• More Water or Colder Water
  • Invasive Predators
  • Restoring Spawning Habitat
  • Fish And Farms
  • Outdated Laws

Governing agencies have been trying to fix complex environmental problems by simply "flushing" more and more water out to sea.  Unfortunately, the problems are more complex than opening up the "floodgates." The good news is many scientific solutions are feasible, fairly easy to implement, and are already proving to be successful at protecting endangered fish and preserving California's water supply.


More water or colder water

In effort to help Steelhead, Salmon, and other endangered fish, the State Water Resources Control Board of California (A.K.A. Water Board) decided that the fish need more water--a lot more. The Water Board believes that up to 50% of Unimpaired Flows (an Unimpaired Flow is the amount of water that would flow downstream if it were not stored by a reservoir) should be used for helping fish (Press Release: State Water Board 2). For years the waterboard and other governing agencies have been staking claim to more and more of the water stored in reservoirs and sending it out to sea. Even though we are in dire circumstances when it comes to "flushing" water away, perhaps this wouldn't be so hard to swallow if their efforts somehow resulted in greater populations of endangered fish.

An ongoing environmental study conducted by FishBio informs us that what the State Water Board demands isn't going to help fish populations, but is most often going to harm them (as well as be astronomically wasteful) and here is why. Not only do our reservoirs store water, they maintain a relatively cool flow of water to rivers through summer months, even when the snowmelt has ended. Cool temperature is important in protecting steelhead and trout eggs. However, based on the Water Board's desired flows and the present amount of water provided by nature, reservoirs will not maintain enough water to stay cool. The less water in the reservoir, the warmer the water gets in the summer. The Water Board's decision will make reservoirs heat too quickly in the summer months and result in dead fish eggs (Stanislaus River Trout).

Not only will the Water Board's foolish use of water harm endangered fish, it will create more dry cities like Porterville CA and shut down farm communities.


Invasive Preditors

From the late 1800's to the 1970s the government toyed with the ecosystem by adding a variety of non-native fish that they thought would be fun for people to catch for sport (Demko). Unfortunately, they introduced multiple species of very aggressive fish such as Largemouth Bass.  Most people don't understand that the Largemouth Bass was artificially introduced to California from Florida where these aggressive fish commonly feast on baby alligatorssnakes and anything else that moves (Bass-Largemouth).   The Largemouth Bass is one of many invasive fish contributing to excessive predations of endangered species. Research on the Tuolumne River shows 76% to 98% of salmon and steelhead (protected fish under the federal Endangered Species Act) are lost to predation before they ever make it to sea (Demko). According to the 2009 Recovery Plan by NMFS, "reducing abundance of Striped Bass and other non-native predators must be achieved in order to prevent extinction or prevent the species from declining irreversibly."

Although 98% of the fish now present in our California waterways were introduced by the government and illegally by other groups, there is a simple and feasible method to reduce the damage they cause (California Fish Species). By changing the law to remove limits on catching these intrusive predators, fishermen will help level the playing field for the native Salmon and Steel Head that are being devoured.

Restoring Spawning Habitat

Predatory fish aren't the only invasive species inhibiting native fish population. The revegetation of native plants and removal of invasive plants species in key locations will foster more effective breeding ground for native fish by attracting the bugs and insects native fish feed on. Also, much of the floodplain habitat (that makes some of the best spawning ground) is not accessible to fish in low or even high water flows because of levees that were constructed to contain flood water. By fostering native habitats within the river, native fish spawning will be more effective by greatly helping endangered fish reproduce (Stanislaus River Restoration).

The Nigiri Project

Fish And Farms

Another "key" location to aid Salmon populations involves combined efforts with farmers and researchers. The Nigiri Project is a study conducted by an organization called California Trout. They are looking at a 60,000-acre floodplain used to grow rice near Sacramento -- the Yolo Bypass.

Here in the calm shallow rice fields, a habitat is created providing safety as well as a "bug buffet" to help endangered fish grow larger in a much shorter time period. Because bugs are 14,900% greater per cubic meter on rice farm than in the river, fish can grow 700% faster! These larger and stronger Salmon are far more likely to survive their passage to the ocean and back (The Nigiri Concept).


