A Salmon Drought Plan (with implementation) is badly needed. For the past two years, what we had instead was delayed reaction, an ad hoc hodge-podge of underfunded bandaid actions that didn’t come close to protecting salmon. The state and federal agencies called this “real-time” response. Huge injury to salmon resources occurred, and the triage center was a dysfunctional “Mash” unit.
Subtitle C of Section 421 of H.R. 2983, Congressman Huffman’s bill1 on drought assistance and improved water supply reliability, provides for preparation of a California Salmon Drought Plan and $3,000,000 for implementation. The measures in the bill would be a reasonable beginning:
(a) SALMON DROUGHT PLAN.—Not later than January 1, 2016, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service shall, in consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, prepare a California salmon drought plan. The plan shall investigate options to protect salmon populations originating in the State of California, contribute to the recovery of populations listed under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), and contribute to the goals of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (Public Law 102–575). The plan shall focus on actions that can aid salmon populations during the driest years. Strategies investigated shall include—
(1) relocating the release location and timing of hatchery fish to avoid predation and temperature impacts;
(2) barging of hatchery release fish to improve survival and reduce straying;
(3) coordinating with water users, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the California Department of Water Resources regarding voluntary water transfers, to determine if water released upstream to meet the needs of downstream or South-of-Delta water users can be managed in a way that provides additional benefits for salmon;
(4) hatchery management modifications, such as expanding hatchery production of listed fish during the driest years, if appropriate;
(5) increasing rescue operations of upstream migrating fish; and
(6) improving temperature modeling and related forecasted information to predict water management impacts to salmon and salmon habitat with a higher degree of accuracy than current models.
However, Congressman Huffman’s bill, proposed as part of an alternative to still-pending legislation that would make conditions for fish worse, has not moved forward.
Why is it left to a California congressman to try to get a drought salmon program going? The state and federal resource agencies have huge staffs that are more than capable of taking action and immediately preparing a joint plan of action. Government grant programs have funded numerous NGO scientists who could participate. The state has a drought plan for cities and farms. Why isn’t there one that protects the state’s salmon resources? CDFW’s drought planning effort is outdated.2 There is no federal plan. For the past two years, the fisheries agencies have simply concurred with every Temporary Urgency Change Petition to weaken fish protections coming from the California Department of Water Resources and the Bureau of Reclamation, leaving protection of resources to the State Water Board (which also failed to step up).
California needs a salmon drought plan now.