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Will overhauling Scott Dam save native fish?

Alastair Bland, THE BOHEMIAN

Salmon three feet long seem to clog the water as the chrome-colored fish, fresh from the ocean, begin their journey upriver toward the high-elevation gravel riffles where they were born. Here, in the remotest tendrils of the watershed, they will lay and fertilize the eggs that ensure the next generation of salmon.

At least that’s how it once was early each autumn on the Eel River. But nature’s security system for fish survival is only as good as the health of a river. In the case of the Eel, a local power company built a dam on the Eel’s main fork in 1920. As a result, Chinook salmon lost access to about 100 miles of spawning habitat.

Steelhead, which swam farther upstream into smaller tributaries, suffered even greater impacts. Intensive in-river commercial fishing, water diversions, logging and other land degradation took their toll, too. Today, annual salmon runs in Eel River that once may have totaled a million or so adults consist of a few thousand. Lamprey eels, too, have dwindled.

Now, there is serious talk of removing Scott Dam, owned by PG&E since 1930.

For fishery proponents, such a river makeover is the optimal way to revive the Eel’s salmon runs.

“We want to see volitional passage, both ways,” says Curtis Knight, executive director of the conservation group California Trout.

Volitional, in this context, means the salmon are able to make their historic migration on their own—downstream as newly born juveniles and, later, upstream as sexually mature adults—all without the assistance of human hands.

“We think dam removal is one possibility here,” Knight says.

California Trout is one of several local groups and agencies now formally considering taking over the operation of Scott Dam from PG&E. As a hydroelectric facility, Scott Dam is not very productive, and with PG&E’s operating license scheduled to expire in 2022, the utility giant recently stepped away from the project. PG&E even briefly put the Potter Valley Project up for auction, though the offer attracted no takers.

Read more at https://www.bohemian.com/northbay/saving-salmon/Content?oid=9360901

Posted on Categories Habitats, WildlifeTags ,

California sues Trump administration over rollback of Endangered Species Act

Anna M. Phillips, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

California and 16 other states on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration’s weakening of the Endangered Species Act, a landmark law that has ensured the survival of the California condor, the grizzly bear and other animals close to extinction.

The lawsuit is California’s latest in a blitz of legal challenges to the president’s policies.

Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra has sued the Trump administration more than 60 times over its agenda of dismantling Obama-era environmental and public health regulations. Though most of those cases haven’t been decided, judges have so far sided with California and environmental groups in cases concerning air pollution, pesticides and the royalties that the government receives from companies that extract oil, gas and coal from public land.

In a statement, Becerra said the administration’s rollback of the Endangered Species Act could have major repercussions for California, which has more than 300 species listed as endangered or threatened — more than any other mainland state.

“As we face the unprecedented threat of a climate emergency, now is the time to strengthen our planet’s biodiversity, not to destroy it,” Becerra said. “The only thing we want to see extinct are the beastly policies of the Trump administration putting our ecosystems in critical danger.”

Read more at https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2019-09-25/california-sues-trump-over-endangered-species-act

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Delta tunnel: MWD weighs moving intakes 20-30 miles north for sea level rise

Dierdre Des Jardins, CALIFORNIA WATER RESEARCH

On Wednesday, August 28, 2019, the Sacramento Press Club hosted a panel discussion, “Droughts, tunnels & clean water.” The panel included Wade Crowfoot, Secretary of Natural Resources, Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager and CEO of Metropolitan Water District, and Jennifer Pierre, general manager of the State Water Contractors. Stuart Leavenworth from the LA Times moderated the panel.

The Newsom administration has committed to modernizing Delta Conveyance to protect water supplies from earthquakes and sea level rise. In a July 8 update to the Metropolitan Water District’s Water Planning and Stewardship Committee, Crowfoot stated, “if you are a state agency and you are building infrastructure that you want to exist and be operating in 2100, you need to plan for between 5 and 10 feet of sea level rise.” Crowfoot emphasized that sea level rise was one of the reasons the Newsom administration supported the Delta tunnel, stating, “when we’re talking about really protecting our water supply against sea level rise and saltwater intrusion, the underground conveyance or the tunnel becomes quite important.”

The Newsom administration has relied on assertions by the Department of Water Resources that the North Delta is 15 feet above sea level. But as explained in California Water Research’s August 12 blog post, this assertion is misleading. In the North Delta, only the top of the Sacramento River levee is 15 feet above sea level. Elevations at Courtland and Hood range from -1 to 8 feet above sea level, and the bottom of the Sacramento River is over 20 feet below sea level. California Water Research has recommended that new modeling be done of the performance of the North Delta intakes with high sea level rise.

During the Q&A period at the Sacramento Press Club luncheon,Deirdre Des Jardins advised the attendees of these facts. She asked Kightlinger and Pierre if they would commit to modeling the performance of the North Delta intakes with 10 feet of sea level rise and widespread levee failure. In response, Kightlinger stated that MWD is looking at moving the Delta tunnel intakes 20-30 miles north to accommodate sea level rise. Kightlinger stated that MWD is evaluating the increased costs of a longer tunnel, versus the benefits of extending the lifetime of the project.

