[env-trinity] Sacramento River salmon spawning threatened by massive water exports
danielbacher at fishsniffer.com
Wed Jul 3 09:24:44 PDT 2013
Sacramento River salmon spawning threatened by massive water exports
by Dan Bacher
Sacramento River Chinook salmon this year are threatened by the
relaxation of water temperature standards on the upper river combined
with the violations of water quality standards in the Delta, the
result of the over-allocation of water during a drought.
The section of the Sacramento River where the water is cold enough
for salmon to successfully spawn will be less than half of what is
needed this year, violating water temperature standards set to
Fishing groups say that the pool of cold water needed in Lake Shasta
to cool the water is being drained to supply corporate agribusiness
and other users south of the Delta, threatening the fall and spring
run Chinook runs, as well as endangered winter run Chinook salmon.
State and federal water officials are apparently now in a rush to
deliver water to corporate agribusiness, oil companies and Southern
California water agencies, in spite of it being a drought year, as
revealed by the latest river release and water export data provided
by the Department of Water Resources.
Current releases to the Sacramento River below Keswick Dam are 14,250
cfs, combined releases to the Feather River below the Thermalito
Afterbay Outlet are 5,500 cfs and releases to the American River
below Nimbus Dam are 3,500 cfs.
Water exports from the Delta are currently 9,775 cfs, including 6,865
cfs from the State Water Project’s Harvey Banks Pumping Plant and
2,910 cfs from the federal Central Valley Project’s Tracy Pumping
Plant in the South Delta. Delta outflows are currently 5,948 cfs.
You can check out the latest dam releases and export pumping data at:
Warmer water temperatures could harm salmon
Ron Milligan, the Operation Manager for the Bureau of Reclamation,
stated in a June 3 letter to the State Water Resources Control Board
that this year’s water plan “does not meet a daily average water
temperature of 56 degrees Fahrenheit in the Sacramento River at Red
Bluff Diversion Dam for all the periods in 2013 when higher
temperatures could be detrimental to the fishery.”
The Bureau said spring run and fall run Chinook salmon spawning
typically occurs further downstream in fall than the point in Redding
where the 56-degree water cutoff is. “Some adverse effects can be
expected if temperatures exceed 56 degrees between Airport Rd and
Balls Ferry,” warned Milligan.
Under federal law, water and fishery managers are required to
maintain the 56-degree temperature downstream of Balls Ferry during
the winter run spawning and incubation months of August, September
It is anticipated only about 20 miles of the Sacramento above Redding
will be cold enough, 56 degrees or less, for the fish to successfully
spawn, according to Golden Gate Salmon Association (GGSA) Executive
Director John McManus. The stretch over twenty miles downstream of
Redding, normally cold enough for spawning is likely to exceed 56
“Salmon eggs laid in northern stretches of the Sacramento River could
die from overheated water this year,” said McManus.
Fishing and environmental groups emphasize that the Bureau has just
signed off on water sales from the northern Sacramento Valley to San
Joaquin Valley agribusiness interests with official findings of “No
Significant Impact.” These growers have contracts with the Bureau and
Department of Water Resources, both junior water rights holders.
Their water supplies are assured only in very wet years when surplus
water is available. 2013 has been designated as a dry year.
Groups contest water transfers
A petition to the state water board by the California Water Impact
Network, AquaAlliance and California Sportfishing Protection Alliance
on June 3 challenged the transfers.
“In sum, our organizations protest these petitions for temporary
water transfers as injurious to existing water rights holders
throughout the Sacramento Valley region, detrimental to the
ecosystems of the Bay-Delta Estuary since they involve Delta export
pumping and threatening, through groundwater substitution pumping,
loss of surface flow to large head differences leading to excessive
groundwater recharge from surface streams,” the petition stated.
However, the National Marine Fisheries Service joined the Bureau of
Reclamation and the US Fish & Wildlife Service in a joint request to
the State Water Resources Control Board to reclassify delta salinity
measurement stations from “dry” to “critically dry.” Although this
was done to preserve water for salmon spawning in the upper river, it
also withholds water needed to keep the Bay-Delta Estuary – and
salmon, Delta smelt and other fish populations – healthy.
