Groups Warn of Massive Salmon Die-Off, Press for Water Reform
Wednesday, August 4, 2021
SHASTA LAKE, Calif. - Within the next several weeks, experts are expecting a massive die-off of winter-run Chinook salmon as they spawn below the Shasta Dam because the water is too warm for the eggs and baby fish, called "fry," to survive.
Conservation groups have charged that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the California State Water Resources Control Board allowed for the release of too much water to agricultural districts in the Central Valley earlier this year, which caused the reservoir to warm up.
Rachel Zwillinger, water policy advisor for the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife, said more than 80% of the winter-run Chinook salmon could perish.
"It is a big step closer to extinction for a species that already is widely acknowledged to be one of the most endangered species in the U.S.," she said.
Farm interests have said they need the water to keep farm production on track. However, the water and the fish it supports also are very important culturally to the local Winnemum Wintu tribe. And experts fear the warmer flows could trigger large algal blooms on the Sacramento Delta, which makes the water unsafe for people and pets, and threatens the outdoor economy.
Zwillinger said she wants the state to review outdated water-management rules - and to reject some of the priorities set during the Trump administration.
"By failing to take a strong stand and update these water-quality protections," she said, "we're letting things that Californians care about slip away from us."
The current water-quality protections date back to 1995 and are supposed to be reviewed every three years. The California Water Resources Control Board has not yet completed the update process it began in 2008.
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