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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

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Op-Ed: Preserve nature for future generations

Charlie Schneider & Eric Leland, Trout Unlimited, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Northern California offers some of the best trout fishing in the world. Why? Because California’s diverse climate, geography and ecology provide some of the best habitat for fish and wildlife anywhere. Much of this habitat is found on public lands.

Sportsmen and women in California have free or low-cost access to millions of acres of land and water that has been conserved and managed for their natural, recreational and resource values. This isn’t the case in much of the world or even on the East Coast of the United States.

Within a three-hour drive of Sonoma County, one can fish for steelhead on the Eel or Trinity rivers or for trophy trout in the upper Sacramento River or Putah Creek. All on public land.

But California’s public lands are under siege from a variety of threats. Exceptionally severe wildfire, sustained drought, a warming climate and ill-advised political gambits grounded more in ideology than science are primary ingredients in the witches’ brew of influences that are drying up, burning up, using up or otherwise degrading or eliminating habitat in this state.

Trout Unlimited is committed to tackling the challenge of conserving our public lands in the face of these threats and keeping alive the unique sporting legacy these lands and waters have made possible. It’s encouraging to see that some leaders in Congress are committed to this same goal.

Our representative in the House, Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, is one. We salute Huffman and Sen. Kamala Harris for their recent introduction of the Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation and Working Forests Act, which would better protect and restore lands and streams vital for water supply, salmon and steelhead and the growing outdoor recreation economy in this region.

This legislation would conserve the landscapes and waters that make this area so special through a combination of forest restoration, new river and upland habitat protection measures, wildfire prevention treatments, rehabilitation of illegal trespass marijuana grow sites and new trails and other infrastructure to promote and expand recreational use. The type of inclusive lawmaking that developed this legislation is laudable.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/9729411-181/close-to-home-preserve-nature

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

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Friends of the Eel River ask state, feds to protect NW California summer steelhead

FRIENDS OF THE EEL RIVER

Friends of the Eel River submitted both federal ESA and CESA petitions to list Northern California Summer Steelhead as an Endangered Distinct Population Segment.

Both petitions are largely based on a combination of the extensive 2017 report by Moyle et al on the status of California salmonids, State of the Salmonids: Status of California’s Emblematic Fishes 2017, and two papers that have come out of Mike Miller’s UC Davis lab over the last couple of years.

Northern California summer steelhead are truly extraordinary fish. They include the largest adult steelhead in coastal rivers, the southernmost surviving summer steelhead, and fish (in the interior rivers like the Eel) capable of withstanding higher stream velocities and jumping higher than any other salmonid. As Moyle et al make clear, once you accept that summer steelhead are biologically and reproductively distinct from winter steelhead, the status of summer steelhead on the far North Coast is quite dire. There are probably fewer than 1000 adults spawning in all of the rivers they still inhabit, from Redwood Creek in the north to the Mattole in the south.

However, our primary strategic goal at FOER in seeking recognition and protection for summer steelhead was to advance the cause of cause of removing Scott Dam. The dam blocks 98% of potential habitat for the Upper mainstem Eel River population of summer steelhead that was apparently wiped out by dam construction. If a population of summer steelhead could be restored to the upper main Eel, it would be the longest summer steelhead run in the state. It would also hugely improve the conservation status of the overall summer steelhead population on the North Coast. Because we call O. mykiss steelhead when they run to the ocean, but rainbow trout when they stay in freshwater, there remains some possibility that surviving native rainbow trout above the Lake Pillsbury reservoir could still retain the key premature migration gene.

Source: https://eelriver.org/2018/11/27/protect-nw-california-summer-steelhead/

Posted on Categories Habitats, WildlifeTags , , , , , , ,

Local habitat may be at risk

Hannah Beausang, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Trump administration is seeking to alter key provisions of the Endangered Species Act, a 45-year-old federal law that has shaped growth in Sonoma County during repeated battles between builders attempting to develop land and environmentalists seeking to protect rare plants and animals.

