December 2017

Flow Centric. That is the best way to describe the State Water Resources Control Board’s controversial and deeply flawed proposal to shift vast additional quantities of water from residents, farms and businesses to protect fish. According to their proposals for the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, it is all about the flow. Ongoing efforts with increasingly demonstrated success suggest the Water Board would be wise to take a more balanced and effective approach by thinking outside the box, or in this case “outside the flow.”

Recent reports show great news for salmon on both the Mokelumne and American Rivers. A near-record number of adult salmon have returned to spawning sites just below Comanche Dam on the Mokelumne River. Similar success is also being seen on the American River. While last winter’s unusually wet conditions have helped, more effective management and innovation are the biggest contributions to the success, including the following actions:

  • Tens of thousands of cubic yards of gravel have been added to the rivers to improve spawning and rearing habitats.
  • Hatchery practices have been improved to aid fish in withstanding drought conditions and avoiding voracious predators. East Bay Municipal Utility District managers utilized a barge to move the fish past the ruthless predatory bass, minimizing stress and maximizing the salmon’s familiarity with the river that they would need to return to spawn three years later—instead of trucking juvenile salmon—as they have historically.
  • Staggered releases of hatchery raised juveniles to throw off the predators who had become familiar with established practices, turning the releases into regularly scheduled buffets.
  • Fine-tuning nutrition for juvenile salmon, including a more saline diet leading up to the ocean releases.
  • Pulse flows being utilized to provide cues for salmon to move up the river at appropriate times and cross channel gates being closed to prevent salmon from straying.

These efforts are necessary because the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and California Fish and Game Commission have failed to take any steps to control predation by non-native bass and other species that have invaded the Delta and its tributaries. The State Water Resources Control Board should be seeking these kinds of inventive, non-flow measures. Instead, the State Water Board remains focused on their destructive and overly simplistic efforts to simply throw more water at the problem—a  solution that has failed to produce demonstrable results in the past.

The demonstrated success on the American and Mokelumne Rivers show that habitat restoration and more effective flow management can improve struggling fish populations. Hopefully, Water Board members are paying attention.