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Klamath Dam removal a good thing for farmers and fish; Coho get a boost in Santa Cruz and another suit filed over the Yuba River. Here is the latest fishing news from Northern California:

 

Reports says Klamath dam removal good for the fish, good for the farmer

GRANTS PASS, Ore.—A federal report says removing four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River in Oregon and California and restoring ecosystems will produce a big increase in salmon harvests and boost farm revenues.

The 400-page report was produced by federal scientists to help the secretary of Interior evaluate whether it is in the public interest to go ahead with the $1 billion project, which is considered the biggest dam removal in U.S. history if it goes through as planned in 2020.

"In the long run, all the anadramous fish (salmon, steelhead, and lamprey) benefit from dam removal, according to our analysis," Dennis Lynch, program manager for the U.S. Geological Survey, who oversaw the report, said Monday.

The report notes that wild salmon runs have dropped more than 90 percent from the dams, overfishing, poor water quality, disease and habitat loss. It said there was a moderate to high probability that removing the dams and restoring the environment would improve water quality, fish habitat, and water quality, and reduce fish disease a toxic algae blooms. The project would also improve the ability of fish to cope with global warming, by opening up more access to cold water.

Though there would be a short-term loss of less than 10 percent of chinook and coho salmon due to the release of sediments built up behind the dams, their numbers would grow by 80 percent over the long term due to opening up more than 420 miles of habitat blocked by the dams since 1922, the report said.

Overall, the benefits far outweigh the costs, by as much as 47.6 to one, the report found.

The report estimates that dam removal would increase commercial fishing harvests of Klamath chinook 43 percent over the next 50 years, for a value of $134.5 million. Sport and tribal harvests would also climb. More irrigation for farms during drought years under terms of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement would produce economic benefits one out of every 10 years, for increased value of $30 million over the next 50 years. More water for wildlife refuges that depend on leftover irrigation water would produce more waterfowl, generating a $4.3 million boost from hunting.

There would be a $35 million loss in recreation revenues from the loss of the reservoirs behind the dams over the next 50 years.

Dam removal and ecosystem restoration have been endorsed by the states of Oregon and California, the dam owners and 42 groups representing Indian tribes, salmon fishermen, farmers and conservation groups. But the project has been stalled in Congress, where the House and Senate last year did not take up legislation that would authorize the Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar to proceed and appropriate up to $800 million for ecosystem restoration.

"We're pleased that this step in the evaluation process is complete and are eager to see increased focus on the settlement agreements from Congress this year," said PacifiCorp spokesman Bob Gravely.

The estimated $291 million cost of removing the dams would be paid mostly from a surcharge on electric rates that has already been approved. The state of California has yet to come up with a way to pay its share.

The report represents the compilation of 50 separate reports on issues including biology, hydrology and economics. It does not differ significantly from a draft produced last year, which went through extensive peer review. It was posted to a government website late Friday, and will be delivered to Salazar this week, Lynch said.

Straddling the Oregon-California border, the Klamath Basin regularly has trouble meeting the water demands of farms on the federal irrigation project at the top of the basin, endangered sucker fish in the irrigation system's main reservoir, and threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River. Chinook salmon returns to the Klamath are important for sport, commercial and tribal salmon harvests.

The federal government shut off water to most of the farms in 2001 to protect the salmon. After a summer of bitter protests and political battles, the Bush administration restored irrigation in 2002, only to see tens of thousands of adult salmon die of gill rot diseases that spread rapidly between fish crowded into low pools of warm water.

The two events led many farmers, tribes, conservation groups and salmon fishermen to overcome their longstanding differences and agree to a water-sharing plan that is linked to removing four small hydroelectric dams owned by PacifiCorp that serve 70,000 customers in southern Oregon and Northern California.

 

Coho helped in Santa Cruz County

DAVENPORT -- Walter Heady paused to admire a pink-bellied coho salmon as it slipped from his hands and glided toward a deep pool in San Vicente Creek.

"Wow, she is gorgeous," said Heady, a freshwater ecologist and researcher at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories on the shore of Monterey Bay.

