[env-trinity] American River fish hatcheries evacuated as water is mismanaged

Dan Bacher danielbacher at fishsniffer.com
Thu Jul 3 09:54:53 PDT 2014

Photo of Nimbus Fish Hatchery weir on the American River by Dan Bacher.


American River fish hatcheries evacuated as water is mismanaged

by Dan Bacher

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) evacuated 1  
million rainbow trout from the American River Fish Hatchery and nearly  
430,000 fingerling steelhead from Nimbus Fish Hatchery in Rancho  
Cordova by June 30.

This was due to concerns that the cold water pool in Folsom Lake that  
keeps the water cold in the American River that supplies the water for  
both hatcheries will become depleted, resulting in lethally warm water  
conditions in the hatcheries.

The evacuation of the hatcheries and the depletion of the cold water  
water takes place after 2013, a record drought year when the Bureau of  
Reclamation drained Folsom Lake to a record low level, 17 percent of  
capacity and 32 percent of average, in order to export water to  
corporate agribusiness interests, oil companies conducting fracking  
and steam injection operations in Kern County, and Southern California  
water agencies.

The impact of the plants was obvious on my recent trips to Silver and  
Caples Lakes. Both lakes were planted with big loads of rainbows by  
the American River Fish Hatchery - and boat and bank anglers were  
catching lots of rainbows on a variety of lures and baits. Anglers  
fishing lakes and streams throughout the region planted by this  
hatchery are seeing a similar boost in fishing success.

While these plants will produce an immediate upswing in fishing at  
many lakes and streams, it means that fish won’t be planted later in  
the summer as they normally are at many waters.

The impact on steelhead should also result in less adult fish  
returning to Nimbus Fish Hatchery in coming years, since the survival  
rate of the smaller fish is expected to less than when they are  
planted at a larger size in February.

Of course, the depletion of the cold water pool in Folsom will also  
result in potentially lethal warm waters in the lower American when  
the fall run of Chinooks arrives this fall.

Before the steelhead and rainbow trout were released, a CDFW news  
release explained, ““With extreme drought conditions reducing the cold  
water supply available, California Department of Fish and Wildlife  
(CDFW) are moving the last rainbow trout out of the American River  
Hatchery to avoid future losses of young fish to rising water  

CDFW biologists predict that by mid-summer the temperature of the  
water entering the hatchery will exceed tolerable temperatures for the  
growing fish, causing extensive -- if not total -- loss of all fish in  
the two hatcheries. The fall run Chinook salmon were already delivered  
by truck to acclimation pens and then released into San Pablo Bay this  
spring, while the steelhead yearlings from adult fish spawned in the  
winter of 2012-2013 were released into the Sacramento and lower  
American rivers in February.

“We are taking proactive actions to avoid catastrophic fish losses,”  
said Dr. William Cox, CDFW State Hatchery Program Manager. “It is an  
unavoidable change, and we need to look for unique opportunities to  
avert major losses. We will track all changes involved in the  
evacuation and evaluate how fish react to being released early.  
Ultimately we could develop new release strategies based on what we  

American River Hatchery operations focus on taking rainbow trout eggs,  
while Nimbus Hatchery takes both salmon and steelhead eggs. Cox noted,  
“This will be the first time all stocks of fish at both hatcheries  
have been evacuated.”

The nearly 430,000 fingerling steelhead from Nimbus Hatchery into the  
American River were released six months ahead of the normal February  
release time.

The remaining 20 state-managed hatcheries are expected to make it  
through the summer months and into the winter season without having to  
evacuate fish, according to Cox.

Normally CDFW would call on the Bureau of Reclamation to draft water  
from what is known as the “Deep Water Pool,” in the depths of Folsom  
Lake. The transfer of cold late water helps to keep hatchery waters  
acceptably cool.

“However, this year, the length and intensity of the drought is so  
extensive that little, if any water, in the lake is expected to be  
cool enough to utilize during sizzling summer months. CDFW predicts  
water temperatures will exceed 78 degrees in the hatcheries – far too  
warm for the young trout and salmon to survive,” Cox stated.

Throughout the fall and winter CDFW workers mark hundreds of thousands  
of steelhead trout at Nimbus Hatchery. Unique markings will enable  
biologists to evaluate what happens to the fish throughout their life  
cycle and how the drought conditions will ultimately affect each type  
of fish.

“Fall and winter rains, if received in sufficient amounts, will cool  
water temperatures enough to allow both hatcheries to come back online  
and resume operations,” according to the Department.

