Posts

Final Plan for Water Releases Into Sacramento River Could Kill Up to 88% of Endangered Salmon Run

The California water board has approved a plan for water releases into the Sacramento River that could kill off an entire run of endangered chinook salmon and put at risk another population that is part of the commercial salmon fishery.

The State Water Resources Control Board has informed the federal Bureau of Reclamation it would accept its final plan for managing water flows from Shasta Lake into the Sacramento River, which is both the main source of water for Central Valley farms and the spawning habitat for chinook salmon. Because the bureau’s plan involves releasing water to irrigation districts earlier in the season, the river will be lower and warmer during salmon spawning season and could result in killing as many as 88% of endangered winter-run chinook eggs and young fish.

Salton Sea Habitat Project Breaks Ground Near New River Delta

Construction began this week on a 4,110-acre wetlands project on the Salton Sea’s playa near the mouth of the highly polluted New River, the California Department of Natural Resources announced Wednesday.

Zero Delta Smelt Found in Latest Search. New Habitat Hopes to Change That

An annual search for a tiny endangered and contentious fish in the sprawling California Delta has once again come up empty.

The state’s annual Fall Midwater Trawl Survey found no delta smelt in September’s sampling of the critical waterway. The last time the rare fish turned up in a survey was in October 2017 when just two were found. Hoping to reverse the recent trend, the Westlands Water District and the California Department of Water Resources announced the completion of a Delta habitat restoration project on Wednesday.

Opinion: A Greater Sense of Urgency Needed for Crises at the Salton Sea

The Salton Sea presents one of California’s most pressing ecological and environmental justice crises. The shrinking sea threatens habitat for millions of fish and birds, and as the sea’s shoreline recedes, a pollutant-laced dust spills into nearby communities and threatens the health of 650,000 people living nearby.

Opinion: Importing Water to Save the Salton Sea Can Work. Let’s Prove and Do It Now

The Engagement Committee of the Salton Sea Management Plan (SSMP) met June 17 on Zoom, though participating community members were neither seen or heard; they could only write comments and questions.

About 90% of the meeting consisted of management reporting on small plans to control dust and build habitat that still require federal permits, which will delay construction for another year. Also, the SSMP has approved a $19 million dollar pilot project for the North Lake.

Otay Water District Gives Burrowing Owl Homes a Makeover

Burrowing owl homes maintained by the Otay Water District received a modern makeover this year. As part of its ongoing environmental mitigation efforts, the District managed construction of new nesting burrows to encourage breeding.

Ten acres of the 240-acre, District-owned San Miguel Habitat Management Area reserve and mitigation bank in eastern Chula Vista is a dedicated native grasslands area where the new artificial burrows are located. The California Department of Fish & Wildlife has designated burrowing owls as a “Species of Special Concern.”

Burrowing owls get a helping hand with new habitat from the Otay Water District. Photo: Otay Water District burrowing owl homes

Otay Water District Gives Burrowing Owl Homes a Makeover

Burrowing owl homes maintained by the Otay Water District received a modern makeover this year. As part of its ongoing environmental mitigation efforts, the District managed construction of new nesting burrows to encourage breeding.

Ten acres of the 240-acre, District-owned San Miguel Habitat Management Area reserve, or HMA, and mitigation bank in eastern Chula Vista is a dedicated native grasslands area where the new artificial burrows are located. The California Department of Fish & Wildlife has designated burrowing owls as a “Species of Special Concern.” They are also protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

A burrowing owl in an old style burrow prior to remodeling. Photo: Otay Water Districr

A burrowing owl in an old style burrow prior to remodeling. Photo: Otay Water District

In 2019 with CDFW’s guidance, the District began planning for the retrofit of existing artificial burrows and installation of several new burrows with the most current burrow design, intending to allow for maximized breeding success. The project also enhances the value of the native grassland habitat by removing invasive plants that surround most of the artificial burrows.

“The District’s project to enhance the existing burrowing owl habitat is so important because the HMA is a protected area where the owls can safely live and breed,” said Lisa Coburn-Boyd, Otay Water District environmental compliance specialist. “Increasingly, in San Diego County, the burrowing owl population is declining because of habitat loss and fragmentation.”

Small raptors active during the day

Burrowing owls are small owls with bright yellow eyes. Unlike other owls, burrowing owls are active during the day.

Burrowing owls are also quite social. This small raptor lives among others of its own species in loose groups of up to several hundred individuals. They measure seven to 11 inches long and weigh five to nine ounces. Their diet consists of insects, small rodents, amphibian and reptile species, and carrion.

