Skip to main content

salmon

One of the grandest victories scored by environmental types in California has been the battle to save Mono Lake at the eastern foot of the Sierra Nevada. Owens Lake, to the south, was obliterated by users in the Los Angeles basin, who simply appropriated virtually all the water that once flowed from the mountains into the lake (the easiest and most entertaining way to brush up on this story is to see the movie Chinatown).

The pictures are not what you'd generally call beautiful, but they're stirring nonetheless: the early stages of the demolition of the Savage Rapids Dam on the Rogue River in Oregon, which has been killing salmon for decades.

The demolition is the result of yeoman (yeowoman too) efforts by a cast of hundreds, including Earthjustice's Mike Sherwood, who jumped through dozens of hoops, went to court, raised hell, and finally prevailed. Demolition will take some months yet—a celebration at the site is planned for October 10, though that could change a little. Go to Waterwatch for updates. Savage Rapids Dam Is Dead. Long Live Savage Rapids.

The wonderful and valuable High Country News has published a very instructive buttal and rebuttal that arise from an article in the print version of the paper that analyzed the long-running struggle over four power dams built on the lower Snake River in the 1960s. Those dams and their reservoirs have long been criticized by scientists and conservationists as inimical to the survival and recovery of once-stupendous salmon runs in the Columbia basin.

(The dams have also been the subject of a long litigation campaign by Earthjustice and its allies, who would like to see the dams removed, or at least breached.)

The Bonneville Power Administration, which operates the dams, has fought vigorously to keep the dams, even arguing in court papers that the structures have been in place so long that they’ve become a permanent, all but natural, fixture in the river, like boulders or eddies.

BPS’s Gregory K. Delwiche wrote a long and fairly sober answer to Ken Olsen’s original piece, that makes good sense—until you read Olsen’s reply. It’s a fascinating exchange, worth taking the time to read. I pretend no particular expertise in this debate, but one of Delwiche’s assertions caught my eye: In response to the claim by Olsen that BPA’s practice is to use all the water in the river for power generation, Delwiche wrote,

The federal agencies operating the hydro system never put "every drop of water" through turbines. It is common practice to spill water around turbines for fish. In 2008, for example, BPA spent $275 million buying replacement power to make up for power not generated at the dams because water was being diverted for fish.

What he didn’t say, and what I know only because of where I work, is that the spilling of water to aid salmon downstream migration came only with a court order, issued by Judge James Redden. Take a look. It’s fascinating stuff.

Meanwhile, Judge Redden has just written to the BPA urging prompt and vigorous efforts to reform river management. One might guess that he’s closer to Olsen than [the BPA guy] in this matter.

Salmon in the Sacramento River, which produces most of the king salmon caught in California and Oregon, are struggling. As a result, for the second time in two years, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted to ban almost all ocean salmon fishing off California in 2009.

There's good news: Major portions of the Sacramento River are still undammed and can produce salmon once again.

When one hears the phrase "Boy Scout," one picture that comes to mind is a bunch of youngsters out in the woods, around a campfire, enjoying marshmallows as well as nature.  One might assume that on top of "trustworthy," "obedient," and "brave," Boy Scouts might also put protection of the Great Outdoors among their values.

A recent investigative series has thrown some cold water on that notion, however, exposing activities of some scouting groups that are cringe-inducing.  One piece has a part of the scouting organization clearcutting lands to make profits, just like the boys in Big Timber have been doing for years.  Another piece has another scouting group killing threatened salmon to fill a lake for recreation, and then using their political muscle to avoid any penalties.

There's no doubt that many individual scout troops are doing important things for the youngsters involved, and that the volunteer parents who make the organization work are conscientious caring folks who are trying to help boys become responsible adults.

And any organization that needs money to keep its work going and that supprts a large bureaucracy  like the Scouts is likely to have its problems.  Heaven knows us folks in the Environmental Movement have been known to not always "be the change" we want to see in the world.  (Please don't make fun of my gas guzzling hybrid SUV.)

The Scouts could use the airing of their dirty laundry to say "Whoops!  We could do a lot better."  Sadly, it seems the national headquarters of the BSA is choosing to hunker in its bunker, issuing a press statement that in part shoots the messenger: "We are extremely disappointed that [Scouts'] efforts have been portrayed in such a negative light." 

That doesn't exactly seem like the "brave" response.

Northern Californians have recently launched two grassroots efforts to oppose a proposed peripheral canal that would divert water from the Sacramento River and send it around the West's largest estuary to irrigate large industrial farms in the Central Valley and Southern California.

On January 17th, Water4Fish held a panel discussion at the International Sportsmen's Expo in Sacramento.

We've had a spate of stories here in northern California about the crash of the fall run of king salmon returning to spawn in the watershed of the Sacramento River. Historically, many hundreds of thousands of the fish would return annually; this year the count was around ninety thousand, which spells disaster for salmon fishermen up and down the coast. It is also one more indicator that the river system, and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in particular, is very sick, largely because of the enormous volume of water diverted via giant pumps for agricultural and domestic use.

Pages

About the Earthjustice Blog

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.