During April, May and early June, perhaps half of this years spawning population of endangered winter-run Chinook salmon were drawn into the irrigation channels of the Yolo Bypass and Colusa Basin and stranded. Approximately 300 fish were rescued and returned to the Sacramento River but most were lost. The majority of those rescued were in such poor condition that biologists doubted they would successfully spawn. Other winter-run were stranded in the Sutter-Butte Basin on the east side of the Sacramento but no rescues were attempted. This has been a recurring problem well known to state and federal fish agencies since the 1990s.
Winter-run salmon have been hit with a double whammy this year that has exacerbated the problem. Because of high exports of water to southern California, the cold-water pool behind Shasta Reservoir has been depleted. Consequently, the State Water Board has allowed the Bureau of Reclamation to move the temperature compliance point to be moved upstream from Red Bluff to Anderson, eliminating half of the 20 miles of spawning habitat for winter-run.
“This is an indefensible failure to protect species hovering on the brink of extinction,” said Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. “The fact that our fishery agencies have long been aware of this problem but done little to correct it is appalling and borders on criminal culpability,” he said “especially, when there are obvious and workable solutions.”