By Steve Rothert, American Rivers’ California Regional Director
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) delivered to Congress its Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14) work plan and its FY15 budget, and both of these budget documents allocate funding for the Corps to study fish passage over their dams on the Yuba River. The 25-ft high Daguerre Point Dam has a fish ladder that requires improvements or replacement, and the 260-ft Englebright Dam has no fish passage facility. Prior to the gold mining era and the construction of dams on the Yuba, hundreds of thousands of salmon and steelhead returned each year to spawn. Today, their numbers have dwindled to a few thousand and the fish are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
American Rivers, the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL), and other partners have been working for years to urge the Corps to provide a way for fish to get past their dams, and more than five lawsuits have been filed over the years about this issue. In 2012 the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a court-ordered requirement (called a Biological Opinion or “BiOp”) for the Corps to provide fish passage. The Corps and others objected to this requirement in part because the Corps argued it did not have authority to provide passage, and the issue is now in limbo as NMFS develops a new BiOp.
The Corps’ FY14 work plan funds the first step, known as a Reconnaissance Study, in a process that we hope leads to a project that would bring salmon and steelhead back into the Sierra Nevada for the first time in nearly a century. This would be an historic step because a string of huge dams on every major river block salmon from reaching their home waters high in the Sierra. In addition, the Corps’ proposed budget for next year, FY15, contains funding to begin the next step in the process, a Feasibility Study.
American Rivers and SYRCL have been pushing for this study for years, including recently collecting over 1,500 postcards during the Wild & Scenic Film festival, and sending sign on letters to Congressional leaders such as Senators Boxer and Feinstein.
Yuba Salmon Forum to prioritize options to restore salmon
Various Yuba stakeholders have also been studying potential actions to restore salmon in the Yuba through a collaborative process known as the Yuba Salmon Forum. The Forum was launched by NMFS in 2011 with the purpose of identifying, evaluating, prioritizing and seeking to implement actions to restore salmon populations in the Yuba watershed. The Yuba County Water Agency has provided the bulk of funding for what has become three years of study since the forum was launched, with other support coming from NMFS and the Placer County Water Agency. The Yuba Salmon Forum has developed a comprehensive body of information about salmon habitat in the Yuba and strategies to provide fish passage to the upper Yuba River, including everything from dam removal to fish ladders to trapping and trucking fish around the dams.