Tuesday, June 30, 2009

California Water Crisis: don´t blame the fish

CSPA Press Release - Myths, Lies and Damn Lies  
Despite drought, Valley agriculture doing far better than rest of
Stockton, CA - Sunday, June 28, 2009 -- Interior Secretary Ken Salazar
is in Fresno today to attend a meeting and listen to the

economic woes of the south Valley. Newspapers and airways are awash
with accusations that a three-inch fish has caused a man-made
drought in California and that environmentalists and fishermen seek
to "starve people in order to save whales." Congressmen, farmers
and water agencies claim that 450,000 or more acres of land have
been fallowed and 35-50,000 people have been put out of work: all
because of Delta smelt and the Endangered Species Act. But, facts
are stubborn things. And the facts tell us that these accusations
are lies - bald-face lies.

"We hope Secretary Salazar will seek out the facts and see through
the transparent efforts by Governor Schwarzenegger, Valley elected
officials and the hydrologic brotherhood to use the red-herring of
economic recession as justification for depriving the Delta of
essential water," said CSPA Executive Director Bill Jennings.
"Their efforts can only be successful if the Secretary, reporters
and the general public ignore the facts," he said, adding, "The
truth is more water won't wash away the Valley's recession and
endangered species are the victims, not the problem."

According to official data collected by the California Economic
Development Department, during three years of drought, between May
of 2006 and May of 2009, farm employment went up 13.7% in Kern
County, 12.1% in Fresno County, 19.3% in Tulare County, 2% in
Merced County, 5.3% in Madera and 8.4% in Stanislaus County.(1)
Only in the smallest agricultural county of Kings, did we find a
decline. While we're told that 262,000 acres have been fallowedin
Fresno County, the County's Department of Agriculture was releasing
a report that revealed 2008 was another record year with
agricultural production dollars up 5.9% over the previous record
year of 2007.(2)

San Joaquin Valley farm unemployment has always been high and,
while the present economic disaster has exacerbated conditions,
farm unemployment has not fluctuated according to wet and dry
years.(3) Indeed, agriculture has fared far better in the current
recession than other segments of the economy. While May 08 to May
09 construction, manufacturing, trade & transportation and
financial employment in Fresno County dropped by 3,000, 2,300,
1,200 and 900, respectively: agricultural employment actually
increased by 100.(4) Tulare County reports that while, agricultural
employment increased by 2,100 between May 08 and May 09,
construction, manufacturing, trade & transportation, hospitality
and financial employment was down 800,1,100, 1,300, 400 and 500,
respectively.(5) Even in counties reporting slight declines in
agricultural employment: other employment sectors experienced far
greater drops. In the last year of a three-year drought (May
08-May09), statewide farm employment dropped by only 9,600 while
nonfarm employment plunged 744,400.(6) Indeed, employment figures
for counties for north-of-Delta counties that are receiving full
water allotments are showing similar employment impacts.

Who is not telling the truth: our elected representatives or the
California Employment Development Department? And, who is
distorting the truth about actual water shortages?

As Department of Water Resources Director Lester Snow pointed out
in a 15 May 2009 letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein, Westlands
Water District is expected to receive 86% of its normal water
supplies in this third year of drought; Kern Count Water Agency is
expecting 85% and the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors will
receive 100% of its non-drought supplies.(7) The chart attached to
Snow's letter claims that Westlands' 14% shortfall will force it to
fallow 225,000 acres rather than its normal fallowing of 78,000
acres and Kern County Water Agency's 15% shortfall will compel it
to fallow 220,000 acres rather than the normal 100,000 acres.(8)
The numbers simply don't add up.

Mr. Snow was candid when he wrote Senator Feinstein that, "I
believe many have lost sight of the plain fact that we are in a
hydrologic drought, and as such water supplies are simply limited
for all users"(9) and when he testified to Congress that, if there
was no court order protecting fish, there would only be a 5%
increase in water to the Central Valley.

