A California tribe has signed agreements with state and federal agencies to work together on efforts to return endangered Chinook salmon to their traditional spawning areas upstream of Shasta Dam, a deal that could advance the long-standing goal of tribal leaders to reintroduce fish that were transplanted from California to New Zealand more than a century ago and still thrive there.
Weeks after powerful storms dumped 32 trillion gallons of rain and snow on California, state officials and environmental groups in the drought-ravaged state are grappling with what to do with all of that water.
State rules say when it rains and snows a lot in California, much of that water must stay in the rivers to act as a conveyer belt to carry tens of thousands of endangered baby salmon into the Pacific Ocean.
As California’s drought deepens, it is worth checking in on the status of water supplies and what might be in store for the rest of the summer, and beyond.
What started with the promise of a wet water year, ended up dry, again. In January, the 8-Station Index showed precipitation totals keeping pace with the wettest year on record. Then it got dry and accumulated totals flat-lined. The final result is a below average water year, although not one of the driest years on record.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration unveiled a $2.6 billion environmental peace treaty on the Central Valley’s overtaxed rivers Tuesday. The deal calls for farms and cities to surrender billions of gallons of water while contributing funds to help restore troubled fish habitats.
Newsom’s top aides called the 34-page memorandum of understanding a compromise measure that will leave more water in the rivers — but not as much as many environmentalists believe is needed to prop up ailing populations of salmon, steelhead and other fish. And some key water users, such as the city of San Francisco, haven’t yet signed onto the plan.
On any given day a small group of farmers gather behind Jimmy’s One Stop on Airport Way, kick back in resin patio chairs and shoot the breeze under a canopy of ragged trees.
If they glance to the east they can see the future of Manteca — as well as farmers in the South San Joaquin and Oakdale irrigation districts plus struggling Chinook salmon in the Stanislaus — flow by in the San Joaquin River.
An entire run of endangered winter-run chinook salmon, as well as the fall-run salmon that make up the core of the California fishery, are in danger of being wiped out this year if the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation keeps diverting water to farmers at its current rate. With state water resources constrained by the extreme drought, that’s the alarm that environmental, fishing and tribal groups are sounding after reports show the Sacramento River will reach dangerous temperatures during spawning season, based on federal scientific scenarios that analyze the bureau’s planned water releases. They warn of a massive die-off as bad as during the last drought, when 95% of winter-run chinook salmon eggs and young fish were wiped out in 2014 and 2015.
A forecast of relatively low numbers of Sacramento and Klamath River fall Chinook salmon now swimming in the ocean off the California coast points to restricted ocean and river salmon fishing seasons in 2021.
State and federal fishery managers during the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s salmon fishery information on-line meeting on February 25 forecast an ocean abundance this year of 271,000 adult Sacramento Valley fall Chinook salmon, about 200,000 fish lower than the 2020 estimate.
PILCHUCK RIVER, near Granite Falls, Snohomish County — Washington’s dam-busting summer is still rolling, with two more dams coming down on the Pilchuck River, opening 37 miles of habitat to salmon for the first time in more than a century.
The $2 million dam removal project is a collaboration between the City of Snohomish and Tulalip Tribes, and will benefit multiple species of salmon, including threatened chinook salmon, crucial food for endangered southern resident killer whales.
It’s the state’s second dam teardown project in two months. In July, the city of Bellingham blew up its Nooksack Diversion Dam on the Middle Fork of the Nooksack River, opening 16 miles of habitat for salmon, including chinook.
In California’s never-ending water and fish wars, the striped bass doesn’t get nearly the publicity as its celebrity counterparts, the endangered Chinook salmon and Delta smelt. Yet the striped bass is at the heart of a protracted fight over California’s water supply, 140 years after the hard-fighting fish, beloved by anglers, was introduced here from the East Coast. Wealthy agricultural and Southern California urban water interests, tired of seeing their Central Valley water supplies reduced to protect native fish, have been quietly waging a war against the bass because they prey on hatchling salmon and adult smelt. They’ve repeatedly tried to introduce legislation or change regulations that would reduce the numbers of striped bass from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
It’s been a month since Gov. Gavin Newsom promised to sue the Trump administration to block stepped-up federal water diversions from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to agribusiness and urban areas further south.