State spots fish barriers
Long before you were born, 6,000 miles of California rivers surged with salmon and steelhead.
Since the 1800s, their spawning ground has declined by 95 percent, according to a new fish passage improvement report released this month.
Bulletin 250 identifies more than 500 known barriers to salmon migration in Central Valley waterways, including the Yuba, Feather and Sacramento rivers and Butte and Dry creeks.
Twenty populations of West Coast salmon and steelhead are listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
“Central Valley salmon and steelhead populations today are a tiny fraction of historic numbers, in large part due to the dams and other barriers identified in this report,” said Steve Rothert of American Rivers' California Field Office.
On the Yuba River, fish have a tough time passing Englebright and Daguerre Point dams, said Leslie Pierce of the Department of Water Resources. Some steps in the two fish ladders salmon use to get over Daguerre Point no longer function, she said.
Every year thousands of the increasingly rare fish climb a series of about 45 steps to get to their spawning grown on the other side. Some steps get as little as 1 to 10 percent use by migrating salmon, said Jason Rainey, executive director of the environmental group South Yuba River Citizens League.
Still, 13,000 fish (60 percent of Yuba River salmon) made it over the dam this season, Rainey said.
But swimming upstream is only half the venture.
“Juveniles going down is another problem,” Rainey said.
Newly hatched salmon make a steep drop from the dam into water filled with predators, he explained.
Englebright Dam, however, completely blocks fish passage from the Middle and South Yuba rivers.
“They present the best opportunity for salmon habitat restoration,” Rainey said.
Along with a list of problems, Bulletin 250 includes possible solutions to barriers, such as removal or modification of obstacles.
“So we are looking to put new ladders or remove the dam,” Pierce said of Daguerre Point.
Rainey said Englebright, which is more than 260 feet tall, presents a difficult situation.
“Ladders wouldn't work. It's too high,” he said. “One option is to decommission and remove the dam.”
Removal is one of many possibilities that has been suggested, said Curt Aikens, general manager of the Yuba County Water Agency.
Trapping and hauling fish is among the suggested ways to address the Englebright Dam issue, said Pierce. She said it is often done in Washington state. After fish are trapped, they are released upstream to continue their migration.
Before anything is done about Englebright, experts want to see study results of the Middle and South Yuba rivers' salmon habitat suitability. If salmon cannot survive in those waterways, there is no reason to make sure salmon can get to them, Rainey said.
The report took about three years to complete and is the first compilation of its kind. The document was produced through CALFED's Ecosystem Restoration Program.
There is no legal action associated with the document - only suggestions, said DWR spokesman Don Strickland.
Appeal-Democrat reporter Eve Hightower can be reached at 749-4724. You may e-mail her at email@example.com.