Delta Watermaster Craig Wilson said he “would not object or take any
action” if the Bureau and Department operate to meet “critically dry
year” objectives for Western and Interior Delta agricultural
beneficial uses instead of operating to meeting “dry year” objectives
though August 15, 2013.
“This will not only violate the temperature standards on the
Sacramento River, but it is expected to violate virtually every
standard to designed for fishery and other beneficial uses throughout
the Delta,” responded Bill Jennings, Executive Director/Chairman of
the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. “These standards are
routinely violated – that one of the major reasons why fisheries are
Water is oversubcribed five times
“The problem is that the water is oversubscribed - we just don’t have
the water,” emphasized Jennings. “The average unimpaired annual flow
of the Sacramento River is 21.6 million feet of water, while the
total consumptive water rights claims total 120.5 million acre feet
of water. Oversubscription of water is the great, ugly secret, the
crazy aunt locked in the basement, that nobody wants to talk about.”
A large return of spawning chinook salmon is expected this fall on
the Sacramento River, based on pre-season forecasts by federal and
state biologists and the recreational and commercial catch reported
so far this season in the ocean off California and Oregon.
“If anything, we need more cold water, not less, if we expect to get
the benefits of this large return,” said Zeke Grader, Vice-President
of GGSA and Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of
Fishermen’s Associations. “The transfer of this water, needed by
salmon, south this summer will have significant and devastating impact.”
Grader said Sacramento River’s fall-run Chinook salmon account for
nearly 90 percent of California’s salmon catch in a typical year and
provide upwards of 50 percent of Oregon’s ocean salmon harvest.
The once massive runs of Sacramento winter and spring run Chinook
salmon, now protected under the Endangered Species Act, have declined
dramatically over the past several decades due to the operation of
the Delta pumps, upstream dam operations and loss of habitat.
Winter run could be decimated
The Sacramento winter run numbered 117,000 in 1969, but has dwindled
to several thousand fish in recent years. Spawner escapement of
endangered winter Chinook salmon in 2012 was estimated to be only
2,529 adults and 145 jacks.
Faced with a similar situation to this year in 2009, the National
Marine Fisheries Service warned that 50 to 75 percent of that year’s
winter run could be lost due to lethally hot water in the upper
river, according to McManus.
“Very few progeny of the 2009 winter run survived,” said McManus.
“Low winter run numbers in 2012 put the fish in further jeopardy and
led to steep cuts in the ocean fishing season this year, even though
fishing is not the cause of the winter run shortage.
McManus said winter run salmon faced another obstacle earlier in 2013
when over 300 were rescued from agricultural canals they mistakenly
swam into near Williams. Officials estimate another 300 were never
captured for relocation and will likely die in the canals without
“Winter run salmon could be decimated this year,” said McManus.
“We’re already concerned about what kind of return we’ll see in 2015
due to the drought conditions juvenile salmon faced trying to out
migrate down the Sacramento River and through the delta earlier this
year. We could see some real problems in the fishery a few years from
Federal officials agree with fishing groups about the threat to
salmon posed by warmer water temperatures, but nonetheless supported
the relaxation of standards anyway to extend the cold water pool as
long as possible.
Maria Rea, National Marine Fisheries Service Regional Supervisor,
told the Sacramento Bee, “We could have some serious temperature-
related impacts on winter run this year." (http://www.sacbee.com/
The dilemna facing salmon this year was created years of over-
appropriation of water and bad water management – and can only be
stopped when California comes to grips with the “paper water” that
drives water policy.
“Solving California water problems has to come from the demand side,
not from the supply side,” said Jennings. “If we had new reservoirs,
they would be empty. We can pour all of the concrete we want, but we
can’t pour rain.”
There is no doubt that Sacramento River winter, spring and fall run
Chinook salmon are threatened by the relaxation of water standards on
the upper river and the violation of water quality standards in the
Bay-Delta Estuary in order to export massive quantities of water
south of the Delta.
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the env-trinity