Federal officials contend the changes to the act — which protects local species like the coho salmon and the California tiger salamander — will streamline and improve it. Local environmentalists have called them a “coordinated attack” on science that could push fragile species into extinction.

The act, passed in 1973 during the Nixon presidency with strong bipartisan support, protects critically imperiled species and their habitats. In Sonoma County, development conflicts have arisen over those species, sometimes requiring costly mitigation measures for projects to advance. But the law has also been a salvation for wildlife on the North Coast, like the gray whale, the bald eagle and osprey, said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.

A major change would eliminate language instructing officials to ignore economic impacts when determining how wildlife should be protected.

Other reforms include changing limits on the designation of critical habitat — areas with biological or physical features necessary for the conservation of a species. It also seeks to end to the automatic regulatory process that gives threatened plants and animals the same protection as those listed as endangered, and streamlines consultation between agencies when actions from the federal government could jeopardize a species.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8551721-181/sonoma-county-awaits-clarity-on

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Water Agency will present river estuary plan May 31

Frank Robertson, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

The May 31 meeting at the Jenner Community Center on Highway 1 will include a Water Agency presentation on the Russian River Estuary Management Project and will provide information recapping the 2017 lagoon management season.

The Sonoma County Water Agency will host a meeting in Jenner next week to update the public on Russian River estuary management efforts to maintain a closed estuary during the summer months.

“Communities along the lower river have long been interested in the estuary management project,” said Fifth District Sonoma County Supervisor and Water Agency Director Lynda Hopkins in a media announcement of the meeting. “Each May to October, the Water Agency manages the estuary to improve steelhead and coho salmon habitat and minimize flood risk for riverside communities. Estuary management is a key part of the Russian River Biological Opinion. Our annual community meeting is a great opportunity to receive current information and ask questions.”

The biological opinion issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in September 2008 required the Water Agency to change the way the Russian River estuary is managed in the summer. The purpose of the Estuary Management Project is to enhance summer habitat for young steelhead while minimizing flood risk to Jenner properties near the estuary. NMFS biologists believe that maintaining a summertime freshwater lagoon can create a healthier nursery for young steelhead. In other California rivers, the formation of similar “perched” lagoons has improved steelhead habitat during the summer months.

Since the mid-1990s the Water Agency has artificially breached the sandbar at the Russian River mouth when it closes and increases water levels in the estuary, threatening low-lying properties. The biological opinion calls for managing the estuary as a summer lagoon with an outlet channel in place to enhance conditions for steelhead to grow and thrive, giving them a better chance to survive ocean conditions, while continuing to minimize flood risk.

Read more at: http://www.sonomawest.com/sonoma_west_times_and_news/news/water-agency-will-present-river-estuary-plan-may/article_54f6f7ea-5e11-11e8-9913-bbc538cabe8c.html

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Students work to protect environment

John Jackson, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER
The success of the United Anglers of Casa Grande High School program has created the program’s greatest challenge.
The United Anglers of Casa Grande is a nonprofit educational organization located on the Casa Grande High School campus. Members of the organization are students who learn about fisheries, especially salmon and steelhead, and promote environmental awareness and activism through hands-on habitat restoration. United Anglers students operate and maintain a state-of-the-art conservation fish hatchery on the campus.
Interest in the program has exploded in recent years from around 30 students to more than 100, and now includes participants from Petaluma High School as well as Casa Grande.
Since the United Anglers program is a nonprofit and must raise all its own funds, the challenge comes in raising enough money to support the increase in membership, particularly at a time when the recent fires and disasters in other parts of the country are vying for benevolent contributions.
“I’m torn,” said program director and teacher Dan Hubacker. “We depend on support from families and businesses, but at the same time how do you ask them for donations after so many people have been affected by the fires?”
But Hubacker also said he feels an obligation to honor those, like himself, who have benefited by the program by keeping it going.
Read more at: A popular program

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Crews break through blockage to reopen river

