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Too many straws in the Russian River

On April 21st, officials with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the State Water Resources Control Board sent joint letters to property owners in four of the Russian River’s largest tributaries imploring them to conserve water on behalf of a federally-listed endangered species: Coho salmon. Its subject header was “Urgent Voluntary Drought Initiative Request to Maintain Stream Flow for Coho Salmon in Reaches of Green Valley, Dutch Bill, Mark West, and Mill Creeks, Tributaries to the Russian River, Sonoma County.”
When forester and hydrologist Jim Doerksen returned from vacation last week and read the letter, he was – as he terms it – “insulted.” Doerksen’s property features nearly a mile of Mark West Creek frontage. As Doerksen is intimately aware, having owned his property since 1967, the creek was once known for its thrashing, silvery surges of salmon and trout. But the first of the four horsemen of fisheries collapse – habitat degradation, dams, weakening of the genetic pool through the use of hatcheries, and over-fishing – have taken an enormous toll.
The cause of the habitat loss in Mark West Creek is summed up on a sign strung to a tree on the northwestern edge of Doerksen’s property, located along St. Helena Rd.: “Vineyards SUCK! Water.” “In the meetings I have had with you and [fellow Water Board staff member] Tom Howard, I have consistently emphasized that the State Water Board has always shirked its responsibility when it comes to protecting salmonids in Mark West Creek as required by the ‘Public Trust Doctrine’ and AB 2121,” Doerksen wrote in response, in a letter addressed to State Water Board Deputy Director of Water Rights Barbara Evoy. “In the Water Rights Complaint [RPL:262 (49-15-07)] filed by Grif Okie and myself, backed up by 5,000 pages of documentation, we emphasize that Mark West Creek was being dewatered directly due to actions taken by the State Water Resources Control Board and the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, and because of the total inaction of the Calif. Department of Fish and Wildlife.”
Some history is in order. In 1967, Jim Doerksen purchased 500 acres of ranch land on St. Helena Rd., about seven miles northeast of Santa Rosa, and meticulously removed fruit orchards, exotic annual grasses, and tangles of brush where old vineyards had been, replacing them with redwood trees and Doug-firs. The land had consisted of a redwood- and fir-dominant forest prior to the arrival of Euroamericans.
The land’s response has been nearly miraculous. By the early-2000s, visitors from the American Forestry Foundation informed Doerksen that more timber per acre was growing on his land than anywhere they know of in North America. And, as Doerksen fastidiously nursed the land back to health, the watershed’s abundance also increased.
Read much more at: Too Many Straws In the Russian | Anderson Valley Advertiser

Posted on Categories Land Use, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , , , Leave a comment on Close to Home: A plea to North Coast landowners to help coho salmon

Close to Home: A plea to North Coast landowners to help coho salmon

Thomas Howard & Charlton H. Bonham, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
From the moment they hatch, coho salmon fry rearing in the tributaries of Northern California watersheds such as the Russian River face an uphill battle for survival from predators, disease and lack of food in summer months before their migration to the Pacific Ocean.
This year, they face another devastating challenge — drought conditions. The drought is impacting businesses and people living in the Russian River watershed, too. It is impacting us all. But for the coho, there’s a way landowners and water rights holders can help.
In key tributaries of the Russian River such as Green Valley, Dutch Bill, Mill and Mark West creeks, surveys counting juvenile coho salmon in 2014 showed 97 percent fewer fish than in 2013. The loss was staggering. Few of the survivors made it to the ocean to feed, grow and eventually return, keeping nature’s chain of survival tentative but unbroken.
This year it’s critically important to help a new generation of fish survive. Juvenile coho rear in pools on these tributaries, and minimum flows are required to keep oxygen high, water temperatures cool and food production thriving in these streams. When flows get too low to keep pools connected, conditions deteriorate and the juveniles die.
This week, several hundred property owners and water right holders adjacent to these tributaries are receiving a joint letter from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the state Water Resources Control Board detailing how they can help with this challenge. May to December are critical months for these endangered salmon. We are urging property owners and water rights holders to work together in a voluntary effort to take just a minimal amount of water from these tributaries this year to give the coho a greater chance of survival than they experienced in 2014.
Through the governor’s leadership and executive orders, the Department of Fish and Wildlife created a voluntary drought initiative. Last year, we negotiated 22 voluntary agreements with landowners across the state. Fish and Wildlife signed these voluntary agreements and provided the willing partners regulatory coverage under the California Endangered Species Act for a specific time period.
We’ve already seen success when we have informally asked some Russian River water users to assist. In early April, we learned that some coho were trapped in a pool in Porter Creek that had become hydrologically disconnected and was in danger of drying up. E. & J. Gallo Winery agreed to release pulse flows into Porter Creek. Following that, tracking tags indicated that several hundred of those coho furthered their journey down the Russian River and toward the ocean.
We think that we can do this together with willing landowners across this watershed. There is a long-standing and strong commitment to stewardship of natural resources in the wine industry and in this region. We have taken the unusual step of publishing this public plea for help because we want to avoid a worse situation for all of us. In the absence of a sustainable voluntary commitment to not take water, the state water board may be required to act as it did in 2014 and this year with tributaries in the Sacramento River watershed and pass emergency regulations that compel curtailments by water right holders along these tributaries.
We remain hopeful these voluntary agreements will close the gap for this season and provide the juvenile salmon the necessary flow they need — and offer one less barrier to their survival for 2015. We appreciate the time and consideration of any landowners who take action and respond to our plea for help.
Thomas Howard is executive director of the state Water Resources Control Board. Charlton H. Bonham is director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
via Close to Home: A plea to North Coast | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , Leave a comment on Shrinking Sonoma County streams put young coho salmon in peril

Shrinking Sonoma County streams put young coho salmon in peril

About 30,000 juvenile coho salmon may be doomed by the drought as Sonoma County streams shrink and become disconnected from the Russian River, trapping the young fish in pools that will dry up or degrade over the long, hot summer, experts say.
The parched conditions have appeared earlier this year than any other in the state’s current dry spell, and they could prove the deadliest in recent record to the imperiled coho, the focus of 14-year-old restoration effort costing millions of dollars.
“It’s grim. It’s going to be a rough year for the coho,” said Mariska Obedzinski, a fish biologist who coordinates the UC Cooperative Extension’s coho monitoring program. “They can’t get where they need to go.”
At the same time, another 50,000 coho juveniles, known as smolts, are due for release from the Don Clausen Fish Hatchery below Warm Springs Dam on Lake Sonoma and scientists are considering which streams will give the endangered fish the best chance of achieving their biological goal of reaching the Pacific Ocean this spring.
Two coho spawning streams — Porter and Pena creeks — are already cut off from the river. If no more rain falls, other tributaries, including Green Valley, Dutch Bill and Mill creeks, will likely go dry in spots, Obedzinski said.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is already planning rescue operations to save the smolts and younger fish in disconnected streams.
Read more via Shrinking Sonoma County streams put young coho salmon | The Press Democrat.