California Water Board gives Feds an “F” for pushing salmon toward extinction

  • Published on June 5th, 2020

In a letter that is “as scathing as bureaucrats write,” the State Water Resources Control Board is “taking the Trump administration’s Bureau of Reclamation to the woodshed over its refusal to take meaningful steps to avoid annihilating California’s salmon runs this fall,” according to a statement from the Golden State Salmon Association (GSSA).

California Water Board gives Feds an "F" for pushing salmon toward extinction

By Dan Bacher

The letter states, 

“In 2014 and 2015, temperatures were not maintained at protective levels below Shasta and Keswick Reservoirs, resulting in near total mortality of winter-run in those years and the near extinction of the species. Extinction of the winter-run was likely only avoided by maintaining high levels of hatchery production. In those years, adequate reservoir storage and cold water pool levels in Shasta Reservoir needed for temperature control were not maintained. Reclamation’s modeling and monitoring was also inadequate to inform regulatory agency decision making and adjustments to operations that could have allowed for adequate temperature management.

This year’s hydrology is very similar to the hydrology the region faced in 2013, the year before temperature control was lost. Over the last 21 years, every year with similar hydrology to this year was followed by another dry year.” 

The GSSA said the State Board’s action “follows months of advocacy” by the Golden State Salmon Association calling attention to the impending overheating of the upper Sacramento River spawning grounds this fall due to release of too much Lake Shasta water during the irrigation season.  The state board’s action follows an “influential letter” GSSA and allies sent to the board on May 11 that provided the board with a road map for its subsequent action.

The GSSA explained, “In its letter to the Bureau, the State Board notes the feds’ current draining of Lake Shasta is setting up conditions like those in 2013 which led to the disastrous fish kills of 2014 and 2015.  Because of low Lake Shasta water levels, and a lack of cold water in the lake, the upper Sacramento River became too warm to support incubating salmon eggs.  The State Board points out the volume of the coldest water in Lake Shasta is already 10 percent lower than Reclamation said it would be two weeks ago, suggesting the Bureau is either incompetent or misleading the state.”

The group said the letter from the State Board comes as a federal judge is considering a request from GSSA and allies to stop the Bureau from killing this year’s returning adult salmon to the Central Valley.  “GSSA and allies submitted the State Board’s letter to the judge to further cement the case that Trump administration actions draining northern California’s salmon rivers must be stopped now,” GSSA stated.

“Since early April, the Water Board has repeatedly asked US Interior Secretary Bernhardt’s Bureau of Reclamation to consider different ways to deliver water to its agricultural water districts this year that won’t destroy salmon, but the feds have so far ignored them,” said John McManus, president of GSSA. “The State Board has apparently had enough and is telling the Bureau it has failed to live up to its obligations to operate the federal Central Valley Project in a legal and responsible way.  Maybe the next action will come from the federal judge who is considering these violations in the lawsuit filed by GSSA and our allies.”

“The Water Board is telling the feds to provide some additional model runs in the next 20 days. Such modeling might reveal what tradeoffs could occur if Shasta releases were cut back to save more cold water for salmon this fall.  It’s not yet clear what the state will do if the feds continue to ignore them,” added McManus.

About GSSA: The Golden State Salmon Association ( is a coalition of salmon advocates that includes commercial and recreational salmon fishermen and women, businesses, restaurants, a native tribe, environmentalists, elected officials, families and communities that rely on salmon. GSSA’s mission is to restore California salmon for their economic, recreational, commercial, environmental, cultural and health values.

Currently, California’s salmon industry is valued at $1.4 billion in economic activity and 23,000 jobs annually in a normal season and about half that much in economic activity and jobs again in Oregon. Industry workers benefiting from Central Valley salmon stretch from Santa Barbara to northern Oregon. This includes commercial fishermen and women, recreational fishermen and women (fresh and salt water), fish processors, marinas, coastal communities, equipment manufacturers, the hotel and food industry, tribes, and others.

About the Author

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento who focuses on California's water issues, a healthy environment for the salmon fishery of the Northwest, and the attempts by big agriculture and big oil to hog all the water.

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