Federal Government Management of New Melones Project Results in Significant Loss of Stanislaus River Salmon According to FISHBIO Research
MANTECA, OAKDALE and STOCKTON, Calif., Nov. 17, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — Despite repeated warnings, a government agency failed to modify water releases from a California reservoir, resulting in the loss of fall-run Chinook salmon, which are a “species of concern” under the Endangered Species Act. The United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) did not modify water releases from the New Melones Reservoir in Tuolumne County, resulting in salmon spawning in side channels that were inundated with high flows, according to work conducted by FISHBIO, a research fishery team of scientists, based in Oakdale, California. Water releases throughout the year did not create enough space in the reservoir to avoid high fall flow conditions. As a result, at least 23 redds (areas where salmon nest and spawn) between Knights Ferry and Orange Blossom Bridge on the Stanislaus River have been dewatered and the salmon eggs lost. These 23 redds appear to account for more than 10 percent of the total number in the area on the river, and that number may grow as evaluation continues.
“This loss is unfortunate and could have been prevented,” said Kevin Kauffman, General Manager of the Stockton East Water District. “The USBR refused to modify releases from New Melones despite repeated warnings,” he said.
“We have been warning the Bureau since mid-summer,” noted Steve Knell, General Manager of the Oakdale Irrigation District. “We told the USBR this would happen if they didn’t manage their water releases. We didn’t want the salmon to nest in the floodplain during high flows, only to get stranded if the flows were reduced. For whatever reason, the USBR ignored our concerns and the result was a significant and needless loss of salmon.”
Fall-run Chinook salmon represent the only race of salmon that spawn in the Stanislaus River. Fall-run Chinook salmon need flow rates of approximately 300 to 500 cubic feet per second of water flow beginning in early October each year, to maximize spawning success.
“This year, the USBR maintained flows in excess of 2,000 cfs until November 2nd,” stated Jeff Shields, General Manager of the South San Joaquin Irrigation District. “These salmon spawned in areas where the high flows covered the redds,” he added. “When the USBR reduced the river flows, the redds became dewatered.”
The three water districts – OID, SSJID and SEWD – have asked the USBR to provide an explanation for the reasoning behind the flow changes that destroyed the redds. “To date, the Bureau has not responded,” noted Shields.
“It is really a shame,” said Doug Demko, a Fish Biologist and Principal of FISHBIO, who has been studying the habitat and wildlife in the river since the early 1990s. “There has been an increase in the number of fall-run returning to spawn in the Stanislaus River this year. The loss of these redds will reduce the number of juvenile outmigrants this year, and ultimately reduce the number of adults that return in subsequent years. We saw this coming back in July and sent a memorandum to the USBR outlining the potential impacts. Why they did not respond and did not take action to prevent this problem is puzzling.”
Releases from New Melones are the responsibility of the USBR. In order to avoid these types of issues, the Stanislaus Operating Group (“SOG”), comprised of staff from the USBR, National Marine Fisheries Service, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game and the State Water Resources Control Board was created. It is empowered to recommend adjustments to releases on a real-time basis. “We’ve asked what SOG’s recommendations were,” said Knell. “We are wondering if they were even aware of the dewatering problem? We have asked, but have not received a response.”
For more information about the efforts of the three districts to improve the health of the Stanislaus River and its fish populations please contact each district. OID: Steve Knell (209) 847-0341. SSJID: Jeff Shields (209) 249-4645. SEWD: Kevin Kauffman (209) 948-0333. Or visit their websites: www.oakdaleirrigation.com, www.ssjid.com or www.sewd.net. Also visit www.SaveTheStan.com.
SOURCE South San Joaquin Irrigation District