Yuba River salmon, dam battle brews anew
The Yuba County Water Agency sent a shot across the bow of a federal agency this week, sending a notice of intent to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service unless it revises a biological opinion on improving Yuba River salmon runs.
Water Agency officials and board members said if the opinion is left unchallenged, it could set a precedent where efforts by the agency to restore fish populations will get little recognition and also put the water the agency provides to customers at risk.
"I think we have good science and data documenting our management of the river," said Yuba County Supervisor Mary Jane Griego, who also sits on the agency's board. "What we've tried to do is move in a direction where we have to work collaboratively."
The 312-page Fisheries Service opinion, released in February, suggested the US Army Corps of Engineers-operated Englebright and Daguerre Point dams should be made more amenable to fish passage, and perhaps even eventually removed.
But the opinion doesn't take into account efforts by the Corps as well as the Water Agency to help restore endangered fish runs on the Yuba under the Yuba River Accord, said Griego and agency General Manager Curt Aikens. Among the steps taken are habitat restorations at more than one point along the lower river and increased water flow monitoring.
When the Fisheries Service was formulating the opinion, Aikens said, it at one point gave the Water Agency only one day to respond to a topic.
"Unfortunately, there was a lack of consultation that resulted in this opinion," he said.
The opinion also could jeopardize future flood control projects, according to the Water Agency. Carrying out the recommendations by the Fisheries Service would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and perhaps as much as $1 billion, or millions more than the Corps' project list for the entire Sacramento region.
Supervisor John Nicoletti said the opinion's conclusions are frustrating because they don't recognize what's already been accomplished.
"YCWA has invested more money than any other environmental groups combined on improving the Yuba River," said Nicoletti, also a Water Agency board member. "You could've walked across the pad at Daguerre Point, the fish population was so strong."
The letter to the Fisheries Service and the corps, sent earlier this week, gives the Fisheries Service 60 days to respond or face a suit from the Water Agency in federal court.
Aikens said he doesn't hope for that outcome, noting legal costs alone could run into the millions.
"It's not a desirable option, but there's nothing else we can do," he said.
Jim Milbury, a spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service in Long Beach, said the letter is being reviewed by the agency's attorneys. He could not say when they would have a response.
Generally, he said, the agency feels the biological opinion is sound and well researched.
CONTACT Ben van der Meer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4786. Find him on Facebook at /ADbvandermeer or on Twitter at @ADbvandermeer.