Unfortunately, Mr. Snow and those who scapegoat fisheries seem
unable to admit that water supplies in a drought are also limited
for fish and wildlife and that recent biological opinions provide
less water for the environment during shortages. Nor can they
acknowledge that California has issued water rights for 8 _ times
the average amount of water in the Bay-Delta watershed or that
Valley farmers have recently planted hundreds of thousands of acres
of perennial crops based upon the most junior water rights that
assume interrupted supplies during the inevitable droughts that
occur more than a third of the time in the state.

Those who accuse fishermen and environmentalists of trying to
"starve families to protect whales" appear incapable of exhibiting
compassion for the depressed communities along the coast and
wrecked livelihoods of commercial fishermen whose boats are either
dry-docked or repossessed by the bank or lamenting the 23,000
people out of work or the $1.4 billion lost to the state's economy
because of fishing closures. And what of those on the Westside of
the Valley who irrigate selenium laced soils that discharge toxic
wastes back to the river and Delta? Do they believe they have a
prerogative to water that leaves the Delta with salinity levels
that threaten the existence of generations of Delta farmers who
cultivate over 400,000 acres of some of the finest prime soils on

There is enough water in California to provide for people and
rivers, if it's used wisely. Reclamation, recycling, groundwater
banking, conservation and desalination offer a virtual river far
larger than any additional supplies secured via new surface storage
or a peripheral canal. Fish are not the problem. "A dysfunctional
water delivery system, greed and failure to comply with existing
laws have brought us to the edge of disaster," observed Jennings.
"Common sense, sound science and a proper respect for law can lead
us back from the abyss," he said.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Thompson sees Record Low Steelhead Return

British Columbia's Thompson River, among the most storied steelhead rivers in the world for its huge, hard fighting fall steelhead once supported thousands of spawning steelhead annually. As recently as the 70s numbers were over 10 thousand. These days, the storied population has been reduced to a pittance of its former glory...BC biologists estimate that only 850 steelhead returned to spawn this last spring. For one of the largest river systems in BC it is a pittifully low number. Among the causes of the decline are overharest through bycatch in a Chum salmon fishery, ecological decline in the Puget Sound and Georgia Basin and huge fish farming operations in the narrow Georgia Strait. Sadly the run for next year is forecasted to be even lower, at 500 fish. See the full story on the Thompsons tragic demis at the Vancouver Sun.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

Fish Farms will go Ahead in Sunderland Channel

Despite strong opposition to the two new fish farming facilities, the Strathcona Regional District has allowed Greig Seafood to develop the sites both of which will accomodate 70,000 Atlantic Salmon. The last two decades have seen massive development of commercial fish farming in the Georgia Basin, along with the farms came infestations of sea lice as well as other pathogens and a concurrent decline in wild salmonid populations in the region. While the impact of salmon farming is widely acknowledged among scientists and the public, farming operations continue to expand to provide cheap salmon to consumers worldwide.

The decision to allow the farms to go ahead comes as a huge blow to wild fish advocate groups who cite the regions geography and location as a prime reason not to locate two new farms in the area. Johnstone Strait is the confined outlet to the Georgia Basin making it a migratory bottle neck for many wild smolts leaving the area. Given the susceptability of outmigrant smolts to sea lice it is imperative to keep infestations low, particularly in areas where smolts outmigrate in high densities. The decision to allow to farms to go ahead does not come without stipulations. In what was termed a compromise by the SRD directors, Greig will have to establish zero lice levels prior to the smolt migration, complete harvest prior to the migration and refrain from using underwater lights during the migration. They also have to use fully enclosed pen technology as soon as it becomes commercially available and ''financially viable''. Unfortunately these compromises are inadequate and fail to address the real problem, additionally they give Greig the ability to decide for itself when enclosed pens are commercially viable. See more coverage in the Campbell River Courier Islander here...