Outdated Laws

Some laws by nature waste water and need to be updated. A chart drafted in the 1980s prohibits Folsom Reservoir from being more than 60% full at certain parts of the year. The law is designed to prevent flooding should a large storm take us by surprise. However, the determining factors of the law don't take into account 30 years of advancement in weather-predicting or improvements made to Folsom Reservoir. Shauna Lorance of the San Juan Water District petitioned California State Regulators asking them to lift the extreme restriction on water users while water was being "flushed" out to sea. Shockingly, the State Regulators refused her request! As General Manager of her water district, she found is very challenging to get people to cut their water usage while the state was sending so much out the floodgate (Warner).


In a time when water is so valuable for our environment, communities, and farms, it is imperative that we don't let it needlessly slip through our reservoirs. Water that can't be held in places like Folsom Reservoir could be contained in an off-stream location. A project called Site Reservoir (also referred to as the North of the Delta Offstream Storage) is being considered in Colusa County.  Water held in Site Reservoir would be used for the environment, cities and farms. According to the Northern California Water Association, "the total amount that would be available for use is about 500,000 acre-feet each year. For example, in 2014, during this very dry year, 500,000 acre-feet of additional water would have been available in Northern California to help meet cold water and streamflow requirements, improve delta water quality and flow, and provide water supply to users throughout California." You can learn more at NorCalWater.org


Take Action

Hopefully this information helped you have a better handle on California's water situation. Now it's time to get involved.

Here is a recap:

More Water or Colder Water: The Waterboard is demanding that 40% of the water that comes from rain and snowmelt in February through June (our wettest months) is to be sent to the ocean and cannot be stored in reservoirs no matter how severe drought conditions are. Biologists are afraid their attempts to send such large volumes of water down the river will have nearly no beneficial impact on endangered fish in the winter but will have significant negative impacts on endangered fish in the summer.  Their decision will be bad for the environment and people.

Invasive Preditors: The Waterboard is attempting to save endangered fish by sending excess water down the river in the middle of a drought but they fail to acknowledge that up to 98% of endangered steelhead and salmon are killed by fish that should never have been introduced into California rivers and lakes. There is a simple solution; if the Department of Fish and Game will lift fishing restrictions on intrusive predators such as Largemouth Bass, local fisherman will help curb the predations problem.

Restoring Spawning Habitat: Over 100 years ago levees were introduced to stop flooding of rivers into California cities, roads, and farmland. Therefore, increasing water levels to the Waterboard's desired level will not make rivers wider, which is desired for additional spawning ground. Increasing water levels in today's rivers will only make rivers higher. The solutions is to introduce spawning grounds back into the river in key locations. This includes adding the appropriate gravel for spawning and replacing intrusive non-native plants with native plants that attract the proper food for endangered fish.

Fish and Farms: At the time of year farms are not using their rice fields, they flood them and use them as a shelter for salmon to grow big and strong before introducing them into the wild. This gives Salmon a far better chance of surviving predation of intrusive fish.

Outdated Laws:  Certain reservoirs that are only two-thirds full will have to dump millions of gallons of water out the spillway at certain times of the year as protection from overfilling. These regulations from the 1980s don't account for advancement in current weather predictions that would allow us to store more water in our present reservoirs.

Take Action

*** Works Cited ***

“Press Release: State Water Board Releases Draft Flow Objectives for San Joaquin River; Salinity Objectives for the Southern Delta“ State Water Resource Control Board , Web. 15 Sep. 2016.

Demko, Doug “Stanislaus River trout population plummets despite reservoir releases intended to help fish” FishBio, 15 Aug. 2016. Web. 03 Sep. 2016.

McAfee, Seamus “Largemouth Bass Will Eat Anything, Even Alligators” WideOpenSpaces, 17 Nov. 2015. Web.  04 Aug. 2016.

Demko, Doug “2016 Predation Testimony” FishBio, 10 Feb. 2016. Web. 03 Sep 2016.

"Bass-Largemouth" California Aquaculture Association, Web. 19 Oct. 2016.

"California Fish Species" University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Web. 19 Oct. 2016.

“Stanislaus River Restoration” FishBio, December 8, 2014. Web. 07 Jul. 2016.

Brennan, John and Katz, Jacob “The Nigiri Concept: Salmon Habitat on Rice Fields” California Trout Inc. Web. 15 Oct. 2016.

“The Nigiri Concept: Scaling up a successful program” California Trout Inc. Web. 21 Aug. 2016.

Warner, George "Here's why officials are letting water out of Folsom Lake” abc10, February 23, 2016. Web. 01 Sep 2016.