The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Trout Unlimited and American Rivers, along with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, and Yuba County Water Agency, released a framework on May 7, 2015, that will guide negotiations whose primary goal would be to reintroduce spring-run Chinook salmon (and possibly steelhead) into the North Yuba River upstream of New Bullards Bar Reservoir.
Working together as the Yuba Salmon Partnership Initiative (YSPI), these six entities have signed a “Term Sheet” and a have developed a “Concept Plan” that will guide further discussions on reintroduction. The settlement that the framework contemplates would, if completed, also define and implement physical habitat improvements in the lower Yuba River.
To be clear, this is not a “deal.” This is a preliminary setting of boundaries on what would be needed to reach an agreement. The Term Sheet and the settlement it contemplates do not propose to resolve all the issues in the watershed, including lower Yuba River flow or other issues that may arise in the FERC relicensing of YCWA’s Yuba River Development Project. What the YSPI proposes instead is to choose two areas where the parties are likely to find agreement and focus on those.
YCWA has argued that these two areas (reintroduction and lower river habitat improvements) are not within the purview of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or of the State Water Board, since channel alteration and dam construction involve events, conditions and structures that predate YCWA’s hydroelectric project. CSPA and other conservation groups have argued (and we think very effectively) that both FERC and the State Board have jurisdiction. Rather than continue the argument in a drawn-out regulatory or legal context, we are trying to see if we can get an outcome that works for all the negotiating parties and for most other people, if not everyone, and especially that works for fish.
Some folks have asked why YSPI is going public now with the framework for an agreement, rather than waiting for an agreement itself. There are several reasons, but the most important is that we want to get it right. We therefore want to hear concerns, comments and above all suggestions from colleagues and supporters. We also want to hear from others who may have different concerns.
For many of us who have worked long hours for many years in the Yuba River watershed, the trap and haul program to the North Yuba that the YSPI contemplates is not what we envisioned when we started. Some will not find moving fish in trucks to be a good choice now, and some will never find it acceptable. After three years of review and analysis in the Yuba Salmon Forum, a process during which CSPA was showed up to almost every meeting, we believe trap and haul to the North Yuba is likely the best option that it is both technically and socially achievable and feasible, and we have committed to trying to work it through.
Please feel free to contact Chris Shutes at email@example.com if you wish to comment or if you have questions.