[env-trinity] Sacramento River salmon spawning threatened by massive water exports

Dan Bacher 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  
protect salmon.

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  
and October.

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  
successfully spawning.

“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.
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