VOICES: California Needs to Change Ways to Save Salmon

23-20 Fishing Boats

By REGINA CHICHIZOLA, Save the Klamath-Trinity Salmon

A new report from UC Davis released this week states 75 percent of California salmon, steelhead and trout species are likely to become extinct within the next century if current trends continue. In related news, there will be no salmon fishing season in far Northern California and a limited season in Central California.

California is facing an unprecedented fisheries crisis.

The reasons for this crisis are no mystery. Both California and federal governments are stuck in the age of dam building and the race to divert all of our fresh water. The impacts have left California’s spring and winter salmon, and smelt species on the edge of extinction.

During the drought California let up to 91 percent of the juvenile salmon die in the Klamath River for three years in a row, and let up to 98 percent of the winter run salmon die in the Sacramento River during the same time period. This will be the worst Klamath River salmon run in history and it was preventable.

All science points to the fact that these fish died due to low flows, or fish diseases that are exacerbated by low flows. California is responsible for water decisions and worked hard to curb citizens’ use of water during the drought, however during this time period they let almond, and pistachio orchards, which are known for high water use, expand by hundreds of thousands of acres.

California’s urban population conserved water, but agriculture which uses 80 percent of our available water actually expanded its demand for water by planting more permanent crops.

During this time California also turned a blind eye to the many contaminants that come off its large corporate farms directly into the drinking water and creeks, leaving some communities with water that is more polluted than water in Flint, Michigan.

Now, California is experiencing an extremely wet year, which came with major flooding, suggesting that climate scientists’ predictions for California may be coming to pass sooner than imagined. This means we have to look at our crumbling infrastructure under the light of what can survive climate change.

For the salmon and our water infrastructure this can be both a threat and an opportunity. Actions like pulling back levies and re-creating floodplains can protect people, water quality and help salmon, as can dam retrofitting. We support these win-wins. However, the fact remains that until California takes on its over allocated system of water rights, and prioritizes the public trust in water decisions, our salmon populations, towns, and drinking water remain in jeopardy.

California is taking some positive action. We applaud California’s tough stance on climate change, a new process to provide public trust flows in rivers, and that the state may finally declare that the salmon situation is a disaster. However, proposals like the “California Water Fix” or Twin Tunnels and new reservoir proposals belie California’s environmental commitments.

The fact is the Trump administration is promising to do more to favor subsidized corporate agriculture over the salmon economy, as its subsidies to farmers not only continue but are expanding into massive transfers of public water infrastructure into private hands, and more taxpayer subsidized dams and tunnels.

It is time for California to turn its words into actions.

The truth is the demand for salmon has never been higher, and the numbers of salmon have rarely been lower. California has an opportunity and responsibility to change the way it deals with water and salmon right now. We need leadership on these issues.

Will California let the opportunity pass? Will it turn its back on its fishing fleet, tribes and cities or will it take on its water and climate issues head on?

Regina Chichizola, is the 2017 Anthony Prize winner and the director of Save the Klamath Trinity Salmon. She is joining with commercial and tribal fishermen to host the Save the Salmon Dinner and Concert at the Historic Eagle House on May 27.

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