Also read a press release from the coastal alliance on aquacultural reform


BC launches first Salmon Stronghold program

In a press conference hosted by the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council, and in collaboration with the Chehalis first nations group it was announced that the Harrison River will be BCs first pilot project as a wild fish stronghold. By managing for salmon strongholds, agencies, tribes and nonprofits seek to concentrate and coordinate recovery efforts and minimize human impacts on a strong remaining wild population. These types of efforts have long been supported by wild fish groups as the only real way to address declining runs of salmon. While the Fraser system still has many challenges to overcome, protecting one of its finest tributaries in the Harrison is a big step. See more coverage at the Wild Salmon Centers website.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Ecology completes Yakima Review, New Dams off the Table

In the arid Yakima Valley is perennially thirsty for irrigation water. The Dams in the Upper Yakima, and Naches systems, designed to provide irrigation flows during summer drought season have already severely impacted the natural hydrograph of the rivers.With increased demand for cheap water rights and fears about climate change, some agricultural interets have been calling for even more water storage in the region...more dams. In a report issued by the Washington Department of Ecology on Tuesday a number of options are explored to provide water for various interests in the Valley. Not among the options however are more dams which were deemed to be against federal guidelines. See a summary at the ecology website

and the Environmental Impact Statement at the Washington Depertmant of Ecology

Salmon Fishing Should be Good off Washington This Summer

Buoyed by strong ocean conditions the last two summers, state fisheries managers are predicting excellent salmon fishing in the coastal waters of Washington this summer. While it is still early, runs of both Coho and Pink salmon are predicted to be very strong. While most fisheries open the end of June or Early July, anglers targeting bottom fish as well as native american treaty salmon fishing operations have been catching alot of salmon already. A good indication that numbers are high. See the full article at the Seattle Times.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Osprey May 2009

Check out the latest installment at our website by clicking on the Osprey. In this issue:

  • Sandy River Reborn
  • Obama and Salmon
  • Some Good News For Once
  • Steelhead Lagoons on California's Coast
  • Yakima River Recovery Efforts
  • Update on the Columbia River BiOp

Oregon State Senate Passes Klamath Surcharge

The Oregon State Senate passed SB 76 monday which will enact a 2% surcharge on consumers of energy from the PacifCorp Klamath dams. The surcharge is expected to provide funds which will eventually fund the removal of the four Klamath Dams. The bill now goes to governor Kulongoski's desk for a signature. From the Oregonian


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dworshak Dam Turbines back online

Dworshak Dams largest turbine has been repaired. Out of commission since May when a leak was spotted, the dam is now capable of delivering a critical supply of cold water to aid the upriver migration of salmon and steelhead. See more information at the Columbia Basin's website.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Voice your Opinion on Fish Farming in BC

Fish farms represent one of the biggest threats to the future of wild salmonids in the Georgia Basin and Puget Sound. In the confined glacial archipeligos, the high densities of parasites and disease have severe impacts on outmigrant smolts and resident fish. If dramatic changes aren't made in the scale and practice of aqua culture in Southern BC, the future is grim for wild fish. Most of the fish farming opperations are run from outside of Canada and unfortunately they continue to expand. Meanwhile activists insist that they must reduce the number of farms, monitor impacts more closely and ultimately change the design and implementation of fish farms to protect wild fish. With two more net pen opperations proposed in the Sunderland Channel the Campbell River Courier Islander has posted a poll on their website asking readers to comment on whether they believe the net pen operations should be allowed. The Sunderland Channel is particularly sensitive as it is a tightly confined channel which is a bottle neck for all salmon migrating north from the Fraser and other Georgia Strait systems. Vote at the Courier Islander's website


While you're at it check out the Save Our Salmon website, a great resource for information on the issues in BC.


Also, see an article on the push to close 5 farms in BC


Friday, June 19, 2009

Show Your Support for Harvest Reform

Just got this email from the folks at the Wild Fish Conservancy...

On July 10th at the Seattle Federal Courthouse at 10:00 AM the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments regarding the 2006 Puget Sound Comprehensive Chinook Management Plan.

Your presence at this hearing will show the court, and the opposing parties, that the public cares deeply about the need for harvest reform. For information regarding this case see The Continuing Saga of Puget Sound Chinook Harvest or contact Wild Fish Conservancy at info@wildfishconservancy.org or 425-788-1167. Additional information can be found on the Wild Fish Conservancy web site at www.wildfishconservancy.org.

