By: Kelly Catlett, Jeremy Terhune

The Federal government has spent nearly 10 years working with Stockton East Water District on protections for fish in the Calaveras River. The plan they are developing (called a Habitat Conservation Plan) will explain what effects Stockton East Water District’s operations have had on fish and what steps they will take to minimize or prevent harm to fish in the future. If done right, the Calaveras River Habitat Conservation Plan will ensure that fish will be protected better than they are today and allow Stockton East to continue legally delivering drinking water to homes and businesses in Stockton and irrigation water to farmers east of the city. In other words, the plan will improve the river for fish while still providing water to homes and businesses in Stockton.

 

 

The Lower Calaveras River, defined as the westernmost point of the river in San Joaquin County up to New Hogan Dam, is a vital resource to farmers, residential and recreational water users, and runs through underserved neighborhoods in Stockton. Over the years, the Calaveras has been asked to do a lot and it has begun to show signs of stress each fall as steelhead trout—a federally protected species—are stranded (and sometimes die) in warm, shallow pools of water, the result of low flows and too many diversions.

 

Under the Endangered Species Act, Stockton East Water District must get a permit that allows them to continue diverting water even if federally protected fish are harmed as a result. In exchange, the water district will take steps to make the river a better, safer place for fish. Indeed, Stockton East has already taken some steps to improve the Calaveras River for fish by modifying a barrier to allow fish to swim upstream even during periods of low water. Most importantly, completion of the plan will trigger the start of the district’s promise to improve fish passage at Bellota Weir, a significant obstacle to fish trying to migrate upstream to New Hogan Dam.

 

Most of the discussions on improving the river have occurred behind closed doors, but it appears that the long-delayed plan to improve the Calaveras River for fish may be close to completion. Once complete, the public will get a chance to review the plan and comment on its adequacy. This is our river and those are our fish and we, the public, have a critically important role to play in making sure our resources are managed appropriately. This plan will not be perfect , but it will make the river better for fish and the community it serves.

 

We can improve the Calaveras River for the fish and for our community if we get involved!

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