Earlier this spring, we raised the alarm about the risk to the Bay watershed’s unique salmon populations arising from reckless and unsustainable use of water during the drought.
Salmon require cold water to survive. Sacramento River salmon once migrated far into California’s mountains to find water cold enough to support their offspring, until construction of Shasta Dam blocked access to their historic spawning grounds. Even in a year like this one, Shasta Reservoir can hold enough cold water to protect our salmon, if that water is not delivered to California’s agricultural industry before it can benefit the fish.
But, as in years past, Shasta Dam’s operator—the US Bureau of Reclamation—is ignoring the drought, the science, and the plight of Sacramento River salmon runs with plans to deliver 1.5 million acre feet of water to industrial rice paddies and almond farms. This will leave too little cold water behind Shasta to protect the endangered winter-run Chinook salmon or their cousins, the commercially valuable fall-run Chinook salmon.
The Bureau’s operational plans are projected to kill 50-80% of this year’s winter-run Chinook salmon before they hatch—and the mortality will be even worse among fall-run Chinook salmon eggs. Unfortunately, the Newsom administration’s State Water Resources Control Board recently sanctioned the Bureau’s lethal activities, despite the fact the Water Board’s own rules say that the feds must protect the salmon fishery from high water temperatures below Shasta Dam.
To make matters worse, during the first half of May, the Bureau dumped hot water from Shasta Reservoir on migrating winter-run adults in a misguided and uninformed effort to save cold water for the summer and fall salmon incubation season. This flow of hot water killed adult winter-run Chinook salmon before they could spawn and lay eggs, and left even more struggling to survive—some are covered in a fungus (the white patches visible in the photo below) that will prevent them from seeing potential mates, competitors, or predators.
Governor Newsom’s administration has failed (yet again) to protect our priceless salmon, rivers, and water quality. Our only remaining hope for Sacramento River Chinook salmon this year is for intervention from the Biden administration. That’s why we’re sending pleas for help to Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland.
Support Baykeeper’s advocacy by signing the letter below to ask Secretary Haaland to direct the Bureau of Reclamation to operate Shasta Dam for maximum protection of the Sacramento River’s Chinook salmon populations, only swift action by the Department of Interior and its Bureau of Reclamation can avoid wiping out these ecologically critical and unique fish.