The Seattle Federal Courthouse is located at 1010 Fifth Avenue, 7th Floor, Seattle, Washington.

Federal Judge Issues Order on John Day Grazing

US district Judge Ancer Haggarty issued an order this week that the Forest Service must assure that grazing allotments in the John Day basin don't harm threatened summer steelhead. While the Judge did not completely shut down two large grazing allotments, he demanded that it be scaled back and impacts be monitored. In making his decision Judge Haggarty stated, "Plaintiffs have shown that they are likely to succeed on the merits of multiple claims against the Forest Service and National Marine Fisheries Service and that irreparable harm to Middle Columbia River (MCR) steelhead is likely to occur if this court does not partially enjoin grazing on the allotments at issue."

The John Day Basin is one of the Longest undamned rivers in the lower 48 and is considered a stronghold for wild steelhead in the middle columbia basin. See more information at the Columbia Basin Bulletin.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Panel

WDFW is accepting nominations for a Columbia Basin Advisory Board, responsible for improving sport fishing opportunities in the Columbia System. Nominations for the new board are due no later than July 15th to Heather Bartlett, Salmon and Steelhead Division Manager, at 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA, 98501-1091. More information is available by contacting Heather, at (360) 902-2662. Nominees must include:

  • The name of the advisory group the nominee is applying for.
  • The nominee's name, physical and email address and telephone number.
  • The nominee's affiliations.
  • The name, address and telephone number of any organization submitting a nomination.
  • Experience, including the amount and type of experience, and any species or areas of interest, and references.

Given the cultural and biological importance of the Columbia Basin for sport fisheries in our area it would be a shame for the conservation community to miss the opportunity to throw our name in the hat. Some well reasoned, informed voice dedicated to the conservation and recovery of wild fish in our region would be highly advantageous. More information in a news release at WDFWs website.


Ocean Acidificaiton

Willapa Bay, one of the countries most productive oyster region has experienced its fourth consecutive spawning failure. Oysters whose larve are free floating prior to settling into a suitable location have been dying before successfully settling out. Increasingly scientists are coming to believe that the oysters are being impacted by changes in ocean chemistry known as ocean acidification. As the concenration of CO2 in the atmosphere rises, the ocean stores massive amounts of the carbon, chaning the pH of the ocean water from slightly alkaline to slightly acidic. The waters most affected are the deep, cold ocean water which upwells along our coast and has typically driven ocean productivity off our continental shelf. While the changes in ocean chemistry are subtle they may have profound impacts for ocean ecosystems where many animals form their exoskeletons with bicarbonate. From Coral Reefs to Zooplankton in the North Pacific the number of organisms directly effected is startling. Even more startling are the changes that could be wrought to marine ecosystems through alterations in their historic foodwebs. As atmospheric carbon concentrations rise, ocean acidification may have a more dramatic effect on marine ecosystems than the actual temperature changes associated with climate change. A fascinating article in the Seattle Times today covered the acidity problems in Willapa Bay.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sam Hamilton Nominated to head USFWS

Sam Hamilton, a career biologist who has focused on habitat protection and restoration was nominated by the Obama adminstration last week to head the Fish and Wildlife Service. As head of the Fish and Wildlife Service, Hamilton will be responsible for coordinating recovery efforts for over 350 federally listed species and managing 128 wildlife refuges. Previously he worked as the Southeast Regional director based in Atlanta Georgia, overseeing the operations of the Fish and Wildlife Service in 10 states and the Caribbean. While the nomination still needs to be confirmed by the Senate, we can hope that his experience as a biologist will encourage him to make scientifically directed, sound management decisions with our fisheries here in the Northwest. See more info at the CBB


