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Scott Dam slated for removal in plan by Sonoma County and partners to control hydropower project

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Enviro Updates: From the Eel River Action Plan 2016, by California Trout: “The Eel River is the third largest river entirely in California.The Eel River ecosystem, its salmon and steelhead populations, and other native fish and wildlife populations have been in decline for the past century and a half. It has been transformed from one of the most productive river ecosystems along the Pacific Coast to a degraded river with heavily impaired salmonid populations.”

A nearly century-old dam on the Eel River that impounds Lake Pillsbury is slated for removal under a $500 million proposal helmed by Sonoma County and four other regional partners seeking to take over from PG&E a remote but pivotal hydropower project in Mendocino County.

The coalition, including Mendocino and Humboldt counties, hailed the proposal as a milestone in their effort to meet the needs of all three counties, protecting water supplies for farmers, fish and communities, including a key source of supplemental water for the Russian River system that serves 600,000  customers in Sonoma and Marin counties.

The dam removal alone, a long-sought goal of environmental groups and fish advocates, would be the highest-profile project to improve habitat for imperiled North Coast salmon and steelhead in decades, perhaps behind only the dam removals planned on the Klamath River within the next two years.

“The good news is that Scott Dam is coming out,” said Scott Greacen, conservation director for Friends of the Eel River, a nonprofit that for decades has been pursuing removal to open up more than 300 miles of spawning habitat in the upper Eel. Due mainly to dams, water diversion and other development, the river’s salmon and steelhead “have paid a devastating price, going from a million fish a year to the brink of extinction,” he said.

The proposal, submitted Wednesday to federal officials, has also stirred passions among those dismayed by the prospective loss of a 2,300-acre recreational lake deep in the Lake County portion of Mendocino National Forest. Santa Rosa residents George and Carol Cinquini, who have held a cabin at Lake Pillsbury since the 1940s, are annoyed that the 450 homeowners, ranchers and small business owners in the lake community were excluded from the planning process.

“We tried to get our foot in the door,” said Carol Cinquini, vice president of the Lake Pillsbury Alliance, which was formed last year.

“We’re very upset,” said George Cinquini, an alliance board member. The reservoir, about two hours from Santa Rosa is a haven for water sports, and without it, Cinquini warned, Russian River flows will be diminished in dry years.

But North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who brought local shareholders together to chart the project’s future, said the proposal is the only way to guarantee a “really important water resource” for the Russian River.

The 98-year-old dam has long outlived its purpose, he said, and the coalition project, dubbed the Two-Basin Partnership, calls for habitat restoration “to rejuvenate one of our great salmon rivers in California.”

State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, whose district stretches across both drainages, called for Lake County to be added to the partnership because Lake Pillsbury and most of the Eel River’s headwaters are in the county.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10960029-181/sonoma-county-backs-plan-to

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Work to continue on second half of Dry Creek restoration

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Overlooking water that was swiftly running through a broad channel that was mostly a patch of thick brush and trees until last year, local and federal officials and others on Monday marked the halfway point in a 13-year, $81 million fish habitat restoration project along Dry Creek.

In the past seven years, Sonoma Water and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have completed about 3 of the 6 miles of streambed they intend to rehabilitate and enhance to give endangered salmonid species that call the creek home a better chance to survive.

“This is, I think, one of the gems of our region and really a highlight project,” Army Corps Brigadier General Kimberly Colloton told those assembled.

As they toasted the conclusion of the final phase in the first round of projects at the edge of a Ferrari-Carano vineyard in Healdsburg, the two key partners approved an agreement committing to continued work on the effort.

But they have little choice. A 2008 biological opinion issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service required the two agencies to restore 6 out of 14 miles of Dry Creek. The work had to be done if they were to continue operating the Warm Springs Dam at Lake Sonoma for flood control and water deliveries to 600,000 consumers throughout Sonoma and northern Marin counties.

