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Environment, Energy and Transportation

NorCal Conservationists Float Emergency Water Plan To Save Salmon

Fall Chinook Salmon NMFS 2011
Blaine Bellerud / Flickr
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A male Fall Chinook salmon

After years of drought, salmon in Northern California are facing extinction. Conservation groups in the region have drafted a water management plan that, if adopted, would send less water to Central Valley farmers and keep more cold water for fish.

Last week, fishery advocates in Northern California submitted their temperature management plan to the State Water Resources Control Board. They want to change water operations in the Shasta, Trinity, Sacramento and Lower Klamath Rivers so the region’s salmon runs have enough cold water to survive.

Tom Stokely is with Save California Salmon and co-authored the plan. He said the Bureau of Reclamation’s current practices are a recipe for disaster.

“We’re already in a major drought, and they’re basically not planning on the future,” Stokely said. “They’re basically just draining the reservoirs, hoping it rains and snows like heck next winter. And if it doesn’t we’re all in big trouble, but the salmon will be the first to go.”

Stokely believes changes need to be made immediately if the salmon runs are to be saved, but he’s not confident that the State Water Resources Control Board will choose their plan over the status quo.

“The way they’re operating the water projects in California, they’re extincting the salmon,” Stokely said of the Bureau of Reclamation’s water management. “And if people like to catch salmon or they like to eat wild-caught salmon and they don’t like to eat farm salmon with chemicals in it, they’re basically killing off this resource.”

If the plan is approved, it would reduce water deliveries to agriculture and conserve cold water in Shasta and Trinity reservoirs. That would help ensure that fish coming into the Lower Klamath and Trinity Rivers would have enough cold water to spawn successfully. In recent weeks, low flows and high temperatures have triggered a major fish kill in the Klamath River.

Stokely says he expects California’s Water Resource Control Board to make a decision by the end of this week.