Burrowing owls will take over old mammal burrows as their homes. But in areas where small mammals aren’t present, they will also nest in shallow, underground, human-made structures.

Burrowing owl homes remodeled using new design

This year, the Otay Water District used the updated burrow design recommended by the CDFW and developed by the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Photo: Otay Water District

This year, the Otay Water District used the updated burrow design recommended by the CDFW and developed by the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Photo: Otay Water District

Originally, the District constructed 15 artificial burrows in 2003 as mitigation for impacts to burrowing owl burrows due to reservoir construction and the creation of the former Salt Creek Golf Course. The original burrows used an older design of the artificial burrows and their native grasslands habitat. Although the HMA had regular burrowing owl visitors during that time, breeding success was limited with no owl breeding pairs.

This year, the Otay Water District used the updated burrow design recommended by the CDFW and developed by the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. The District retrofitted and enhanced five existing burrows and installed six new burrows. During construction of the burrows in January and February, two burrowing owls seemed interested in the construction. No breeding pairs have used the burrows this season. The District hopes they will be back to move into the newly completed burrows.

See burrowing owls on the San Diego Safari Park’s live webcam.

Several sensitive species of small animals, such as this western spadefoot toad, live within Mission Trails Regional Park. Photo: Water Authority

Wildlife Protected for New Underground Reservoir Project

One by one, small mammals and amphibians living within a construction zone in Mission Trails Regional Park are being relocated to safe areas. Protecting sensitive species is one part of the Mission Trails Project.

A team of biologists from the San Diego County Water Authority, AECOM, and the San Diego Natural History Museum began surveying for and relocating the wildlife in preparation for a new underground reservoir. The reservoir will be constructed in the western portion of the park. The habitat surveys and wildlife relocation program span 15 acres of the park and are designed to protect sensitive species in the project area from construction activities.

Biologists move, monitor sensitive wildlife

Several sensitive species of small mammals and amphibians will be encountered and moved.

Biologists will focus on four sensitive species that are covered under the Water Authority’s Natural Communities Conservation Plan and Habitat Conservation Plan: northwestern San Diego pocket mouse, Dulzura pocket mouse, San Diego desert wood rat, and western spadefoot toad. Biologists will continue to monitor for these and other sensitive species during construction.

Biologists took special care to find burrows or covered areas for the small animals, such as this kangaroo rat, so that they could begin to build their new homes in the safe areas of the park. Photo: Water Authority

Biologists took special care to find burrows or covered areas for the small animals, such as this kangaroo rat, so that they could begin to build their new homes in the safe areas of the park. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

Protecting sensitive species, environmental stewardship ‘paramount’

For about two weeks, more than 500 traps will be placed in a grid pattern in the evenings and the sensitive species will be moved one at a time to safe areas within the park early each morning. Special care is being taken to help the animals find new burrows or covered areas as quickly as possible. Each animal is carefully marked, and data is logged to track the relocated animals. This tracking process helps ensure that the wildlife is not returning to the construction zone.

“We are conducting sensitive species surveys and habitat management before the start of construction to allow the animals to find new habitat and build homes safely away from the upcoming work,” said Summer Adleberg, a principal water resources specialist at the Water Authority. “Environmental stewardship is paramount to the Water Authority, and we always aim to minimize impacts to the surrounding land and communities while we improve regional water infrastructure.”

New covered reservoir will improve regional water delivery system

The reservoir, also called a “flow regulatory structure,” will store up to 5 million gallons of water underground and help regulate untreated water flows in the regional water delivery system. When completed, the reservoir will be covered with soil and vegetation. Above-ground access hatches and vents will be constructed to allow air to move in and out of the reservoir.

Once the project is completed, the area will be restored to its original condition and monitored over the next several years.

Mission Trails Project protects wildlife

The structure is part of a suite of infrastructure improvements, called the Mission Trails Project. The underground reservoir, pipeline tunnel, and removal of existing blue vent stacks are part of the project.

A new concrete crossing over the San Diego River will also be constructed to allow Water Authority vehicles to access pipelines and other infrastructure more efficiently. The pipeline tunnel, river crossing, and removal of most above-ground vent stacks have already been completed.

Construction activities on the covered reservoir and removal of the last two vent stacks are scheduled to begin in March and last approximately two years.

For trail closures and more information about the project, go to sdcwa.org/mission-trails-FRS.