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Salmon at risk of extinction on Yuba, advocacy group says
The Yuba River was named one of the 10 most endangered rivers in the country Tuesday by a river advocacy group, which fingered Daguerre Point Dam and Englebright Dam as the culprits.
Because the dams hamper or bar salmon runs to the river's upper reaches, according to representatives from the groups American Rivers and the South Yuba River Citizens League, federal and local agencies need to get serious about their responsibility for the troubled fish.
"The studies' conclusion is very clear: Absent passage of terminal rim dams, the species is likely to go extinct," said Jason Rainey, SYRCL's executive director.
Rainey and Steve Rother, California office regional director for American Rivers, said they saw a need to highlight the Yuba River situation now, while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Marine Fisheries Service are studying the issue.
The Army Corps manages and maintains both Daguerre Point and Englebright dams, while the Fisheries Service listed passage above the dams as critical for spring-run Chinook salmon survival in a recovery plan.
Though Rother and Rainey said approaches such as fish ladders should be considered as solutions, they also encouraged the involved agencies not to rule out removing the dams entirely.
"Getting fish over Englebright with a ladder will be a challenge," Rother said.
Daguerre Point Dam has an existing fish ladder system, but its antiquated state makes it largely inefficient, according to American Rivers.
In a statement released by DeDe Cordell, a spokeswoman for the corps' Sacramento office, a reconnaissance study of how to get fish past the two dams is included in President Barack Obama's 2012 budget proposal.
"If approved, we'll be ready to begin further research into what more we can do to aid in the recovery of these threatened species on the Yuba River," Cordell said in an emailed statement. "If this additional attention to the watershed brings accelerated collaboration and a solution — then this is a good thing."
The corps is also part of a collaboration with other groups, including American Rivers and the Yuba County Water Agency, to consider how to reintroduce salmon runs in the river, according to the statement.
Cordell also pointed out in the statement how the corps has worked with groups like South Yuba River Citizens League to help salmon runs below Englebright, a fact Rainey and Rother said they acknowledge.
"It's simply not enough," Rother said. "We need to get the fish back into upper watersheds."
YCWA General Manager Curt Aikens said there's already been a lot of work done by his agency and others to make the lower Yuba River below Englebright Dam a better place for salmon runs, with efforts to build riverbeds and create more consistent flows in terms of temperature and volume.
"I understand they're focused on the upper Yuba," Aikens said. "But the lower Yuba River is recognized as one of the better habitats for salmon runs in the entire valley region."
Though managed by the corps, Rother said it's misleading to say Englebright has to remain in place because of flood protection. New Bullards Bar Dam, on another fork of the Yuba, is the primary flood-control mechanism for the region, he and Rainey said.
American Rivers compiled the annual list using three factors: the river's significance, the magnitude of the threat facing it, and the opportunity to address the problem.
Yuba River ranked fifth on the list, and was the only California river included.
CONTACT reporter Ben van der Meer at 749-4786.