Frank Robertson, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS
High surf conditions closed the mouth of the Russian River at Jenner for about a week before Sonoma County Water Agency crews dug a channel that biologists hope will balance the interests of the river’s endangered native salmon and steelhead trout along with flood prevention.
On July 17, the Water Agency opened an outlet channel on the beach at Goat Rock State Park appears to be working this week.“ The goal of the outlet channel is to enhance habitat for federally listed juvenile salmon and minimizing flood risks by keeping freshwater levels in the estuary while allowing river water to flow out of the estuary and prevent ocean water from entering,” said Water Agency spokesperson Ann DuBay.
She said the Water Agency will monitor conditions at the estuary and manage the lagoon’s depth this summer so that high water doesn’t flood low-lying areas in Jenner such as the visitor center on Highway 1.
Ideally the outlet channel would remain in place until mid-October to maintain the estuary lagoon.
The Water Agency is conferring with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and other agencies to discuss an appropriate outlet channel and lagoon management strategy, said DuBay.
The Water Agency has been trying, with limited success, to maintain a summer lagoon since 2008 when NMFS issued a biological opinion that ordered changes in the agency’s Russian River operations.
Since the biological opinion was issued calling for the Water Agency to maintain a closed summer estuary if and when the Jenner sandbar closes naturally, a maintenance plan has been implemented three times, said Water Agency Environmental Resources Manager Jessica Martini-Lamb.
Read more at: Crews break through blockage to reopen river | News | sonomawest.com

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Napa, Sonoma vineyards to have new watershed regulations

Cynthia Sweeney, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

SF Bay Water Board Napa River and Sonoma Creek Vineyard Program

Vineyard owners in the Napa River and Sonoma Creek watersheds are facing new regulations after a decision by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board meeting July 12.
The decision is the result of a lengthy environmental-impact report years in the making that addresses protection of species and habitat in the area.
The requirements are aimed at “regulating discharges from vineyard properties to achieve discharge performance standards for sediment and storm runoff and control pesticide and nutrient discharges,” the regulations said.
The action also aims to protect “habitat for federally listed steelhead populations, locally rare Chinook salmon populations and exceptionally diverse native fish assemblages.”
There was no timeline given as to when the adoption would go into affect, and specifics on reporting to the regional board were not announced.
The watersheds contain an estimated 162,000 acres of vineyard properties, with 59,000 acres planted in grapes, from which there are or may be discharges of sediment and concentrated storm runoff that affect water quality.
Read more at: Napa, Sonoma vineyards face new watershed regulations | The North Bay Business Journal

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New report says California’s ‘iconic’ native fish facing extinction in 50 years

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The “Fish in Hot Water” report includes a road map for addressing the threats to California’s native fish, including restoration and protection of critical habitats, such as spring-fed rivers, flood plains and estuaries as well as river system headwaters.
Read the report here: http://www.caltrout.org/sos

On a tree-shaded bend in Dutch Bill Creek at Monte Rio, three technicians from the Sonoma County Water Agency huddled on a gravel bar to examine the day’s catch, all in the name of science and a sustained campaign to restore one of California’s most endangered fish.
Retrieving 163 coho salmon smolts, or young fish, from a wooden fish trap set in knee-deep, clear flowing water, the crew bathed the four- to six-inch salmon in a bucket of Alka-Seltzer solution, briefly numbing them for easier handling.
The technicians measured, weighed and counted the year-old, hatchery-bred fish before releasing them to continue a perilous journey to the nearby Russian River and out to the Pacific Ocean.
If the young coho, swimming mostly by night to evade predators, make it to the ocean and grow to adulthood, they may in about 18 months return to the Russian River and be counted once again before they spawn and die.
There’s a lot riding on the coho completing their short, human-assisted life cycle.Nearly half of California’s native salmon, steelhead and trout — 14 out of 31 species — are facing extinction in 50 years under current conditions, according to a scientific study released last week.
Another nine species are likely to vanish in 100 years unless steps are taken to address threats such as low water flows, pollution, urban growth, dams and degraded habitat, exacerbated by the recent drought and climate change, the 106-page report by the conservation nonprofit California Trout and the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences said.
Read more at: California’s ‘iconic’ native fish facing extinction, with climate change a major cause | The Press Democrat