However, the Department failed to mention that the reason for the  
depletion of the cold water pool in Folsom is largely due to the poor  
government management of our water resources in a drought. If the  
water had been better managed, there would undoubtedly have been more  
carryover storage in Folsom to maintain a cold water pool this year.

Last summer, high water releases down the Sacramento, Feather and  
American rivers left Shasta, Oroville and Folsom reservoirs at  
dangerously low levels. By January 2014, Shasta was at 36 percent of  
capacity and 53 percent of average; Oroville, 36 percent of capacity  
and 54 percent of average; and Folsom, 17 percent of capacity and 32  
percent of average. (http://cdec.water.ca.gov/cgi-progs/reservoirs/RES)

Yet Pyramid Lake in Los Angeles County was at the same time 96 percent  
of capacity and 101 percent of average, while Castaic Reservoir was 86  
percent of capacity and 102 percent of average. Both are State Water  
Project reservoirs that receive their water from the Delta through the  
California Aqueduct.

The state and federal water agencies exported massive quantities of  
water to agribusiness interests and Southern California water  
agencies, endangering local water supplies and fish populations as the  
ecosystem continues to collapse. (http://www.sacbee.com/2014/01/22/6090426/northern-california-reservoirs.html 

Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing  
Protection Alliance, explained how the Department of Water Resources  
and Bureau of Reclamation systematically mismanaged our water  
resources, exporting 835,000 acre-feet more water than they said they  
would be able to deliver.

“We entered 2013 with Shasta, Oroville and Folsom reservoirs at 115  
percent, 113 percent, and 121 percent of historical average storage.  
In April, they were still at 101 percent, 108 percent and 96 percent  
of average," said Jennings.

"With no rainfall and little snowpack, the Department of Water  
Resources and the Bureau (of Reclamation) notified their contractors  
that water deliveries would be reduced. But they didn’t reduce  
deliveries. Instead, they actually exported 835,000 acre-feet more  
water than they said they would be able to deliver," said Jennings. (http://www.sacbee.com/2014/01/26/6097073/viewpoints-better-solutions-for.html 

Ironically, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California  
will have enough water in 2014, 2015 and 2016 to supply its users  
while Sacramento, Folsom and other cities have been forced to cut  
water use by 20 percent.

“We’ll have plenty of water in 2015,” Jeffrey Kightlinger,  
Metropolitan’s general manager, told the Sacramento Bee. “And even if  
it’s still a drought, we’ll still have enough water in 2016." (http://www.sacbee.com/2014/01/12/6063205/california-drought-will-test-jerry.html#storylink 

Jennings said the present crisis could have been avoided, and is a  
"direct result of egregious mismanagement of the state’s water supply  
system by the state and federal water projects."

"Excessive water exports and the failure to prepare for inevitable  
drought have created a decades-long disaster for fisheries, and placed  
the people and economic prosperity of northern California at grave  
risk. The State's obsession with tunneling under the Delta does  
nothing to address drought, or put us on a path to correct the misuse  
of limited water supplies," he added.

For more information, go to: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/02/07/1275862/-The-Emptying-of-Northern-California-Reservoirs

Folsom is now holding 482,133 acre-feet of water, 49 percent of  
capacity and 59 percent of average. The current water level is 414.25  
feet, 51.75 feet from full.

Yet the Bureau of Reclamation is mismanaging the water in Folsom this  
year also. Reclamation is currently releasing 2500 cfs into the  
American River from Nimbus Dam, rapidly resulting in the depletion of  
what's left of the cold water pool. (http://cdec.water.ca.gov/cgi-progs/stages/PAGE1 

When fall run Chinook salmon arrive in the American this fall, they  
will be "greeted" with low, warm, potentially lethal water conditions.  
We can only hope that we get early fall rains to cool down the water  
and put more water in the American River watershed.

As the mismanagement of water resources by the state and federal  
government proceeds, the Brown administration continues its rush to  
build the peripheral tunnels under the Bay Delta Conservation Plan  
(BDCP). The construction of the twin tunnels will hasten the  
extinction of Central Valley steelhead, Sacramento River Chinook  
salmon, Delta and longfin smelt and green sturgeon, as well as  
imperiling the salmon and steelhead populations of the Trinity and  
Klamath rivers.

Rather than supporting the environmentally destructive peripheral  
tunnels plan, the state and federal governments should embrace the  
Environmental Water Caucus Responsible Exports Plan that sets an  
annual cap on water exports of 3 million acre feet, preventing the  
draining of Folsom and other reservoirs and imperiling struggling  
salmon and steelhead populations. (http://www.restorethedelta.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/RESPONSIBLE-EXPORTS-PLAN-MAY-2013.pdf 
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