reporter focuses on the cute and odd, missing the larger picture.
The voice of sanity is biologist Ed Cheney, who points out that our billions of tax dollars are largely being used not to recover salmon, but do everything but — propping up subsidized energy, cheap transporation, irrigation, etc.
In short, these aren’t “save the salmon” projects, they’re “save the dam” projects. The difference is crucial.
See you on my way to Montana, Tom Chandler.