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GGSA Salmon Battles Continue

11/09/16 -- Federal officials who run a restoration fund intended to offset damage to salmon from the massive Central Valley Water Project will start implementing several of GGSA's proposals to rebuild Central Valley salmon runs. All of these will increase survival of baby salmon.

The projects include:
Reduce or eliminate night lights on the Sacramento
The restoration fund has allocated $183,000 for two years to identify the worst night lights on the river as a first step towards bringing them under control. Baby salmon migrate at night but will stop in their tracks when they swim into lit spots. Predator fish have figured this out and ambush them from the shadows the minute the baby salmon swim into the lights. Answer: dim the lights! Part of the funding may be used to establish a lighting threshold or standard safe to salmon, another part to map where the brightest lights are.

Re-create shallow water habitat in Delta
$1.5 million over three years. There's widespread agreement that much of the once good rearing habitat in the Delta for baby salmon has been destroyed by human development. The good news; some of it can be restored. If it is, survival of baby salmon is expected to improve. The baby salmon like shallow water habitat with natural vegetation. Instead what they've got is mostly deep water channels lined with giant construction boulders.

Natural and artificial velocity and predator refuge structures
$381,600 over 5 years. Baby salmon in the upper Sacramento River lack good places to safely tuck away from predator fish and out of the extreme currents in the middle of the river. Gone are the natural side channels that were once everywhere. This project proposes anchoring massive tree root structures at key points in the river. The baby fish find safety in the root maze where predators can't get at them. At the same time they catch a break from heaving mid-stream currents in the back eddies created by the trunks.

Feather Breached Levees
$386,900 over two years. GGSA is out to undo some of the worst Delta predator hot spots. That's because they're death traps for baby salmon. We're talking about levee breaches where subsequent flood water and tidal see sawing over years have cut deep holes that predator fish use to ambush baby salmon, in high numbers. Our proposal is to modify the bottom by feathering the edges of the holes or maybe filling them to take away the advantage predator fish currently have.

All of these projects share two things in common
The first is they're all designed to a) increase survival of baby salmon which are currently forced to migrate downstream through a most hostile river corridor and b), none of these are likely to produce results unless GGSA engages with our federal partners to make sure the money isn't simply spent doing more studies. We need to move some dirt. Huge volumes of dirt were moved to "tame" the river and Delta, all at a very high cost to salmon. We need to undo some of this damage and move dirt back closer to the way it was.

GGSA takes case for salmon protection to top NMFS west coast brass
On October 26 GGSA leadership met with the new NMFS west coast administrator Barry Thom and his top deputies Maria Rea and Howard Brown. GGSA took the opportunity to push for stronger salmon protections throughout the Central Valley with special emphasis on the Feather and Sacramento rivers and the Delta. Executive director John McManus told Thom, who works in Seattle and is intimate with salmon issues on the Columbia and Snake rivers, that California salmon need something Columbia River fish got in 2005. That's when a federal court ordered operators of the dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers to release water in the spring to aid the out migration of baby salmon. Salmon runs responded immediately with much greater numbers surviving and returning as adults. There's no such requirement for California salmon, something that's desperately needed.

GGSA leads salmon stakeholders to meeting with top CDFW officials
California salmon advocates, led by the Golden Gate Salmon Association, are set to meet with top brass of the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) November 8 to discuss advances in hatchery release practices. Millions of baby hatchery salmon have been lost in the past when released into foreseeable hostile river conditions. This includes being released into low clear water when waiting a week for a forecasted storm to create runoff would have avoided the problem. Hatchery baby salmon have been released at locations upstream of known congregations of predators when moving the release site downstream of the predator concentrations would have greatly increased survival. These are among the issues to be discussed. In addition, evolving strategies on releasing hatchery salmon that are trucked to San Francisco Bay and the coast will also be discussed.

Egg Injection is back
The California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife has agreed to a second year of a pilot project injecting fertilized salmon eggs into river gravels to improve hatch rates.This action could be quite useful in future droughts when river temperatures during fall spawning are too hot for eggs to survive. Adult salmon spawn anyway and the eggs are lost. Capturing those eggs and holding them after fertilization in cold water hatcheries until river temperatures are cool enough to put them back in the river is the idea. If the baby salmon is ultimately hatched in a river instead of a hatchery, it will presumably take on more natural characteristics.