Friday, June 12, 2009

Puget Sound

The Puget Sound and Georgia Basin was once one of the most productive Salmonid regions in the world. Formed roughly 10 thousand years ago as last glacial period ended, the rivers in the region contained a highly diverse spectrum of habitats. From their high gradient montane headwaters to their broad alluvial valleys they supported five species of salmon, winter steelhead, cutthroat and many supported summer steelhead as well as bull trout. Over the last century and a half habitat degradation, pollution, overfishing and massive hatchery supplementation have driven both Chinook and Steelhead to the ESA and all other species have experiencing lesser declines. Today a growing population in the region is resulting in severe degradation of the sounds water quality and there are serious concerns about the overall health of the ecosystem. Recently the PBS series frontline did a special covering the polluted state of many of our nations water ways and parts 6 through 11 all deal with the startling realities of the degraded state of Puget Sound. Watch the full series here...


Its not all bad new for the sound though and a two recent developments promise to help clean up the huge contaminant problems in the sound.

For decades the city of Victoria has been dumping raw sewage into the sound. This huge imput of sewage waste creates nutrient pollution altering the ecosystem as well as dumping countless other untreated toxins into the system. See the coverage in the Seattle times...


In response to the public outcry about the degradation of the Puget Sound ecosystem the federal government recently approved a 150% increase in cleanup funding. We can only hope that with a concerted effort at multiple levels of govermnet and serious changes in pollution, development and hatchery practices we can recover the sound to some semblance of its former glory. See the article about the federal funding hike from the Bellingham Herald.


Nehalem Basin to Close for Chinook Fishing

The Nehalem River, one of the North Oregon Coasts most productive Chinook Rivers will closed starting June 15th to protect the salmon. Returns have been poor the past three years and the run is forecasted to be poor again this year making the closure necessary to protect the rivers imperiled summer chinook as well as its fall run. See more information on the closure in the Oregonian.


Hatchery Fish likely contributing to declining wild populations

In yet another piece of scientific literature condemning the practice of widespread hatchery supplementation, Oregon State Researchers Hitoshi Araki and Michael Blouin recently published their second paper exploring the effects of domestication on fitness in wild spawning steelhead. Their study showed that a fish born in the wild from two hatchery spawned parents had only 37 perecent of the reproductive success of truly wild fish and the offspring of one hatchery and one wild fish have only 87 percent of the reproductive success.

While many papers have explored and documented declining fitness within domesticated populations, it has rarely been so accurately quantified. Considering the large declines in fitness associated with the hatchery environment it seems likely that many of our current hatcheries, including wild broodstock programs are counterproductive and may severely limit the productivity of wild populations. Given these facts as well as the equally negative ecological effects of hatchery programs we believe that hatchery programs in areas which could still support strong wild populations should be curtailed. See coverage of the article in science daily.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Oregon Rep proposeses Wild and Scenic designation for Molalla River

Oregon Representative Kurt Schrader has proposed a bill the would designate the Molalla a Wild and Scenic River, one of the last major strongholds of wild salmon and winter steelhead in the Willamette system. With the curtailment of hatchery outplanting on the system wild populations have made a nice recovery in recent years and the Wild and Scenic designation is sure to help. Officially the designation means that the federal government is acknowledging the outstanding cultural value of the fish, recreational opportunity, and natural beauty of the system and the law will protect the river and the surrounding environs in perpetuity. See the coverage in the Oregonian.


Also see Bill Bakkes 2008 article on Steelhead in the Molalla in the Osprey Archives.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

WDFW Chinook Salmon workshop

WDFW has scheduled a public meeting for comments on their updated Puget Sound Chinook recovery plan. Chinook in Puget Sound are listed as Threatened under the ESA. The meeting is being held on June 12th from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Mountaineers Building, 7700 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle. The plan will be a framework for recovery of Chinook in Puget sound and should emphasize habitat restoration, particularly improving the ecological health of the Puget Sound and the estuaries which provide critical habtiat for juvenile Chinook. The plan should also work to minimize the impacts of sport and commercial fisheries as well as acknowledge the detrimental impacts of many of the current hatchery programs in the Puget Sound region.

