February 2010

Fish find spawns debate

Protected steelhead discovered landlocked in Calaveras canal

By Alex Breitler
Record Staff Writer
February 24, 2010 12:00 AM


STOCKTON – Biologists found federally protected steelhead stranded in shallow pools on the Calaveras River, and environmentalists blamed water managers Tuesday for failing to keep the stream flowing so the migratory fish could escape to the ocean.

Stockton East Water District and the National Marine Fisheries Service are years overdue on a fish protection plan that would give Stockton East permission to continue diverting Calaveras water to farms and the city.

Without that plan, environmentalists say Stockton East is in violation of the Endangered Species Act if its operations kill fish.

From the middle of last week through Monday, 43 young steelhead were counted in the Stockton Diverting Canal – a river bypass – near Wilson Way, according to Kari Burr, a consulting biologist who was monitoring the river as part of a Stockton East plan to remove barriers that block migratory fish.

The fish were surviving in as little as 6 inches of water. Three steelhead were dead; 40 were placed in buckets and released downstream near Brookside, Burr said.

Click here to read the full story at Recordnet.com…

Will you write a Letter to the Editor to the Stockton Record expressing your concern about these stranded steelhead?

A few points to mention are:

  • National Marine Fisheries Service are years overdue on a fish protection plan that would help protect steelhead and give Stockton East the permission it needs to continue diverting water to farms and the City.
  • Steelhead are Federally protected under the Endangered Species Act as a Threatened species, and they need higher flows and fewer barriers in the Calaveras River to make their journey out to sea and back.
  • Hundreds of other fish, while not threatened or endangered, were also found stranded in the Calaveras River. Stockton East should be required to release constant flows that are protective of fish in the Calaveras River.
  • In the year 2009, there were nearly 12,000 outgoing steelhead in the Calaveras River. There should be an increased effort by the City to raise awareness about the importance of the Calaveras River for people, fish, and wildlife!


Jeremy Terhune, Defenders of Wildlife


CSPA begins drafting lawsuit, asks State Board and NMFS to take action

Stockton, CA – Tuesday 23 February 2010. Today, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) assailed the Stockton East Water District for drying up the Calaveras River and preventing steelhead from migrating to the sea. Steelhead trout are identified as “threatened” pursuant to the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Calaveras River is identified as “critical habitat for steelhead. Dewatering the Calaveras and preventing the outmigration of steelhead represents an illegal “take” in violation of the ESA.

Between 17 February and 19 February, biologists from the Fish Foundation of California inspecting the Calaveras River and Mormon Slough/Diverting Canal identified 34 live and 3 dead outmigrating steelhead trout that had become stranded when river flow became insufficient to enable them to reach the San Joaquin River. All of the steelhead were identified as smolts or silvery “parrs” undergoing smoltification as they made their way downstream. The biologists also collected a delta smelt, which was handed over to biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The steelhead were transported in aerated buckets and successfully relocated downstream in the Calaveras River near the confluence with the San Joaquin. Numerous other stranded species were identified in the isolated pools of water created by inadequate flow releases from Hogan Dam and below Bellota Weir. Many of these other species were found to have perished in the following days. The three-day survey represents a snapshot of ongoing conditions on the Calaveras River.

“Stockton East destroyed the salmon and steelhead fisheries of the Calaveras, denied their existence and conducted a scorched-earth campaign to impede efforts by citizens and state and federal agencies to restore those fisheries,” said CSPA Executive Director Bill Jennings. “In doing so, they have flagrantly violated Public Trust Doctrine, the California Water Code and Fish and Game Code and the federal Endangered Species Act,” he said.

CSPA filed a public trust, unreasonable use complaint against Stockton East before the State Water Board in December 2005. The State Board accepted the complaint, initiated an investigation but stayed the process until the release of a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Unfortunately, the HCP has been stalled for decade because Stockton East refuses to agree to adequate legally required instream flow requirements. CSPA also has a pending notice-of-intent-to-sue against Stockton East for violations of the federal ESA.

“CSPA has directed its attorney’s to begin drafting a lawsuit for violations of the ESA, is calling upon the State Water Board to activate our public trust complaint and is demanding that NMFS initiate enforcement action against Stockton East and release its long-delayed HCP,” said Jennings. “Enough is enough.”

Biologist Kari Burr Led February's Riverwalk

On Saturday, February 6, Friends of the Lower Calaveras River (FLCR) hosted their 3rd monthly Riverwalk!

Gary Basil, Army Corps of Engineers Park Ranger, greeted us at the Army Corps of Engineers and gave a brief, yet thorough, history of the New Hogan Lake Facility.

Fish specialist, Kari Burr and UOP Biology Prof, Stacy Luthy were the experts who led the 40 streamside walkers along the COE developed River of Skulls Trail below New Hogan Dam. Both provided a wealth of detailed, current information regarding the desirable characteristics of steelhead and salmon spawning streams of which this reach of the Lower Calaveras is an example.

