[env-trinity] SFGate: Key salmon spawning rivers all but dry
tstokely at att.net
Mon Sep 14 08:13:09 PDT 2009
> The original article can be found on SFGate.com here:
> Sunday, September 13, 2009 (SF Chronicle)
> Key salmon spawning rivers all but dry
> Peter Fimrite, Chronicle Staff Writer
> The key spawning grounds for what was once the greatest run of salmon on
> the North Coast are close to being as dry as they have ever been,
> according to biologists and the U.S. Geological Survey.
> As California bakes under a third year of drought, the Scott and Shasta
> rivers, near the California-Oregon border, have become little more than
> dry beds of rock and dirt.
> Recent measurements showed the water volume in both rivers approaching
> record lows for this time of year. The two tributaries of the Klamath
> River are historic breeding grounds for salmon and are considered critical
> to the recovery of the species.
> "Large areas of the (Scott) River have gone completely dry, stranding
> endangered coho salmon as well as chinook and steelhead in shallow,
> disconnected pools of water," said Greg King, president of the nonprofit
> Siskiyou Land Conservancy, which has fought to protect the salmon runs in
> the Klamath River system.
> "This could be the year that causes the coho to go extinct if they can't
> get upstream in the Scott and Shasta."
> Salmon once abundant
> The Klamath River system, historically the third-largest source of
> salmon in the lower 48 states behind the Columbia and Sacramento rivers,
> once supported hundreds of thousands of wriggling chinook salmon, coho
> salmon and steelhead trout. Chinook once swam all the way up to Klamath
> Lake in Oregon, providing crucial sustenance to American Indians,
> including the Yurok, Karuk and Klamath tribes.
> The teeming salmon runs were so abundant that old-timers remember being
> awakened at night by the sound of thrashing fish. Legend has it the big
> spawners were so crowded together that they could be harvested with a
> pitch fork during peak season.
> Their numbers began declining in the mid-20th century as a result of
> dams, agricultural irrigation and logging. By the mid-1980s, only a few
> thousand fish were left - mostly on the Scott and Shasta.
> The number of salmon now in the river is a tiny fraction of what it was
> a century ago, and California coho are listed as endangered - which is why
> the water level in their breeding grounds is so important.
> The U.S. Geological Survey gauge on the Scott River near Snow Creek
> measured an average water volume of only 5.1 cubic feet per second on Aug.
> 30, with a low that day of 3.5 cfs.
> That's compared to the median flow of 47 cfs on that date based on 67
> years of measurements. The lowest average volume recorded in one day on
> the Scott was 3.4 cfs on Sept. 20, 2001. Measurements are recorded 96
> times a day.
> A flow of 3 cubic feet per second is the equivalent of 22.44 gallons of
> water rolling between the banks. In an average-size riverbed, it is barely
> a trickle.
> Shasta River levels
> The Shasta River hit a low daily average of 5.0 cfs on July 29, dipping
> that day to 3.0 cfs near where it empties into the Klamath.
> The record low for the Shasta was 1.5 cubic feet on Aug 24, 1981. The
> normal flow on the Shasta at this time of year is between 25 and 30 cfs
> based on more than 70 years of data.
> Al Caldwell, the geological survey's deputy chief of California's
> hydrologic monitoring program, said river volumes fluctuate wildly, so it
> is impossible to get a complete picture until the season averages are
> calculated. Although the flows increased slightly this past week -
> possibly as a result of less irrigation by farmers along the banks -
> Caldwell said water levels overall are still abysmally low.
> "The important thing here is that we are very close to a minimum of
> record at the Scott River," Caldwell said. "We're practically at the
> minimum on the Shasta River and if it continues to go down we'll break the
> Troubling time
> The situation is particularly troubling for anglers, Indian tribes and
> environmentalists given the dismal state of the California fishery.
> Devastating declines in the number of spawning salmon in both the Klamath
> and Sacramento river basins forced regulators to ban almost all ocean
> fishing of chinook salmon in California and Oregon for the past two years.
> The Scott and Shasta rivers are important not just as spawning grounds,
> but because the two tributaries are a main source of cold water for the
> Klamath, which is having terrible problems with algae blooms associated
> with warm, pooling water.
> Low water isn't just a problem on the far North Coast. A declining
> snowpack has meant the Russian, Eel, Napa, Salinas and Gualala rivers and
> many tributaries around the state are hurting for water. But it is a
> particular problem along the Klamath, where the consequences are
> comparatively dire.
> Environmentalists and local Indian tribes have been fighting for years
> to stop water diversions for irrigation. In 2002, 33,000 fish went
> belly-up after the Bush administration slashed releases to the river.
> Still, ranchers exercising water rights adjudicated in the 1930s
> typically lower the rivers by sucking up groundwater during the summer.
> "It's been a chronically bad problem," said Pat Higgins, a fisheries
> biologist who works for five lower basin Indian tribes on water- and
> dam-related issues. "It's worse this year than it has been in the last 10
> Restoration work
> But there has been progress. Over the past decade, many ranchers have
> joined efforts to screen agricultural pump intakes to avoid sucking in
> baby fish. They've also made efforts to stop soil erosion, which can silt
> up rocky spawning grounds, and restore shady riverside forests that help
> lower water temperatures. Some help transport fish trapped in "dewatered"
> Negotiations are under way between U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar
> and the various stakeholders to remove four small dams - Iron Gate, Copco
> I, Copco II and J.C. Boyle - built on the Klamath starting in 1909. The
> enormously complicated deal would restore 300 miles of spawning habitat.
> But the dams probably won't be removed for another 12 years. With the
> expectation of at least one more month of hot, dry conditions, time may be
> running out.
> "Until you fix the passage problem and take out the four dams, it's
> those tributaries where we really ought to be focusing our restoration
> said Chuck Bonham, the senior attorney for Trout Unlimited in Berkeley.
> "We're going to have to round the corner here and start doing the tough
> For a USGS graph showing flows in real time, go to links.sfgate.com/ZIBY
> or links.sfgate.com/ZIBZ.
> E-mail Peter Fimrite at
> pfimrite at sfchronicle.com. ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> Copyright 2009 SF Chronicle
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