Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lower Tuolumne FERC Proceeding.

As you recall, GWWF has been very active in the fight to get increased water flows for Central Valley steelhead and salmon in the lower Tuolumne before they go extinct. In the fall of Tuolumne, only 269 salmon returned to spawn which is the third straight year of returns less than 300 adults. A population needs about 1,000 returning adults to be self-sustaining and the stated goal of the Central Valley Improvement Act passed by Congress in 1992 is to have 40,000 fall run Chinook return to the Tuolumne annually. We are still waiting to hear the final decision from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission about whether they will order the Turlock and Modesto Irrigation Districts to increase the flows and their timing to save these fish. This special proceeding, only done once before, has resulted in significant legal expenses for the Conservation Groups with standing (the Tuolumne River Trust, Friends of the River, California Trout and the California Rivers Restoration Fund) The Hydropower Reform Coalition has been especially supportive in providing a grant for legal expenses and I was successful in applying for a grant from the Northern California Council Federation of Fly Fishers and would like to thanks them here for the much appreciated support. 

If you want more news on the monitoring of salmon and steelhead on the rivers of the San Joaquin watershed go to: www.fishbio.com.

Salmonid Restoration Federation Conference- Redding March 10-13

This year, the Salmonid Restoration Federation has joined with the California-Nevada American Fisheries Society to hold its annual conference in Redding. The theme of this year’s conference is Fisheries Restoration
and Climate Change.

The first two days of the conference will feature full-day workshops, continuing education classes, and field tours. Following that will be a half-day plenary session and one and a half days of technical, biological and policy-related sessions. There are several events scheduled including a banquet, awards ceremony and dance.

GWWF Conservation Chair Cindy Charles will be presenting a talk along with Chris Shutes, FERC Projects Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. The session is entitled Restoring Central Valley Salmon and Steelhead through FERC Relicensing and will draw on our recent work on the lower Tuolumne, lower Merced and Butte Creek projects. For more information about the conference, go to www.calsalmon.org.

Happy 25th Year to the Merced Fly Fishing Club

Our friends of the Merced Fly Fishing Club will be celebrating their 25th anniversary on March 12th with a
fundraiser. GWWF has been supportive of this club in their efforts of restoring a self-sustaining rainbow trout/
steelhead fishery on the lower Merced and our involvement in the dam relicensings. Last year, the Merced club was successful in obtaining two grants totaling $150,000 to procure spawning gravels which will be put into the river by DFG this year to benefit steelhead. They also are in the process of collecting fin clips of the fish in the Upper and Lower Merced River for genetic analysis by Carlos Garza of the National Marine Fisheries Service. 

The Merced Fly Fishing club also has a successful “Young Fly Fishers on the Water” program where they take the top 10 middle-school science students in Merced out to the Kelsey Bass Ranch for a day of fly fishing instruction and fun. So, I want to particularly tip my fishing straw hat to Ken Jensen, Vice President and Dr. Michael Martin, Conservation Director, for their strong dedication and persistence to this little known, but special fishery. Just take a look at the photo below to see one of their wild beauties.

Russian River Wild Steelhead Society

While at the Healdsburg Wild Steelhead Festival last month, I met some of the founders of the newly formed
Russian River Wild Steelhead Society. The mission statement of this new organization is dedicated to the
preservation, protection and enhancement of wild Russian River Steelhead and the Russian River watershed.
They had two fundraising events last year which were very successful and got the group off to a solid start. The Society is already involved implementing their Trout in the Classroom Project, is working on some ideas for river restoration, and has planned another fundraiser on April 17th at the Russian River Sportman’s Club in Duncan Mills. I will let you the details of that event as soon as I receive them. If you wish to contact the Society, their email is: RRwildsteelheadsociety@gmail.com.

One of the founders whom I met, Chris Aff is a guide and flytyer who has graciously offered to take a group of GWWF members out someday soon to fish the Russian River for free. We need to wait until conditions have settled down on the river and I will be in touch about this exciting offer as well.

Update on the Lower Merced River Hydropower Relicensings

Three dams are undergoing relicensing by FERC.  Two are owned by the Merced Irrigation District (New
Exchequer and McSwain and one is owned by PG&E (Merced Falls).

Relicensings usually take five years and we are at the point where the dam operators have to do studies on the impact of their projects. The Merced Irrigation District is extremely unwilling to acknowledge that their dams have an effect on the salmon and steelhead populations beneath their dams even though they control 100% of the water flows in the lower Merced. 

Last month, there was an important visit to the Merced Falls dam and the Crocker-Huffman Diversion dam
(operated by the Merced Irrigation District) to take a look at their inoperable fish ladders. Conservation groups, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the California Department of Fish and Game are pushing for their restoration so Central Valley salmon and steelhead can benefit from increased habitat.

We would like to see these fish get closer to the New Exchequer dam which permanently blocked these fish from getting all the way up to Yosemite Valley. There is a serious effort on the part of NMFS to get salmon and steelhead above dams such as this (and include Shasta dam on the Upper Sac and Englebright dam on the Yuba River) and they are looking at the truck and haul option which has been used successfully in Oregon and Washington. 

GWWF is an active participant in these relicensing procedures which is so important for the future of these anadromous fish.I will keep you informed of developments as they occur.

Sad and Alarming News about 2009 California Salmon Returns

Last month, the Pacific Fisheries Management Council released numbers showing California’s once most abundant salmon run came in at a new all time record low in 2009.

The Council reports “In 2009, a total of 39,530 natural and hatchery Sacramento River Fall Chinook adults were estimated to have returned to the Sacramento River basin for spawning. The 2009 adult return estimate is the lowest on record and continues the declining trend in Sacramento Fall run salmon returns despite the 2008 and 2009 closures of nearly all ocean Chinook fisheries south of Cape Falcon…”

Once upon a time, this salmon run was close to a million fish. Now, they really are on the path towards extinction. The Council’s report also shows that federally protected runs of winter and spring run Chinook both came in at less than 5,000 individuals each. The San Joaquin River is in particularly bad shape with just under 2,100 salmon representing perhaps the last of their race in that watershed. The last three years of salmon returns have each set new record lows and coincide directly with three of the highest years of Delta water diversions. Delta pumping kills juvenile salmon migrating through the Delta to the sea. It takes three years for surviving salmon to return as adults and for scientists to record the full destruction caused by the pumps.

In the face of these sobering facts, Senator Feinstein is attempting to push through legislation to get around the
Endangered Species Act laws in order to increase delta pumping to benefit farms which don’t have senior water rights. GWWF signed onto a letter to the Senator along with nearly 40 other groups to protest this action which would surely be the end of salmon fishing in California. In addition, a big group of legislators (Signed by Reps. George Miller (D-CA), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Mike Thompson (D-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), David Wu (D-OR), Norm Dicks (D-WA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Doris Matsui (DCA), and John Garamendi (D-CA) sent a letter to Senator Feinstein expressing their dismay of her actions.

Hopefully, she will back off and investigate other ways to solve the water problems in California without destroying the Endangered Species Act which is the last hope for endangered salmon and steelhead.

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