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California’s ocean salmon fishing season closed for second year in a row

Susan Wood, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

California’s commercial and recreational ocean salmon fishing season is set to be closed for the second consecutive year, another blow to the state’s beleaguered industry suffering from the combined fallout of drought, climate disruption and deteriorating ocean conditions.

Already, a new request is underway for yet another federal disaster declaration to help alleviate some of the wide economic damage from the closure, affecting not just the fleet but many associated businesses that depend on the fishery, one of the state’s most lucrative.

The Pacific Fisheries Management Council, which manages and monitors West Coast salmon stocks in the ocean, endorsed the option on Wednesday of a full closure through the end of the year, mirroring recommendations made to close the fisheries in 2023.

Many fishermen, already resigned to a severely limited season if any at all due to depleted stocks, had backed the full closure.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/north-bay/californias-salmon-fishing-season-closed-for-second-year-in-a-row/

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Press Release: Governor Newsom launches California’s ‘Salmon Strategy for a Hotter, Drier Future’

Office of Governor Gavin Newsom

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: To restore populations of salmon amidst hotter and drier weather exacerbated by climate change, Governor Newsom announced California’s first strategy to protect the iconic fish species for generations to come.

Governor Gavin Newsom today announced new actions and efforts already underway that California is taking to help restore California’s salmon populations.

Salmon Strategy for a Hotter, Drier Future

After 10 years of rapidly intensifying drought and more extreme weather, salmon are not doing well. Last year, with projections showing Chinook salmon population at historic lows, the salmon season was closed and the Newsom Administration requested a Federal Fishery Disaster to support impacted communities. Additionally, due to crashing salmon populations in 2023, some tribes canceled their religious and cultural harvests for the first time ever.

The strategy’s six priorities call for:

    1. Removing barriers and modernizing infrastructure for salmon migration
    2. Restoring habitat
    3. Protecting water flows in key rivers at the right times
    4. Modernizing hatcheries
    5. Transforming technology and management systems
    6. Strengthening partnerships

Read more at https://www.gov.ca.gov/2024/01/30/governor-newsom-launches-californias-salmon-strategy-for-a-hotter-drier-future/

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PG&E formalizes plan to take down dams on Eel River

Mary Callahan, PRESS DEMOCRAT

In a landmark moment, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. formalized its plans to tear down two more-than-century-old dams on the Eel River — removing the barrier that forms Lake Pillsbury, freeing the waters of the river and restoring the lake footprint to a more natural state.

The moves are part of a 94-page draft surrender application submitted to federal regulators and made public Friday as part of the utility’s plan to decommission its Potter Valley powerhouse and all the infrastructure that comes with it — including Scott and Cape Horn dams, sited slightly downstream.

PG&E has said work deconstructing the dams could begin as early 2028, depending on regulatory approval and environmental review of the plan.

Scott Dam, built in 1921, would come down first, either in phases or all in one season.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. initial draft plan

The plan fulfills long-held dreams of conservationists and fishery groups to see the cold, clear headwaters of the Eel River, part of the Mendocino National Forest, reopened to migrating fish and to restore natural river flows in hopes of reversing the decline of native fish stocks.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/pge-formalizes-plan-to-eliminate-lake-pillsbury-in-mendocino-county-forest/?ref=mostsection

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Op-Ed: Eel River dam debate echoes nationally

Cameron Nielson & Sarah Bardeen, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

On paper, California’s Eel River is a prime candidate for restoration.

It’s a remote river that runs through rugged, lightly populated terrain in Northern California. As with many rivers in the region, a combination of logging, overfishing and dams decimated its once-plentiful salmon and steelhead runs. The introduction of a native predator, the pikeminnow, only made things worse.

But some of that could be put to rights: two aging dams in the Eel’s upper reaches are reaching the end of their life span — and one has been declared seismically unsafe. PG&E, which owns the dams, has chosen not to renew their licenses, setting the stage for removal if no new owner steps forward.

Eel River residents overwhelmingly support dam removal, the tribes are adamantly in favor, and a constellation of NGOs is pushing hard for it. If those dams come down, 150 square miles of cold-water habitat will open up to struggling populations of steelhead and salmon, offering needed refuge from the warming climate.

So why is it so hard to get done?