We were shown evidence of both healthy stream and riparian habitat and degraded, less productive spots under their guidance. Kari’s background both as a trained biologist and as an active local naturalist, stream restoration specialist and conservationist–with life-long experience on the Lower Calaveras–lent a broad sweep to her presentation.

Despite the cool, overcast conditions the signs of early spring were clear from the presence of numerous vernal pools and sprouting buckeyes to the first evidence of spring blooms and the diversity noted by birders along the way. As we had all hoped, a bonus for the FLCR facilitated walks has been the contributions of the walkers themselves. From thought-provoking questions to insights provided by local experts, engaging and unanticipated dimensions are added to these strolls.

Among the “walk-on” contributors this time was long-time Valley Springs resident, Terry Hampton. Terry has lived on the Lower Calaveras just a mile or so downstream from the River of Skulls Trail for many years. Her encyclopedic knowledge of the natural landscape of this area and her experience leading school groups along that reach added further depth to this outing.

Thanks and recognition, too, goes to those walkers who have made a consistent practice of picking up trash on all our FLCR walks!

Stockton going after grease where it hides

Stockton Record – Alex Breitler, 02/15/10

STOCKTON – You don’t want to know what’s beneath those manhole covers.

But the city does. As part of a legal settlement, Stockton is stepping up inspections of the large underground vaults where grease from restaurants collects and, all too often, overflows onto the streets and seeps into storm drains.

Earlier this week, three city workers pried open a manhole outside north Stockton’s Olive Garden and lowered a straw-like tube into the blackness to sample what’s in there. It was mostly water, with a thin layer of grease at the top – well within standards.

But the same can’t be said for many other grease traps around the city…

Click here to read Alex Breitler’s article at Recordnet.com

Sen Dianne Feinstein’s fishy water deal

SF Chronicle – Monday, February 15, 2010

Sen. Dianne Feinstein should drop her end-run bid to ship delta water south for farming. Her plan defies court rulings, endangered-species protections and scientific studies.

The water grab disrupts years of negotiations over balancing the state’s needs by rewarding one group – drought-stricken farmers – at the expense of fishing and environmental groups, also living with declining water supplies. Worse yet, Feinstein’s action short-circuits a study she ordered up by the National Academy of Sciences on river-flow rules designed to safeguard smelt and salmon.

The senator was at pains to explain that her idea is only in draft form, suggesting that it may be a negotiating tactic. She’s plainly frustrated over limits on water usage, given a heavy Sierra snowpack, rivers filled by winter storms and record jobless levels in the Central Valley. It’s an approach she took last year when she pushed for the study of water policy, due this spring…

Click here to read more at SF Gate.com

Stockton East Water District (SEWD) prepared a Notice of Preparation of a Draft Environmental Impact Report to disclose potential environmental effects from SEWD’s Water Rights application to appropriate an additional 598,000 acre feet annually (afa) from the Calaveras and Stanislaus river watersheds. Of that total amount, 111,000 afa will be diverted from the Stanislaus River at Goodwin Dam, at a maximum rate of diversion of 750 cfs, from December through March.

SEWD states that “Diversions from the Calaveras River would occur at SEWD’s existing Bellota facility via an expanded intake to be constructed in conjunction with the project.” There are documented occasions when steelhead and salmon have become stranded below Bellota weir as a result of inadequate fish ladders, a lack of flow and/or a lack of water releases from Bellota weir.

While SEWD has agreed to improve the fish ladder at Bellota Weir, a state-of -the-art ladder should be built before any water is diverted from the Calaveras River in order to assure free, unencumbered fish passage. It is also vital that SEWD construct fish screens, in accordance with the Dept. of Fish and Game’s Fish Screening Criteria, before any diversions are made for this project. SEWD also indicates that up to 350 cfs of flows may be diverted into the Old Calaveras River channel. If the Old Calaveras River Channel is re-watered, then some flows need to stay in-channel, downstream of the diversion pipeline, in order to allow fish to continue downstream travel.

(Click here to read SEWD’s Notice of Preparation of a Draft Environmental Impact Report).

New Hogan Lake

On Saturday, February 6, Friends of the Lower Calaveras River (FLCR) will host our 3rd monthly Riverwalk, free of charge to the public!

Kari Burr, Biologist from the Fishery Foundation of California, will lead a short walk along the River of Skulls Nature Trail near New Hogan Dam.

Gary Basil, Army Corps of Engineers Park Ranger, will greet us at the Army Corps of Engineers New Hogan Lake Facility, and Valley Springs naturalists Terry and Jesse Hampton will also accompany us to help answer questions and share local lore.

The theme of this walk will be “River of Skulls: The Secret Lives of Steelhead in the Calaveras River” – an informal talk about steelhead spawning habitat and the unique history of the River of Skulls Trail.

Bring the family to this fun event, and learn about the birds and wildlife that live right here in our own backyards!

• When: Saturday, February 6, 2010, “rain or shine”

• Time: 10:00 AM – NOON

• Where: Meet at the observation deck in front of the Army Corps of Engineers New Hogan Lake facility, 2713 Hogan Dam Road, Valley Springs.

Click here to RSVP, or if you have any questions