On a sunny morning earlier this month, Heady helped two colleagues from the National Marine Fisheries Service take a simple but important step toward restoring the endangered fish to its historic habitat between the Golden Gate Bridge and Santa Cruz.

The men scooped 12 salmon from a tank in a pickup truck and carried them one by one in nets to a tranquil stretch of the creek about a mile from the Pacific Ocean. On Tuesday biologists released eight more.

The spawning-age fish -- 10 females and 10 males -- have a singular mission in the month or so before they die: mate and produce nests of fertilized eggs.

Brink of extinction

This is just the second year a team led by the National Marine Fisheries Service has released adult salmon into San Vicente Creek, which empties into the sea through a tunnel under the scenic town of Davenport about 10 miles up state Highway 1 from Santa Cruz. Federal biologists say rebuilding the population here is essential to the survival of the coho in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties.

Now a popular sport fish, coho salmon were harvested by Native Americans who lived

along the Pacific Ocean before Western settlers arrived. Central California Coast coho, as the fish indigenous to this area are called, were once abundant from Mendocino to Monterey, but they are now on the brink of extinction.

"We haven't done this kind of scale of reintroduction in the Santa Cruz Mountains -- we're kind of learning as we go and adapting as we learn," said Jon Ambrose, a biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service who last year co-authored an ambitious plan for

 

Central Coast coho restoration. "The lessons we learn here we'll apply to all the Santa Cruz Mountain streams."

The salmon used in the restoration were raised a few miles north at a hatchery run by the Monterey Bay Salmon & Trout Project, a partner in the reintroduction along with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The hatchery sits on a tributary of Scott Creek, which thanks to the project's breeding program is the only stream south of Marin County with a viable coho population.

End and beginning

Re-establishing the salmon in San Vicente Creek is crucial because it will create a safety net in case a fire or other catastrophe wipes out the fish in Scott Creek. The Lockheed fire in August 2009 came within a few hundred feet of destroying the hatchery.

Once the coho have multiplied in San Vicente, biologists aim to expand the reintroduction program to some of the seven other streams in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties that are deemed critical habitat. Last winter's "outplanting" of 3-year-old fish, or broodstock, was deemed a success. Researchers who surveyed San Vincente Creek over the summer counted as many as 450 young salmon.

Some of the fish released Jan. 16 bore patches of fungus on their skin. As salmon get ready to spawn, their energy shifts to reproduction, weakening their immune systems.

"It's both the end and the beginning," National Marine Fisheries Service ecologist Joe Kiernan said as he looked down at the salmon from the stream bank. "It's the end of the captive broodstock and the beginning of the next generation."

Another suit filed over Yuba River

Another lawsuit has been filed over federal rules ordering dam modifications to restore salmon in the Yuba River, this time by environmental groups.

The South Yuba River Citizens League and Friends of the River on Monday filed suit in federal court against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, alleging the agency failed to meet deadlines to begin modifying Englebright and Daguerre Point dams.

The rules, known as a biological opinion, were imposed in February 2012 by the National Marine Fisheries service to improve fish passage around the dams, which have impeded migration of salmon, steelhead and sturgeon for more than 70 years. The rules may eventually lead to removal of the dams.

"Our citizen suit is necessary to stop the foot dragging," said Caleb Dardick, executive director of the citizens league.

Monday's action essentially adds the Army Corps to a lawsuit filed two weeks by the environmental groups against the fisheries service. They claim the fisheries service violated the Endangered Species Act by giving the Army Corps more time to meet deadlines.

The Yuba County Water Agency also filed suit two weeks ago against the fisheries service, alleging the rules will compromise its facilities on the Yuba River, including operation of New Bullards Bar Dam.

The Army Corps has argued it cannot comply with many of the fishery rules because it has not been authorized by Congress to modify the two dams for fish passage.

"We'll continue to implement the measures within our authority," said Army Corps spokesman Chris Gray-Garcia, who declined to comment directly on the lawsuit.

 


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