Part of the answer lies in the dam’s history. Part lies in the challenges of coping with a surfeit of aging infrastructure. And part lies in the complexities of who exactly constitutes the river’s community. Finding a solution has implications not just for the state but for the nation.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/opinion/nielsen-and-bardeen-eel-river-dam-debate-echoes-nationally/

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PG&E plans to remove both Potter Valley Project Dams—Mendo, Humboldt, Lake and Sonoma Fight

Sarah Reith, REDHEADED BLACKBELT

A planning group for the Russian River Water Forum, which is preparing for life after PG&E decommissions the Potter Valley Project, met for the first time yesterday in Ukiah. PG&E said in a town hall last month that its version of decommissioning means removing both dams. That’s unless an entity that is capable of running them steps forward before it submits a draft of the decommissioning plan to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC.

Tony Gigliotti, PG&E’s senior licensing project manager, laid out the timeline at a town hall about Scott Dam and Lake Pillsbury on April 27th.

“When we say decommissioning in this case, both dams will be removed as part of that, unless somebody comes forward with a proposal that PG&E looks at and accepts,” he said. “We need to ensure they can operate the dams after we give up ownership. In terms of timelines for the surrender application, there will be an initial draft November, 2023. A second draft, also available for public review, May 2024, and then the final application will be filed with FERC in January, 2025.”

Janet Walther, PG&E’s senior manager of hydro licensing, qualified that timeline a little.

“When PG&E submits our final surrender application to FERC, that would be the point of no return,” in terms of decommissioning, she said. “And really, the draft. We are looking to know, sooner than later, if there’s an entity interested in taking over the dam because that will change our surrender application and what we put in that surrender application. So I think we are looking and would like to see some initial proposals later this year, if there is interest. And we are talking with folks, as we have been since 2016, about potential interest in future ownership of Scott, and/or Cape Horn Dam.”

Read more at https://kymkemp.com/2023/05/18/pge-plans-to-remove-both-potter-valley-project-dams-mendo-humboldt-lake-and-sonoma-fight/

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California Coastkeeper Alliance lawsuit challenges the County of Sonoma to protect public trust resources

California Coastkeeper Alliance

Today, California Coastkeeper Alliance filed a lawsuit in Superior Court to compel the County of Sonoma to consider and mitigate impacts to public trust resources caused by groundwater extraction in the Russian River watershed. As the Russian River watershed faces a drought emergency, California Coastkeeper Alliance is working to hold Sonoma County accountable to protect public trust resources and prevent over pumping of its waterways. Everyone will need to do their part to ensure the Russian River maintains sufficient flows through this drought, and that includes restricting groundwater pumping as surface water pumping rights are curtailed.

“Over-pumping groundwater has had and continues to cause significant, harmful effects on the flow of the Russian River and its tributaries,” says Sean Bothwell, Executive Director of California Coastkeeper Alliance. “The current drought only makes this problem worse and restricting surface diversions alone merely drives more groundwater pumping. Groundwater connected to surface waters must also be managed, so we can endure the current drought crisis and be more resilient for future drought extremes. Responsibly regulating groundwater use protects other water users, as well as fish and wildlife”

The Russian River, its tributaries, and the aquatic life that depends on their flows, such as endangered Coho salmon, are protected by the public trust doctrine under the California state constitution. Large, self-sustaining populations of Coho salmon once occupied rivers and streams within the Russian River watershed, but insufficient streamflow has negatively affected the recovery of local salmon populations.
Continue reading “California Coastkeeper Alliance lawsuit challenges the County of Sonoma to protect public trust resources”

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The hatchery crutch: How we got here

Jude Isabella, HAKAI MAGAZINE

From their beginnings in the late 19th century, salmon hatcheries have gone from cure to band-aid to crutch. Now, we can’t live without manufactured fish.

To restore salmon populations requires a thoughtful, long-term vision. Habitat restoration is key, and in some instances a conservation hatchery that keeps distinct salmon populations alive during the long process of undoing extensive damage to watersheds.

Writer and fly fisher Roderick Haig-Brown dreamed of a time when the North Pacific Ocean would grow a lot more salmon.

Haig-Brown was probably the most famous and influential fly fisher in North America during his lifetime. The author wrote from his home on the banks of Campbell River on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. He sat at a desk with a view of the river, far from where the arbiters of great writing resided at the time. The New Yorker regularly reviewed his books (always favorably) and in 1976, the New York Times reported on his death.

From the 1930s to the 1970s, Haig-Brown led readers into the realm of Pacific salmon: chinook, sockeye, coho, chum, and pink. In his 1941 book, Return to the River, a lyrical story about one fish that moved a critic to call the author an immortal in the field of nature writing, Haig-Brown dug into the soul of a fish. He created a world from a wild chinook salmon’s point of view, allowing the reader to tag along on the cyclical path of a fish named Spring, from birth to death in an Oregon stream. Her life story is both wondrous and harrowing. Spring’s journey reflected all that Haig-Brown fretted about over 80 years ago: logging that decimated streams, dams that blocked rivers, and development that buried creeks. He fretted about hatchery fish, too.