Yolo Bypass, Wallace Weir
One of the great salmon habitats in need of restoration are the remaining floodplains in the Central Valley. When flooded, insect life buried in the dirt springs to life providing a bonanza of food for the baby salmon. In very wet water years when the Sutter and Yolo bypasses in the Sacramento Valley flood, baby salmon swim in with flood waters, gorge on the bug life and survive at higher rates. Two years later we see higher than usual returns of adult salmon.

Recently the second biggest irrigation district in the Sacramento Valley, RD 108, made improvements to flood structures in the Yolo Bypass as a step towards eventually making the Yolo Bypass useful to both baby and adult salmon. In addition, we're hearing reports that real plans for lowering the barrier that regulates when the Yolo floods have been written, which is a key step towards making it so.

Feather River biop coming
GGSA has gotten reports that the long awaited federal rules for operating the Oroville Dam on the Feather River should be finished by the end of November. GGSA has worked hard to strengthen these rules to better protect salmon, especially since this will be the last chance to improve conditions for salmon on the Feather for a long time. Soon we hope to find out if our work has paid off.

Better numbers of fall and winter run
Fish counting traps in the upper Sacramento River at Red Bluff are providing some interesting, and in some cases hopeful, information. Some baby winter run salmon born this past summer have already started moving downstream and been counted. They pass Red Bluff from September through December and in some years, as late as March.The number that passed as of October already surpasses the total number that were counted for all of last year. Hopefully many more are still to come. Although a small number (1545) of winter run adults returned to spawn in 2016, conditions were better than they've been in the recent drought years. Survival of eggs to fry was relatively good.

A good number of baby fall run born in late 2015 were counted earlier this year. In fact over 25 million were counted, many times more than the 3.9 million counted the year before. If these 25 million enjoyed good survival to the ocean, and they should have due to the heavy rain and runoff we had last winter and spring, we could enjoy a decent season in 2018 when the majority return as adults.

E-barrier update
The effort to lead Mokelumne hatchery fish to return to the hatchery where they were born has taken a bad turn recently. In many years as these fish return, they get to a fork in the river and make a wrong turn. Instead of continuing up the Mokelumne River, they instead swim into the adjacent Delta Cross Channel, a manmade canal diverting massive amounts of the Sacramento River into the interior Delta on the way to

the pumps. Confronted with a trickle versus a massive deluge, they naturally swim into the deluge. Many end up spawning in the American and Yuba rivers and who can blame them? The answer; close the Delta Cross Channel gates in the fall when these fish are returning or put some kind of barrier to keep the Mokelumne fish from going the wrong way. GGSA had proposed a high tech invisible electrical barrier the fish wouldn't want to cross but recently federal employees working on the project have encountered problems with the company that makes these things. Stay tuned, we're looking for a Plan B.

More Water For Salmon
GGSA is leading a call for salmon fishermen to make their voices heard for a once in a lifetime opportunity to get flows restored to Central Valley rivers for salmon. The state water board will take input on a proposal to increase flows in the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers at public meetings scheduled for November and December. It's critical that salmon advocates attend and speak out to counter the loud chorus of opposition to the proposal expected from agricultural interests. This proposal to increase flows is the first of several to come in the next year or two. f we win here, our chances to get more salmon water elsewhere in the Central Valley and Delta go up. If we lose, they go down. So show up and tell the state board it's time to re-balance our water allocation system so salmon get a fair shake.

If you can, attend one of the following and speak out for salmon.

Tuesday, November 29 - 9:00 a.m.
CalEPA Headquarters, 1001 I Street, Sacramento

Friday, December 16 - 9:00 a.m.
Stockton Memorial Civic Auditorium, 525 N. Center Street, Stockton

Monday, December 19 - 9:00 a.m.
Multicultural Arts Center, 645 W. Main Street, Merced

Tuesday, December 20 - 9:00 a.m.
Modesto Centre Plaza, 1000 L Street, Modesto

Tuesday, January 3 - 9:00 a.m.
CalEPA Headquarters, 1001 I Street, Sacramento

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