The order came in response to findings that water releases made since completion of the dam in 1984 were often at too high a velocity for juvenile fish to rest or feed adequately. Moreover, such fast-moving water further scoured and straightened out the streambed, exacerbating the problem.

The work they’ve been doing since is designed to spread the creek out, creating side- and cross-channels and dead-ended alcoves that slow the water down to a stop. They’ve added giant root wads, boulders, tree stumps and other woody debris to create places for small fish to hide and rest, and put in willows and other plants on the banks for shade.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9516210-181/work-to-continue-on-second

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Of creeks and geeks: Fisheries experts gather to contemplate the collapse of California’s ocean economy

Tom Gogola, PACIFIC SUN

State Senator Mike McGuire convened the 45th annual Zeke Grader Fisheries Forum last week in Sacramento, bringing together a dozen-odd anglers and experts for an afternoon of testimony about the state of California’s aquatic life. Grader was a legendary commercial fisherman in the state, who died a few years ago.

As McGuire noted, the fisheries meeting this year had special significance, occurring as it did against the backdrop of a reinvigorated offshore gas- and oil-drilling push from Washington, which pretty much nobody in California is supporting.

The meetings occurred against an additional backdrop which has seen sardine populations collapsing across the state and where, in Marin County, state health officials moved to shut down the coastal shell-fishery there two weeks ago because of high levels of a potentially fatal poison found in mussels and oysters at Point Reyes National Seashore.

Warmer-than-usual ocean temperatures are the suspected culprit, an increasingly common theme in state waters that have only recently come through a devastating and demoralizing outbreak of domoic acid poisoning in Dungeness crabs. In short, the poisoning occurs via algae blooms that occur in warm water.

Read more at https://pacificsun.com/feature-of-creeks-and-geeks/

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Forecast shows California salmon fishermen in for another year of sharp limits

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A third straight year of low king salmon runs is expected to deliver another blow to one of the North Coast’s most iconic and lucrative fisheries, wildlife managers indicated Thursday, as both regulators and fishermen faced the prospect of a federally mandated plan to reverse the trend and rebuild key stocks.

The grim news comes amid a dramatic, yearslong decline in the state’s commercial salmon landings, which are down 97 percent last year from their most recent peak, in 2013, when they hit 12.7 million pounds.

The full picture for commercial and sport seasons won’t be clear for several more weeks, but spawning projections show Sacramento River salmon — historically the largest source for the state’s ocean and freshwater harvests — have fallen so low that they’re now considered by regulators to be “overfished.”

Wildlife officials acknowledged that term minimizes the many factors that have led to this point, including shifting conditions in the ocean and years of low river flows during the drought, all of which have pummeled stocks.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8055549-181/forecast-shows-california-salmon-fishermen

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Uncertain salmon season launches in Bodega Bay 

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The rising hum of activity in the port of Bodega Bay over recent days reveals an unexpected level of interest in the commercial salmon season that starts today, despite a three-month delay and what’s been an extremely grim outlook for the beleaguered fishery.
A large proportion of the local fleet has been gearing up to head out to open ocean, ready to drop their lines and test the waters. But the satisfied, even boisterous enthusiasm that once characterized the marinas during preseasons past has diminished during years of struggle in the fishing industry, some say.
A time that once carried the promise of hard work and dependable results now brims with uncertainty.
“It just isn’t there anymore, the old vim and vigor, and the excitement about getting ready for an opener, and this kind of stuff,” veteran fisherman Dan Kammerer, 75, said, recalling laughter and jokes that used to be shared along the docks. “It just isn’t fun anymore.”
Chinook salmon, also called king salmon, were once a prized staple of the North Coast’s fishing grounds, ranked just ahead or behind Dungeness crab in annual landings. But the population has been in severe decline, due in part to historic drought and disrupted ocean conditions that have reduced the survival of young salmon in freshwater streams and coastal waters.
After two dreadful seasons, state and federal wildlife biologists last spring forecast the lowest chinook salmon stocks off the Pacific Coast since 2009, when both sport and commercial fisheries were closed for the second consecutive year.
Read more: Uncertain salmon season launches in Bodega Bay | The Press Democrat

