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The Best of Times, the Worst of Times…to be a Yuba Salmon.

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This year, 2018 brought with it the culmination of years of planning for our Yuba River Salmon and the continuation of a second year of low salmon counts.

Highlights for 2018 Salmon Actions

  • Drafts released of the Army Corps Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study and FERC’s draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Yuba River Development Project
  • Successful implementation of the Yuba River Canyon Project
  • Hallwood and Long Bar Restoration Projects were allocated millions of dollars in funding
  • The Army Corps continued to inject gravel below Englebright and
  • Both the Army Corps and Yuba Water Agency successfully placed large woody debris to enhance fish habitat.

The Salmon Struggle

Salmon have had two of the worst years on record. Salmon don’t appear to take notice of plans and funding requests. They continue to struggle to survive in the aftermath of the mining and dam building eras, maximizing their ability to thrive in habitat that slowly recovers.

As of early November, the current estimates for Chinook salmon returning to the Yuba River in 2018 hover around 2,000 fish. This number is inclusive of both the endangered Spring Run and the Fall Run Chinook Salmon. In 2017, the total numbers of Chinook were around 1,600 fish. Before the 2008 Central Valley Chinook population crash, the Yuba River had supported about 30,000 Chinook salmon per year, on average.

The effect of the 2012-2016 drought has had lingering impacts on salmon populations across the Central Valley, which is understood to exacerbate already difficult conditions as juvenile salmon out-migrate to the ocean. The adult salmon returning today withstood those drought conditions and have us all wringing our hands waiting for more fish to push towards their natal streams.

Yuba River Canyon Restoration Project

Restoring both rearing and spawning habitat in the Lower Yuba River is one way we can help salmon today. The Yuba River Canyon Restoration Project, completed by ESA and USFWS in the summer of 2018, was a success just weeks after the heavy equipment left the river.

In September, more salmon spawned on freshly laid Yuba River Canyon gravels than in any other part of the river. The project created both spawning and rearing habitat, placing gravel in prime locations and cutting a side channel for rearing salmon to utilize during high flow periods.

This project brings us hope, hope that despite the exhaustive amount of engineering, monitoring, permitting, and environmental review that goes into each restoration project, the fish will be able to use restored habitat and will have a better chance at survival.

This article is the first article in a two part series. Stay tuned for updated salmon counts for the Yuba River and more information about FERC’s Yuba River Development Project and Army Corps Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study.

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