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What Costs $3 Million, is 3 Inches Thick, and Takes 3 Years to Complete?

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Army Corps to Conduct Feasibility Study for Yuba River Ecosystem Restoration; Conservationists Urge Corps to fully evaluate fish passage over Englebright Dam

Army-Corps-Feasability-StudyWhen the US Army Corps of Engineers takes on a new study, it must comply with their internal “3×3 Rule.”  That means that any new study must cost no more than $3 million, take no longer than three years to complete, and must not be more than three inches thick.

In past meetings with the Army Corps, their leadership told SYRCL and other river conservation activists that the Corps would be more than happy to help restore wild salmon “if only Congress gave them the authority and the funding to do so.” Without that, they said their hands were tied.

Our coalition took that on as a friendly challenge. We proceeded to advocate with our federal representatives to allocate funds to study the feasibility of getting wild salmon, now in jeopardy of extinction under the Endangered Species Act, over the Corps’ two Yuba dams, Daguerre Point and Englebright, and into the upper Yuba River.

In the spring of 2013, SYRCL, American Rivers and Yuba County Water Agency (YCWA) sent a joint letter to our Congressional delegation requesting that these important fish passage studies be funded. Importantly, YCWA agreed to share the costs of the study with the Corps too. Although similar requests had been in the President’s Budget year after year only to be killed in committee, our sustained advocacy paid off when Congress first funded an initial “Reconnaissance Study,” which was completed last fall, and has now funded this larger “Yuba River Ecosystem Restoration” study, which will start this year – and yes, take three years to complete.

In a letter sent to the Corps this week, SYRCL and the other members of the Yuba Salmon Conservation Caucus applauded the completion of the “Reconnaissance Report for Yuba River Ecosystem Restoration,” congratulated the Corps on receiving funding for the Feasibility Study, and thanked YCWA for sharing costs for this critically important step in the development of salmon recovery and ecosystem restoration actions on the Yuba River.

The purpose of the letter is to communicate our expectation that the Corps produce a study that yields scientifically sound results and convey three key requests:

  • The Feasibility Study should thoroughly investigate alternatives for fish passage which involve the removal and/or lowering of Englebright Dam.
  • The Feasibility Study should address all reasonable means by which habitat may be improved in the lower Yuba River.
  • The Feasibility Study process should build on all pertinent existing information, include adequate consultation of experts and stakeholders, and include review by key stakeholders of draft reports.

Although we haven’t heard back from the Army Corps yet, we encourage their engineers, who are some of the most talented and experienced engineers in the world, to apply critical thinking and innovation to addressing questions at the crux of fish passage options in the Yuba River, and to use that $3 million to work collaboratively with the community over the next three years to complete that three inch thick study.

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