It is unclear what intake locations Kightlinger was referring to. But in 2010, the Department of Water Resources evaluated two sets of locations north of Freeport, which would resist salinity intrusion with 10+ feet of sea level rise. The first set includes two locations on the west bank of the Sacramento River in South Sacramento, the second set, two locations upstream of the American River confluence. A third set of alternative locations was downstream of the confluence with Steamboat Slough. (see below.) These would benefit salmon but have less resistance to salinity intrusion.

These alternative locations were considered and rejected in 2010, partly on the basis of modeling by Resource Management Associates (RMA) which was interpreted to show no impacts from salinity intrusion at any of the proposed intake locations. But as explained in California Water Research’s August 6 blog, the 2010 RMA modeling is obsolete and has major limitations. The 2010 RMA modeling assumed 55 inches of sea level rise, and no failure of North Delta levees. The California Ocean Protection Council’s current estimate of maximal sea level rise by 2100 is 10 feet or 120 inches. This is over twice the 2010 estimate.

As part of “assessment of efforts to modernize Delta Conveyance,” California Water Research has recommended that the Newsom administration document that the WaterFix intake locations need to be reassessed for performance with 10 feet of sea level rise and widespread levee failure.

Source: https://cah2oresearch.com/2019/09/02/delta-tunnel-mwd-weighs-moving-intakes-20-30-miles-north-for-sea-level-rise/

Posted on Categories Habitats, WildlifeTags ,

US government weakens application of Endangered Species Act

Ellen Knickmeyer, ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Trump administration moved on Monday to weaken how it applies the 45-year-old Endangered Species Act, ordering changes that critics said will speed the loss of animals and plants at a time of record global extinctions .

The action, which expands the administration’s rewrite of U.S. environmental laws, is the latest that targets protections, including for water, air and public lands. Two states — California and Massachusetts, frequent foes of President Donald Trump’s environmental rollbacks — promised lawsuits to try to block the changes in the law. So did some conservation groups.

Pushing back against the criticism, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and other administration officials contend the changes improve efficiency of oversight while continuing to protect rare species.

“The best way to uphold the Endangered Species Act is to do everything we can to ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal — recovery of our rarest species,” he said in a statement. “An effectively administered Act ensures more resources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground conservation.”

Under the enforcement changes, officials for the first time will be able to publicly attach a cost to saving an animal or plant. Blanket protections for creatures newly listed as threatened will be removed. Among several other changes, the action could allow the government to disregard the possible impact of climate change, which conservation groups call a major and growing threat to wildlife.

https://www.apnews.com/9bf4541d89e6444783814e53302ce479

Posted on Categories Habitats, Sonoma Coast, WildlifeTags , ,

California fights US plan to drop rat poison on Farallon Islands

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Federal wildlife officials were urged Wednesday to withdraw a proposal to drop 1.5 tons of rat poison on remote islands off the coast of California to kill a mice infestation until they address questions on the impact to wildlife.

The California Coastal Commission heard public comment on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan, which has drawn criticism from local conservation groups. The commission is seeking to determine whether the plan complies with state coastal management rules.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a report presented to the commission in March that a massive house mice population is threatening the whole ecosystem on the rugged Farallon Islands, 27 miles (44 kilometers) off the coast of San Francisco.

The archipelago is home to the largest seabird breeding colony in the contiguous United States, with approximately 300,000 to 350,000 birds of 13 species, including the rare ashy storm petrels. The islands are also used by marine mammal species for resting and breeding and by migratory birds.

Federal wildlife officials proposed using helicopters to dump 2,900 pounds (1,315 kilograms) of cereal grain pellets laced with brodifacoum, an anticoagulant that causes rodents to bleed to death. The substance is banned in California.

Officials acknowledged the plan will kill some seagulls and other species but argue that the benefits of eliminating the invasive species will heal the whole ecosystem.
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Coastal seabird die-off puzzles experts

“The only way to protect these species and allow the ecosystem to recover is 100% eradication of the mice,” said Pete Warzibok, a biologist who has worked on the Farallon Islands for more than 20 years. “Anything else is simply a stopgap measure that will not adequately address the problem.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9786599-181/california-fights-us-plan-to

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California governor makes big change to giant Delta water project

Kathleen Ronayne, ASSOCIATED PRESS

California Gov. Gavin Newsom scrapped a $16 billion plan Thursday to build two giant water tunnels to reroute the state’s water system and instead directed state agencies to restart planning for a single tunnel.

The move came after $240 million has already been spent on the project championed by former Gov. Jerry Brown to divert water from the north to the state’s drier south.

Newsom had signaled the move in his February State of the State address. He made the change official when he asked state agencies to withdraw existing permit applications and start over.

“I do not support the twin tunnels. But we can build on the important work that’s already been done,” he has said.

Brown wanted to build two, 35-mile-long (55-kilometer-long) tunnels to divert water from the Sacramento River, the state’s largest river, to the San Francisco Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. Local water agencies were expected to foot the roughly $16 billion bill.