Demolition begins on Savage Rapids dam

Fish advocates have been lobbying for the removal of the Rouge River's Savage Rapids dam. Known as the biggest fish killer in the Rouge system because of its poor fish passage, the removal of the dam started last monday as demolition crews began dismantling the 88-year old dam. The dam removal is expected to be complete by late fall and many biologists believe that removing the dam will significantly increase the productivity of Rouge salmon and steelhead. See more coverage at the Southern Oregon mail tribune.


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Columbia River DART

Columbia River DART (data access in real time) is a website maintained by the University of Washington's Columbia Basin Research Team. It is the best resource on the web for up to date data on the Columbia Basin including dam counts, preseason forecasts as well as oceanographic and flow data. Check it out at

Dworshak Dam turbine under repair, may increase summer water temps

Dworshak dam, a major water storage resevoir on Idaho's Northfork of the Clearwater provides an important source of cold water releases throughout the summer months. Without these releases temperatures in the lower Snake can rise above federally mandated guidelines causing increased stress and potentially mortality among upriver migrating Chinook and Steelhead. Due to maintenance problems however, the primary turbine system at Dworshak is temporarily out of commission potentially jeapordizing cool water releases while operators repair a leaky seal. See more coverage at the CBB here.


Friday, June 5, 2009

California State Senate Approves salmon bill

A bill sponsored by California State Senator Patricia Wiggins passed the Senate Monday. The bill allows projects designed to restore and conserve wild salmon and steelhead to access the states Ocean Protection Trust fund. The vote would allow salmon related projects to apply for funding or loans through the Trust opening up as much as 45 million dollars for restoration. See the coverage in the Eureka Times-Standard.


Sacramento River BiOp

With Sacramento River chinook salmon stocks experiencing severe short term decline, federal regulators issued a new biological opinion Thursday demanding changes in the water management practices in the basin. Currently the Sacramento provides water for much of the irrigation in the Central Valley as well as Southern California. The plan calls for about a 5 percent reduction in the amount of water being diverted from the delta and sent to consumers. While some oppose the plan because of its percieved economic impacts, the recent severe collapse of Chinook in the Sacramento has lead to a full closure of salmon fishing the past two years and has alarmed biologists and anglers alike. While the Sacramento was once one of the most productive chinook systems in the world over the last century and a half it has been severely impacted by habitat degradation, overharvest, dam buidling, waterdiversion, and the impacts of invasive species. Hopefully the measures outlined in the new biop will serve as a foundation for recovery of wild chinook and steelhead in the system. See the article in the San Francisco Chronicle here


Oregon to increase logging

In a 4-2 vote Wednesday, the Oregon Board of Forestry voted to increase areas allowed for logging. An additional 20% of the Clatsop and Tillamook State Forests are now vulnerable to logging. These forests are home to rivers that provide habitat for steelhead, listed coho and other salmonids. These forests also offer habitat to the protected northern spotted owl. See coverage in the Oregonian here.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Articles on the Klamath in July Fly Fisherman

In the July issue of Fly Fisherman there are a couple of interesting article about the Klamath, its history and the potential for recovery. The PDFs are linked through waterwatch's website here.

Saving the Klamath Ecosystem by John Randolph


Dissecting the Klamath by Steve Pedery


Idaho Senator, "Be open to dam breaching"

Despite a long history of opposition from Idaho's congressional delegation to Snake River dam breaching, Idaho Senator Mike Crapo says all options must be on the table. While he has traditionally opposed dam breaching he says that the government must be willing to consider a variety of options including breaching. The statement is not only a big change for Idaho policy makers but also for the region where most politicans have been slow to advocate for Snake River dam removal. See the full article here at the Idaho statesman's website


Obama officials visit PNW to discuss BiOp

Top officials from the White House, NOAA, Department of the Interior, and the US Army Corps of Engineers recently visited the northwest to discuss the Columbia basin biological opinion with the tribes and states. This follows the recent letter from Justice Redden demanding the feds improve the most recent biological opinion. Fisherman and conservationists were not granted a request to meet with officials and consequently rallied outside the meeting in Portland. See the CBB for the story.