Part I: California Drought–Protecting Salmon

NOAA Fisheries Animated Logo California Drought: Protecting Salmon NOAA Fisheries is responsible for the protection and management of endangered salmon. Working cooperatively with all water users is vital to the survival of these species. In the last few years California has experienced some very dry conditions. We don’t have that delayed runoff to keep water flowing in some of these important tributary streams through the summer. Now we’ve got this recurring event that’s happened two, three, four years in a row now and it’s made it very difficult. The California salmon have gone through many droughts in their life. What’s especially troubling about this drought is these fish were already at low population levels. They’re already struggling under the best of water years and now they’re faced with an unprecedented drought that’s going to really tax their ability to persist into the future. In California, sacrifices are being made by all water users and NOAA Fisheries is working with partners to balance their needs with those of endangered fish runs, including the single remaining population of Sacramento River winter-run Chinook, Central Valley spring-run Chinook, and Northern California/Southern Oregon Coho, among other protected species. The Central Valley Project and the State Water Project supply drinking water for over twenty five million people in southern California and they help to sustain an agricultural economy in California that’s worth about forty billion dollars a year. Our role is to try to assist those project operators in coming up with a way of operating that’s consistent and works with the needs of species. Even in optimal water years, these fish face many threats. But the California drought presents significant challenges for providing fish with suitable water temperatures and adequate flows, requiring flexibility, cooperation, and innovation by all water users. Any drop of water is going to be used as many times over as possible for fish, for water supply, for multiple needs. It’s not just about fish vs. farm vs. drinking water supply. It’s trying to incorporate all those needs together. The drought has opened new opportunities for working with irrigators and landowners, who are adapting their practices to limit water use to protect fish from going extinct. We actually take a percentage of ground out of production cause we just don’t have the water for it. One of the things that we’ve tried to do the last two years is manage our water supply and how we divert it from the river to make the system work efficiently that also benefits different runs of salmon on the Sacramento River. In the Scott River Valley, ranchers have implemented more efficient irrigation methods and taken action to keep salmon from stranding. We have another stream system that empties into our ranch, the confluence of the French Creek and the Scott River and we’ve done a lot of work on French Creek. I think it’s one of the finest Coho rearing streams in California. We’ve done fish screen projects on French Creek. We’ve piped the diversion in French Creek and when the diversion gets low we forebear it back to the stream. Droughts a pretty remarkable thing. It has radically altered our practices. Our irrigation methodology has really evolved through the years and what we’ve found is efficient and effective aren’t necessarily the same thing. So if you have a highly efficient irrigation system you might be starving the riparian zone. We’ve included flood irrigation. That’s reduced our irrigation time in that one field by about seventy-five percent. We have center controlled pivots which are very scientific and allocate specific amounts of water to very specific regions of the pasture relative to its needs. The drought has presented unprecedented challenges and there is no ideal solution to the state’s water woes, but it’s also engaged partners to find meaningful solutions like never before. I think there’s a balance that can be struck that’s within our grasp to both sustain a viable economic community for agriculture and also provide valuable important habitat for the salmon. We can’t go all the way across the street and the government can’t come across our street. We’ve got to meet in the middle some place. I know they’ve got regs and they’ve got to satisfy them. We’ve got a livelihood to maintain and I think working together and compromising we can make it work. NOAA Fisheries, Thank you, Credits and Copyright two thousand and fifteen

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