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Jenner Jottings - Tim McKusick - August 2015


Jenner Jottings - Tim McKusick - August 2015

On June 17, 2015 the State Resources Control Board (State Water Board) adopted an Emergency Regulation for Enhanced Water Conservation and Addition Water Use Information for the Protection of Specific Fisheries in Tributaries to the Russian River. The emergency regulation, which is in effect for 270 days, became effective on July 6, 2015. The regulation affects four tributary watersheds (Dutch Bill, Green Valley, portions of Mark West, and Mill creeks) within the Russian River Watershed.

A capacity crowd filled the offices of the Water Boards on Skylane Blvd. for the third of four public informational meetings to hear representatives of the Water Board and Department of Fish and Wildlife explain the details.

According to the state, the emergency regulation is intended to maintain suitable habitat and water quality conditions during the summer for rearing Central California Coast (CCC) Coho Salmon and Central California Coast (CCC) Steelhead.

The ongoing drought places juvenile Coho and Steelhead in Russian River tributaries in a perilous situation, affecting the survival of the species. Coho salmon and steelhead depend on pools with suitable temperatures and dissolved oxygen to grow during the summer months and then migrate to the ocean in the late fall through spring. Minimal water is needed to maintain acceptable temperature and oxygen conditions for these species to survive.

Key in this regulation was the regulators’ decision that water diversions are the culprit must be addressed. Other (equally stressed streams without water diversions) have not been deemed worthy of receiving this kind of attention at this time. Thusly, they fell outside of the targeted areas.

Critical areas were mapped out, with emphasis on areas where the summer flow has decreased to the level that the meager stream flow that normally connect the summer pools has disappeared. Homeowners (not grape growers) within these critical areas are faced with restricted water use.

“Just a trickle is the goal,” stated the Fish and Wildlife representative. “Just a trickle to connect the now isolated pools which will give the juvenile fish a fighting chance to survive. Without the ability to seek cooler waters and hide from predators, they have little chance for survival.” Photos of dead stranded juvenile Coho were shown on the screen.

“Extinction” was mentioned more than once during the Fish and Wildlife portion of the meeting.

The audience was made up of a diverse group with many different viewpoints on the current drought crisis and the Emergency Regulations being imposed. A common observation (referred to as The Elephant in the Room) was the fact that this emergency regulation was aimed at homeowners while the commercial agricultural operations (grape growers) were exempt.

Property owners who had lived on Mark West Creek for years swore that you could tell when the wells at the vineyards were pumping as the creek level dropped, leaving damp rocks where water had flowed. Stories of wells gone dry after newer Ag wells were installed in the area were related. Residents told of the frustration of already voluntarily doing all that they could to conserve water while the neighboring vineyards were given a free pass to irrigate as usual.

Others in attendance were willing to “write off” the endangered species, saying “Why bother? Other streams have fish. Humans have to survive, too.”

A few grape growers were in attendance. Feeling targeted unfairly, they told of their minimal water usage, just irrigating enough to get by, trying to make a living while still being vilified by their neighbors.

Katie Jackson, spokesperson for Jackson Family Vineyards, was a ray of hope in this dire situation. She stated that since the Jackson Family had implemented state of the art water reuse and irrigation systems, they are saving a tremendous amount of water. Enough water to be able to commit to the water boards releases of this precious commodity back into the streams in hopes of saving our imperiled native species.

When I drove into town to attend the meeting past the Russian River Estuary, the tide was out and the visitor center was high and dry. That afternoon as I headed home, the tide was coming in in a mighty tidal surge. The river seemingly was flowing upstream. The depth gauge at the visitor center was half-way covered; the river was backing up as far upstream as Austin Creek. The streams perched on the lower river had a connection to the main stem, something their upstream counterparts being focused on in this emergency order lacked. It baffles me why they are not seen as the gift (to the Coho recovery effort) as they are.

Recent reports show the same need to keep the summer pools connected. The Russian River Biological Opinion seemed to understand the importance of these perched streams, but the focus (and money!) is going into Dry Creek and others.

Dr. Bill Hearn, who retired from NMFS Last year, stated that the lower streams were the most important in Coho recovery due to the estuarine effects, as did Patrick Higgins, a well know fishery expert. And even though it has been scientifically proven that the Coast Redwoods actually put water into the water table (and streams!) through their unique leaves, the logging continues in these critical watersheds.