Farmers and Ranchers Save Salmon
The snow pack in the mountains has long since melted. Tributaries to the Scott River and the river itself are quickly drying up, if not already. Contrary to what environmental activist groups, such as the Klamath River Keepers, Klamath Forest Alliance and the Environmental Protection Information Center, are saying, the drop in surface flows in the Scott River Watershed is due to a depleted snow pack, not because ditches are “running full.” Our ditches have not run “full” since the April. Our only saving grace has been two major thunderstorms, or likely all of the tributaries and the river would be merely standing pools. This year happens to be very dry, our winter snow pack was under 50 percent of average. It was to be expected that surface water would be limited starting in July. In average years, the current levels of flow are not realized until late August and mid September.
Understanding the system and realizing that salmon fingerlings are at risk, several ranchers, in voluntarily and cooperatively took action to save tens of thousands of young salmonids.
The French Creek Watershed is adjudicated, in terms of water rights. Part of the decree describes in detail the priorities of each water right. During times of diminishing flow, lower priority water rights are turned down or shut off, so that higher priority water right holders receive their water. Our watermaster, for the past month, has been diligently implementing the decree. Last week he notified us that one of our points of extraction was going to be shut down on Monday, in order to supply water to a higher priority water right downstream from us. It is important to know that the watermaster is an officer of the court and it is their duty to follow the letter of decree.Our ditch, that was scheduled to be shut off, happens to provide nearly a quarter-mile of prime salmonid habitat. Unlike the reach of the creek below our point of extraction, our ditch holds the water (it goes sub-surface in the creek), is five to six feet wide, two to three feet deep and completely shaded, providing cool water, protection from predators and plenty of insects for food.
Upon receiving notice that our ditch was scheduled to be shut off, we asked the watermaster if the California Department of Fish and Game (I refuse to acknowledge their changing their name to wildlife) had been contacted to trap and relocate the fingerlings in the top reach of our ditch, above the fish screen. He shared that he had notified them, but had not heard back.
It should be noted that “protection” from take (killing or harming an endangered specie) is recognized if advanced notice is given to the Department of Fish and Game. In this instance the Department was notified, so if the watermaster shut down the headgate, drying up the ditch, leading to a fish kill, we, in theory, would be protected.
On Sunday night, the watermaster called again and informed us that he would not be shutting the headgate off until Tuesday and he had still not heard back from the Department regarding trapping and relocation of the salmon.
Monday morning, myself, the landowner who shares the ditch with me, and the landowner who has the higher priority water right downstream from us, began a series of phone calls to try to prevent the impending fish kill. An agreement was finally reached, to keep the headgate at our point of extraction open and close the headgate at our fishscreen and bypass. This would keep water in the critical habitat for the salmon and still allow the other landowner to receive his water. This cooperative effort was done voluntarily, and allowed the watermaster to modify his schedule and thus keep water in the ditch for the salmon long enough, hopefully, for the department to trap and relocate.
This afternoon, the watermaster called me and said he had finally heard back from the Department of Fish and Game and they would try to come out and trap on Thursday or Friday.
I share this event to help you understand that farmers and ranchers do care for the environment, the wildlife and the fish. Do to the cooperative and voluntary efforts of some true environmentalists, thousands of listed salmon were kept alive. Had steps not been taken on our part, the fish would have been dead by today. However, due to cooperation, they will have plenty of water to survive for at least a couple weeks…just in case the Department of Fish and Game does not make it this week.
To all of the environmental activists and groups, who claim that their lawsuits and tougher agency regulations, permits and fees are the answer, I suggest it is time to change. When you are ready and willing to start working with the real stewards of the natural resources, get your hands dirty, think outside the regulatory and legal box and implement practical, common sense solutions, that truly address our challenges, give me a call. Some of you have already come to the table with sincerity and a desire to work together as a community and I thank you. Working together we will all achieve more and our valley, our county and our state will see the benefit.