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State decides against salmon release in Bodega Bay

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

“It’s not that we think the net pen project is necessarily a bad project,” the committee’s past chairman, Gordon Bennett, and president of Save Our Seashore, said, but the potential risks and mitigations need to be evaluated.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has pulled the plug on plans to release a quarter-million hatchery-born Chinook salmon into Bodega Bay after several North Bay conservation groups demanded the agency first conduct a full environmental review.
The decision to cancel the project came just weeks before the planned release, providing what commercial and recreational fishing interests hoped would be a boost to fishery stocks when the juvenile smolts matured in three years.
But limited experience with ocean releases, and available data on survival, migration and spawning habits of trucked hatchery fish raised concerns about how they might mix or out-compete endangered fish naturally occurring in the Russian River and Lagunitas Creek once the introduced fish reached spawning age.
The fish were to have been transported directly from the Mokelumne River Hatchery in San Joaquin County to Bodega Bay, bypassing the usual downstream voyage from native freshwater habitat to the ocean.
That plan would have left them subject to straying randomly upstream, a Marin County salmon restoration group wrote to state wildlife officials as part of its insistence on a full and public environmental review.
“We have already documented adult Chinook from Half Moon Bay releases straying into Lagunitas Creek,” said the letter from the Lagunitas Creek Technical Advisory Committee, an independent consortium of about two dozen local, state and federal natural resource and wildlife agencies.
The hatchery fish, the letter said, “could increase the extinction risk of the nearby wild and endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead,” potentially bringing disease, diluting the genetics of wild fish stocks or out-competing natural fish for food and habitat in both ocean and freshwater areas.
Read more at: State decides against salmon release in Bodega Bay | The Press Democrat

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Bodega Bay to be release site for quarter-million hatchery salmon

 Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The hatchery-reared fish will be trucked directly to Sonoma County from the state-run Mokelumne River hatchery near Lodi as part of a continuing effort to augment California’s declining Chinook salmon stocks, which took an especially hard hit during the prolonged drought.
Modeled after similar programs elsewhere on the California coast, the operation involves the use of a custom-made net pen to be positioned in the water, dockside, at Spud Point Marina in order to receive the smolts. The pen will provide a place for the young fish to adjust after their tanker ride and to acclimate to salt water before they head toward open water with the outgoing tide a few hours after their arrival.
The key advantage of such an effort is it allows the young fish to bypass the obstacles they would otherwise face getting downstream to the ocean, past unscreened water pumps and other dangers in the Sacramento River/San Joaquin River system, enhancing their chance of surviving to adulthood.
“The delta pumps just eat all those fish coming down, the little smolts coming down the river, and this makes sure that they make it northward to Bodega Bay, as a start,” said veteran Petaluma angler Victor Gonella, founder of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, a sport and commercial industry group that put the project together.“This is just really good news for the fishermen in Bodega, the businesses in Bodega, anybody who loves salmon,” Gonella said. “We’re all hopeful that it will continue for years to come as we continue this process.”
Read more at: Bodega Bay to be release site for quarter-million hatchery salmon

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New $12 million Russian River fish ladder offers glimpse of salmon recovery efforts

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

[The new viewing gallery] will host visits by about 3,000 school children a year, and the Water Agency will offer free tours of the Mirabel facility from 9 a.m. to noon Nov. 12 and Nov. 18. People can register for one of the tours at www.scwa.ca.gov/tours.

