By Brian Johnson
We are down to the eleventh hour for the Klamath River.
Years of negotiations have produced three hard-won, bipartisan agreements between farmers and ranchers, tribes, a major utility company, the federal government and the States of California and Oregon to better share and manage water in the Klamath Basin.
But the first of these agreements, the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, terminates on December 31 of this year if Congress does not pass legislation authorizing key components of the agreements.
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California Trout and Trout Unlimited today launched a joint outreach campaign to advocate for a science-based approach to managing the Central Valley’s flood protection system including connected floodplains required for salmon recovery. The groups came together in response to FloodSAFE, a California Department of Water Resources (DWR) initiative designed to improve the state’s integrated flood management plan.
FloodSAFE is a result of 2007 legislation that called for a comprehensive approach to flood and land use management. One aspect of FloodSAFE is the Central Valley Floodplain Evaluation and Delineation Program. The program is charged with developing a comprehensive Central Valley Flood Protection Plan to promote integrated flood management. Scientific research increasingly supports the value of floodplain-connected rivers for general watershed health. Research has also demonstrated that salmon reared in such environments grower larger and faster and have increased odds of survival and return.
Studies in California reveal how important active floodplains are for salmon productivity and growth, in addition to providing flood protection and seasonal agricultural land. Juvenile salmon that spend time on the floodplain grow faster than those that use only the river channel during their migration to the ocean, according to Carson Jeffres, fish ecologist for the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences. This increase in productivity on the floodplain is because the water is warmer and food is more abundant. Because of the increased growth, the juvenile salmon are larger when they head out to sea and can survive better by swimming faster and avoiding predators. For more information, check out Jeffres’ article, “Frolicking Fat Floodplain Fish Feeding Furiously.”
Low stream flow in summer and fall adversely affects salmon and steelhead rearing habitat and leads to unreliable water supplies for growers. In response to dwindling wild salmon populations in California’s streams and rivers, TU is partnering with grape growers in Northern California Wine Country and working with them to adopt water management practices that restore and reconnect critical salmon and steelhead habitat on their properties. It has three elements:
Water Supply Solutions. Developing physical projects and better water management solutions with landowners -- such as off-stream winter storage ponds, coordinating the timing of diversions, and improvements in irrigation efficiency -- to improve water supply reliability and reduce water withdrawals from streams during the summer and fall, when salmon and steelhead need water the most.
Stream Restoration. Removing fish passage barriers, planting streamside vegetation, and restoring stream channels.
In the next 15 years, the licenses for 50 of California’s hydropower generating projects will expire. These licenses affect 150 dams and hundreds of stream miles, more than in any other state. Hydropower licenses are important not only because the projects include invaluable habitat, but also because hydro dams frequently divert 95% or more of a river’s summer flow out of its channel. TU is among the nation’s leading experts on hydropower reform, and our record in California is strong.
Watershed Stewardship. Trout Unlimited’s leadership in the PG&E bankruptcy case led to an historic agreement to protect 140,000 acres of watershed land in the Sierras and the Cascades. The resulting Stewardship Council has become the largest provider of grant funds for youth outdoor activities in California.
Pit River. TU, PG&E and other groups reached an agreement that provides for an increase of minimum stream flows, a flow regime that mimics natural river processes, a reduction in rapid flow fluctuations that harm fish, enhancement of recreational opportunities, a long-term monitoring program with a fund of up to $500,000 a year, and additional resources for the famous Hat Creek wild trout fishery.
Since Trout Unlimited founded the California Water Project in 2000, it has become a leading legal, science, and policy advocate focused on California water law and its effects on trout, salmon, and steelhead. Through reform of California’s system of water rights administration in California’s north coast, strategic agreements for instream flow protection in key watersheds, cooperative programs with water users, and hydropower reform efforts, we are achieving lasting streamflow protection for salmon and steelhead and changing how water rights are managed in California.
Stream Flow Protection
California’s legal regime for administering water rights has largely failed to protect either the interests of water users or the flows necessary to support aquatic life. For example, there are now about 500 pending applications for new water rights in California, including 300 clustered along the north central coast. The numbers tell only part of the story. Most of these applications have been pending for many years, and many water users have chosen to divert water without a valid water right—and without ecological safeguards. Building on nearly 20 years of work by TU chapters and volunteers in the area, we are turning the situation around.