A single tunnel is expected to cost less, but officials haven’t yet set a price tag, said Erin Mellon, spokeswoman for the state Department of Water Resources. Nor has the state determined how much water would flow through a single tunnel.

Read more at https://www.apnews.com/42964ecbd904409392551d8fdd67ca58

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Habitats, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , , , ,

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

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WildlifeTags , , , ,

Best salmon return since 2014 leads to longer season for North Coast fishery

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

North Coast fishing crews idled by an early end to the Dungeness crab season will have a longer 2019 salmon season than in recent years after fishery managers finalized dates Tuesday, a reflection of this year’s healthier projected adult spawning run.

In fact, this generation of returning adult king salmon is thought to be the most abundant since 2014, allowing for a season opener beginning May 16 and stretching to at least late September in coastal waters between Point Arena on the southern Mendocino Coast and Pigeon Point on the coast of San Mateo County.

That 122-day span is nearly twice the 73 days provided to commercial boats in 2018 — a reflection, experts say, of abundant rainfall when this year’s adult spawners were juveniles two years ago, making their way down freshwater streams to the Pacific Ocean.

The brighter forecast comes amid generally declining conditions across ocean fisheries and continued restrictions needed to rebuild West Coast salmon stocks, twin blows that have landed hard on California’s struggling commercial fishing fleet.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9505574-181/best-salmon-return-since-2014

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The twin tunnels are out—Berkeley experts say that’s a good thing

Glen Martin, CALIFORNIA MAGAZINE

The extravagantly wet winter notwithstanding, California’s water woes are far from over. But recent moves suggest Governor Gavin Newsom is leading the state into a new era of water policy. Last month, he decided to scale back his predecessor’s decades-long effort, the Twin Tunnels, to deliver water from Northern to Southern California.

“Really, the idea that two massive tunnels would be built in the Delta was always—well, a pipe dream,” says Peter Gleick.

This massive project, known as the California WaterFix, was promoted by Jerry Brown as the solution to the state’s agricultural and urban water insecurity and environmental degradation in the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta. Conceived as two 35-mile-long, 40-foot-diameter pipes buried under the Delta, the Twin Tunnels would’ve incorporated a great deal of concrete, steel, and machinery to move tremendous quantities of water southward. (Read more about Brown’s water plan here.)

Ultimately, though, it was a bridge—or tunnel—too far, even for Brown. And UC Berkeley water experts generally agree Newsom’s move away from the WaterFix is a pragmatic one.

“Jerry really wanted that legacy project, but he overplayed his hand,” says Richard Walker, a Berkeley professor emeritus of geography who has written extensively on state infrastructure, water, and agricultural issues. “The WaterFix was clearly a relic of the past. It doesn’t accord with either the will of the people of California or the actual way that state water management is moving.”

“Really, the idea that two massive tunnels would be built in the Delta was always—well, a pipe dream,” says Peter Gleick, a UC Berkeley alum and the president emeritus of the Pacific Institute, a water-oriented think tank. “It was always clear that you could get far better results spending much less money by exploring other avenues.”

And that’s exactly what experts anticipate Newsom will do. By scaling back Brown’s all-encompassing megaproject, he appears to be moving towards what analysts call a “portfolio” approach—or multiple, integrated programs, including one smaller tunnel.

Read more at https://alumni.berkeley.edu/california-magazine/just-in/2019-03-12/twin-tunnels-are-out-berkeley-experts-say-thats-good-thing

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CalTrout wants old Scott Dam on Eel River removed to help salmon and steelhead

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A state environmental group is calling for the removal of an old dam on the Eel River, contending it threatens the future of protected salmon and steelhead while acknowledging it is a key part of the North Bay’s water supply.

Scott Dam, a 138-foot concrete dam erected in 1922, is one of five aging dams California Trout asserts are “ripe for removal” to benefit their natural surroundings and communities.

The nearly 50-year-old nonprofit known as CalTrout said in its report, “Top 5 California Dams Out,” the Eel River represents “perhaps the greatest opportunity in California to restore a watershed to its former abundance of wild salmonids.”

Scott Dam, located in Lake County’s portion of the Mendocino National Forest, has been a longstanding target of other groups, including Friends of the Eel River, who want steelhead, coho and chinook salmon to swim freely within the 288 miles of habitat in the Eel watershed blocked by the dam.

The environmentalists see a “unique opportunity” to achieve their goal, as California’s largest utility PG&E, which has owned the dam as part of a small hydropower project since 1930, has filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy and abandoned plans to sell or seek relicensing of the project that diverts 20 billion gallons of water a year from the Eel to the Russian River at Potter Valley.

Eel River interests have considered the diversion a form of theft, while the water is critical to towns and ranches on the upper Russian River from Potter Valley to Healdsburg and part of the water supply for 600,000 residents in Sonoma and Marin counties.

How the future of the Potter Valley Project will play out over the next 18 months to two years is unclear, but it appears likely to result in either decommissioning or relicensing of the project, which includes a small powerhouse and two Eel River dams.

The bottom line is either PG&E or a new owner of the project may face a choice between paying more than $90 million for a fish ladder at Scott Dam or about $70 million to remove it.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9312399-181/state-environmental-group-wants-old