A massive concrete structure, built to withstand floods and earthquakes beside the Russian River near Forestville, is the latest step toward restoring the river’s beleaguered salmon and steelhead populations.
The 600,000 Sonoma and Marin county residents who get their drinking water from the river paid for most of the $12 million fish ladder, which includes both a video monitoring system so scientists can count the migrating fish and a viewing gallery that will give the public a glimpse as well.
Grant Davis, general manager of the Sonoma County Water Agency, which developed the facility, said it offered a unique, submarine vantage point in California to watch wild salmon make their way upstream.
“This is open-heart surgery that we accomplished in our river system,” he said.
At a formal ribbon-cutting attended by about 150 people Wednesday, state Sen. Mike McGuire hailed the fish ladder as “a legacy project.”
“The Russian River is who we are in Sonoma County,” he said, noting that the river’s once-abundant salmon and steelhead long fed the region’s Pomo Indian tribes.
Chuck Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, lauded the project as a pivotal one for salmon recovery in California.
Describing the annual migration of river-born fish to the ocean and back to their own spawning grounds, Bonham said, “What journey is more inspiring than that one?”
Read more at: New $12 million Russian River fish ladder offers glimpse of salmon recovery efforts | The Press Democrat

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New multispecies plan provides roadmap to salmon and steelhead recovery

October 13, 2016, NOAA FISHERIES
NOAA Recovery Plan for Chinook and Steelhead
Millions of wild salmon and steelhead once returned to California’s north and central coastal watersheds. Development over the last 100 years and the conversion of forestlands to urban and agricultural use led to the decline of these populations. From 1997 to 2000, California Coastal Chinook salmon, Northern California steelhead, and Central California Coast steelhead were listed under the federal Endangered Species Act as species threatened with extinction.

chinook-in-eel-r_cathy-myers
Chinook salmon in the Eel River. Photo: Cathy Myers

Today, NOAA Fisheries released its final plan to recover these species by addressing the threats they face and restoring the ecosystem on which they depend. The recovery plan strategically targets restoration efforts to the needs of salmon and steelhead throughout each of their life stages, from their time as juveniles in freshwater habitat, through their maturation in the ocean, and their return to streams to spawn. Using this framework, the plan seeks to improve estuarine and riparian habitat conditions, restore floodplains and stream channels, enhance stream flows and improve fish passage across 8 million acres of California’s north and central coast.
With science at its foundation, the plan provides for the biological needs of fish. A technical team of scientists, led by NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, developed criteria that will ensure the species persists over the long-term. The criteria address such attributes as population size and reproductive success rates, as well as sufficient geographic distribution and genetic diversity. The idea is to target on-the-ground actions to the needs of fish throughout their life cycle to restore robust populations across the landscape.
Read more at: New multispecies plan provides roadmap to salmon and steelhead recovery :: NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region

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California drought puts Chinook salmon in danger of extinction

Ellen Knickmeyer, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Another deadly summer of drought has heightened fears of extinction in the wild for an iconic California salmon, federal officials said Wednesday.
Officials with the National Marine Fisheries Service said preliminary counts indicate that hot, shallow waters caused by the drought killed most of this year’s juvenile winter-run Chinook before they made it out to the Pacific Ocean.
It “doesn’t look very good,” said Garwin Yip, a federal fisheries spokesman.If a final count this winter confirms the bad news, it would mean a second straight summer in which 5 percent or less of the young fish survived California’s drought.
Since the fish spawn on a three-year cycle, the die-off would make management of next year’s water critical for the salmon’s survival in the wild.
The development suggests failure for a second year in a row for federal efforts to manage water flows from Lake Shasta, a main reservoir in the state’s water system, to keep salmon and other species alive.
“Droughts are always hard on salmon, but water management decisions made it worse this year,” said John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association.
The juvenile salmon depend on water temperatures in the mid-50s, and were unable to survive in the warmer temperatures produced by shallower than usual water.
Chinook salmon are a mainstay of the state’s commercial fishing industry. California’s fishing industry and environmental groups are vying with the state’s farmers for diminishing water supplies in the driest four years on record.
Source: California drought puts Chinook salmon in danger of | The Press Democrat