Climate change theory says that the San Joaquin River will be too warm for salmon, a cold water fish. Nevertheless, the experiment goes on.
Mar 06, 2015
"With the possibility of a long-term drought ahead and so many questions unanswered, it's worth taking a second look at today's restoration plan and weighing alternatives." - Fresno Bee Editorial
"We have an alternative: a warm water fishery, a 'live' river 24/7, 365 days/year. It will not provide salmon, but will provide a robust fishery like exists for 40 miles below Friant Dam now, and it will allow East Side losses to be mitigated." - Families Protecting the Valley
It is time, in light of climate change to "reassess" the $2 billion plan that would revive salmon runs on the San Joaquin - Dianne Feinstein
"This experiment goes on in spite of the fact that there has been no 2014-15 winter to speak of in California" - Fergus Morrissey
The San Joaquin River Restoration project is an experiment in contradictory science. Climate change theory says that the San Joaquin River will be too warm for salmon, a cold water fish. Nevertheless, the experiment goes on.
In the article below Fergus Morrissey with the Orange Cove Irrigation District tells the story of how we're trucking 54,000 salmon from Friant Dam 153 miles downstream to the confluence of the Merced River in hopes they can navigate their way through the Delta to the ocean and back again. They are hoping 50 make it.
For the rest of the story, read the article. It's all true.
The choice: ‘Historic fishery’ or ‘historic family farms’
On Feb. 18, National Marine Fishery Biologists placed 54,000 juvenile salmon into the waters below Friant Dam for a five-day “imprint” period. The plan is to truck these 54,000 fish to the San Joaquin River’s confluence with the Merced River, 150 miles downstream of Friant Dam, so they can attempt to navigate through the Delta to the Pacific Ocean.
So goes the progress on the San Joaquin River Restoration Program, six years after experimental water releases were diverted from the agricultural economy in the south eastern San Joaquin Valley from Chowchilla to Bakersfield.
This experiment goes on in spite of the fact that there has been no 2014-15 winter to speak of in California and that goes for the Upper San Joaquin River watershed. Conditions lack a cold-water pool, key to salmon survival. In fact, the temperature of water released into the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam on Feb. 18 this year was the same as it was in mid-April last year when the same experiment was conducted.
This factor explains this year’s expedited experiment; water temperatures are warming to a lethal level for juveniles, only it is occurring two months sooner. Fish biologists expect (hope) that of these 54,000 juveniles, 50 return to Friant Dam to spawn three years in the future.
Last year’s minimal Upper San Joaquin River natural flows and high water temperatures would have meant no over-summering salmon could have survived to run with a hopeful 2015 spring pulse flow as temperatures for adults surpassed the lethal level in August of 2014. Moreover, it appears there will be no natural pulse flows this spring due to scant snowpack in the watershed, not to mention water temperatures are already approaching lethal levels.
It’s clear, there would have been no salmon run to or from Friant Dam this year under natural conditions. Yet federal biologists are experimentally intervening by hatching, raising, trucking, imprinting, trucking again, releasing and hoping.
It is a fact that the intent of the San Joaquin River Restoration Program was to restore an “historic fishery” (salmon) at Friant Dam. We all know that things like climate change and given what we are seeing on the ground and fearing in the back of our minds (at least I am) that this drought may persist to the point of bankrupting Friant Division farming and the economy of the east side of the southern San Joaquin Valley, the Program’s wheel spinning is hard to take knowing that it is the small family farmer on the brink of becoming “historic.”
Fergus Morrissey is engineer manager with the Orange Cove Irrigation District
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