How California managed not to lose migrating salmon before the dams were built and rivers had year-round flows is beyond me.
Granted, I’m not a fish biologist or scientist; I operate on common sense and observation.
Growing up along the Sacramento River in northern California I learned quickly that the river was not good for swimming, even when the summertime temperature in Red Bluff and Redding exceeded 120 degrees, which happened more than once when I was growing up.
That was because the Sacramento generally pulled its water from the lower depths of Shasta Lake, which was much more comfortable to swim in during the summer months.
I learned that pulling water from the lower depths of the lake for the Sacramento River not only helped the fish, but ensured temperatures sufficient to keep one’s beverages cold while tied to a truck tube as we floating down the river during our summers away from school.
When we weren’t floating down the river, turning our exposed skin a bright shade of red, we were fishing that river. Some of us did pretty well catching fish; some of us didn’t. It was common for the local newspaper back in the 1970s to feature photos of anglers with four-foot salmon in excess of 40 pounds.
So what happened to the salmon? Are the nickel-and-dime projects helping to restore salmon or is a more practical method needed?
Watching thousands of fish migrate daily through the ladders at the Red Bluff Diversion Dam was something we did as a kid, even after the drought of ’77 almost claimed Shasta Lake. I don’t recall a lot of stories about the warm water in the top few feet of Shasta Lake being a problem when the water fell to 300 feet from the spillway gates and the only water left for the river was the 500,000 acre feet in the old river channel behind the dam.
How have things changed?
So here we are 23 years after passage of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) and its requirements to dedicate 800,000 acre feet of water annually to fish and wildlife, build water temperature control facilities at Shasta Dam and implement fish passage measures at the Red Bluff Diversion Dam that killed the river slough and the twice-yearly drag boat races at Red Bluff, and salmon are now said to be dying.
Ask California Fish and Wildlife Director Chuck Bonham how winter run salmon are doing and he’ll use the word “collapsed.” That’s the word he used with a group of reporters during a conference call earlier this year.
A visit to the CVPIA website talks of 10 major areas of change to come about from the 1992 federal legislation. One of those is the “development of a plan to increase CVP yield.”
I’d ask how that’s going, but I think we all know the answer to that.
A recent opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee talks up the need for collaborative efforts to help migrating salmon. It also highlights the efforts of farmers and fish advocates to help migrating salmon through projects like the new gates in the Sacramento River at Knights Landing to keep migrating salmon from making a wrong turn into a maze of drainage ditches or the removal of dams on Battle Creek so salmon can return to spawn.
While all this sounds good it still seems that without achieving the water yield mandate that is part of the 23-year-old CVPIA, adding fish screens and removing small dams may not solve the fish problems in California, much less help the rest of us as we fight with the fish for enough water to survive.