Read more at https://hakaimagazine.com/features/the-hatchery-crutch-how-we-got-here/

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Sonoma County vintner, business face $3.75 million fine for alleged environmental damage

Emily Wilder, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

State regulators are seeking to impose a $3.75 million fine on a Sonoma County wine executive and his business for allegedly causing significant damage to streams and wetlands while constructing a vineyard in 2018 near Cloverdale.

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has accused Hugh Reimers, an Australian vintner, and his company Krasilsa Pacific Farms LLC of improperly clearing trees, grading land and disposing of construction and earthen waste materials in a way that was detrimental to wetland waters and wildlife, according to a May 9 complaint by the North Coast Water Board’s enforcement staff.

A 2019 investigation by the water board of the 2,278-acre property, which Krasilsa Pacific purchased in September 2017, found the company violated the California Water Code and the federal Clean Water Act by removing oak woodlands and discharging sediment into Russian River tributaries.

The actions harmed streams that fed into the Little Sulphur, Big Sulphur and Crocker creeks, according to the complaint.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/sonoma-county-vintner-business-face-3-75-million-fine-for-alleged-environ/

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Fishery groups plan to sue PG&E over Potter Valley plant and related Scott, Cape Horn dams

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A coalition of fishery groups has formally notified PG&E that it plans to file suit under the Endangered Species Act, alleging the continued injury to once abundant federally protected salmon and steelhead trout as a result of operations at the utility’s aging Potter Valley powerhouse.

The legal maneuver is part of an effort to expedite removal of Scott and Cape Horn dams, which pose a threat to vulnerable fish species in the Eel River and block access to hundreds of miles of prime habitat upstream.

The plaintiffs contend that last Thursday’s expiration of PG&E’s license for the project means the utility is no longer protected from liability and must be found in violation of the Endangered Species Act — a point the utility disputes.

A formal notice filed Friday by the coalition gives PG&E 60 days to remedy the situation or face litigation. It also echoes comments about project inadequacies made in a March 16 letter from the National Marine Fisheries Service to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in advance of the expiration of the utility’s license.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/fishery-groups-plan-to-sue-pge-over-potter-valley-plant-and-related-scott/

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Russian River flows at risk: New studies show potential path forward for Potter Valley project

Mother of All Groups (MOAG), SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE

PG&E’s license to operate the Potter Valley Project expires in April of 2022. For more information until then: http://pottervalleyproject.org/

A group of studies released last month paint a clearer picture of how Sonoma and Mendocino counties can meet future water needs while reducing environmental impacts in the face of a decision by PG&E to cease operation of an aging hydroelectric power project.

The Potter Valley Project (PVP) is located approximately 15 miles north of the City of Ukiah on the Eel River. The Project’s facilities include two dams, a diversion tunnel and a hydroelectric plant located in Potter Valley in the headwaters of the Russian River. The 100-year-old project produces little electricity by modern standards and is a net money loser, but Sonoma and Mendocino County water users have grown accustomed to the water diverted by the Project which flows from the Eel River into the Russian River watershed where it is stored in Lake Mendocino – ultimately flowing down the Russian River where it benefits agricultural interests and residents.

This arrangement was put in jeopardy when PG&E announced in 2019 that it would not seek to renew its federal license to operate the Project, which expires in April 2022. In recent weeks, PG&E also notified the public that the Project’s powerhouse had suffered a transformer failure, which eliminated its ability to generate electricity and reduced water diversions into the Russian River. Given PG&E’s goal to dispense with the Project, it is unlikely the powerhouse will be repaired or that the Project will ever function as it once did.

In response to PG&E’s decision to divest from the Project, a diverse group of stakeholders called the Two-Basin Partnership was formed to develop a plan to take over and modify the Project in a way that reflects regional needs and priorities in both basins. Among these priorities are fisheries recovery in the Eel River – one of the few major rivers left in California that has the potential to support abundant, self-sustaining wild populations of salmon and steelhead – and water supply reliability for Russian River water users. The Partnership’s proposed plan included the removal of Scott Dam, restoration of the drained Lake Pillsbury footprint and modifications or the replacement of Cape Horn Dam to maintain a diversion.

Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/russian-river-flows-at-risk-new-studies-show-potential-path-forward-for-po/