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The Fresno Bee

Biologists this week helped 54,000 Northern California salmon become San Joaquin River inhabitants — launching the river’s largest experiment to rejuvenate a long-dead salmon run.

As part of the nearly 5-year-old San Joaquin restoration project, half of the juvenile fish will be released today for a long, dangerous swim to the Pacific Ocean. The other half will be released Friday.

The fish are tagged so survivors can be identified in a few years on the return trip to the San Joaquin for spawning.

“This is a big step for the project,” said biologist John Netto of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We’re coordinating the right window of opportunity to get the fish down the river.”

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NBC Bay Area

Workers at a central California ranch could hardly believe their eyes when they spotted a sea lion pup hopping through an almond orchard, a mile from the San Joaquin River.

The Merced Sun-Star reported Tuesday that the ranch hands quickly got in touch with wildlife officials after discovering the confused animal last month at Mape’s Ranch near Modesto.

A Marine Mammal Center volunteer eventually coaxed the lost sea lion into a cage, where it promptly fell asleep.

The newspaper reports the 36-pound sea lion, nicknamed Hoppie, is recovering at the center. Hoppie is undergoing treatment for sores and getting some nourishment in hopes of returning him to the wild.

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Santa Maria Sun

A low-hanging mist is strung out between the summits directly above the gray-blue expanse of Lake Cachuma. From the Bradbury Dam overlook, you can only see the side of the lake that butts up against a 2,976-foot-long, 206-foot-high, rock-covered slope of a wall with a road running along its top and a gigantic cement structure of gates on one end. Remnants of last night’s rain cling to the vegetation on both sides of the fenced vista point, and a tall, thin man looks out at a portion of the lake. What he sees this March 26 morning prompts him to knit his eyebrows together.

Tim Robinson, whose hands are shoved into the pockets of his faded jeans, crouches down, pulls one hand out of its shelter, and points through a gap between oak tree branches, toward a spot in the lake a couple hundred feet from the dam.

There are two barges, one much smaller than the other. As manager of the Cachuma Operations and Management Board Fisheries Division, Robinson’s got a problem with what’s not working out there. He said the smaller barge is responsible for dangling a water intake pipe at a certain level in the lake, and the bigger barge holds two pumps. The contraptions link up to pull water from a cooler portion of the lake, send it through a little black pipe that runs over the top of the dam, and deposit it into Hilton Creek on the other side of the dam wall.

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The Spokesman-Review

Modifications to fish ladders at Wanapum and Rock Island dams are allowing salmon and steelhead to pass over the mid-Columbia dams, utility officials said Wednesday.

Fish counts show that 31 spring chinook and 102 steelhead passed over Wanapum Dam near Vantage, Wash., this week. Thirty-eight miles upstream at Rock Island Dam, three steelhead and eight whitefish passed over that dam.

The reservoir behind Wanapum Dam has been drawn down since late February, when a crack was discovered in the concrete support for one of the dam’s 12 spillway gates. As a result of the lower reservoir, fish ladders had to be modified to allow for salmon passage.

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USACE

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District today released a draft study report recommending restoration of 90 acres of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to its natural tidal marsh state.

The proposed project would fill the sunken interior of areas near Antioch, using existing dredge material including stockpiles from dredging at the Port of Stockton. The Corps used the same method in 1987 to restore vibrant tidal marsh conditions for Donlon Island, another nearby tract in the same area of the Delta.

“This is an important first step for the Corps in helping with the critical problem of ecosystem degradation in the Delta,” said Col. Mike Farrell, Sacramento District commander. “This plan would use a proven, sustainable restoration method that we hope can serve as a model for more Delta restoration work in the future. Still, this is a draft recommendation, and we very much want to hear from the public about it during the open comment period.”

Co-funded by our partners the California Department of Water Resources, this study examines the feasibility for a Corps ecosystem restoration and flood risk reduction strategies of varying scope and complexity. The study found that the cost of even the most efficient flood risk reduction project considered would be nearly double the expected benefits, and does not recommend Corps investment in levee improvement work for now.

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E&E Publishing

The delta smelt has an unfortunate name; it’s easy to say with a sneer. The fish is also quite puny — 2 to 3 inches, on average — and physically weak. It can’t swim very well.

All these traits make a creature easy to pick on. So it’s no surprise that people have seized on the smelt as the unwelcome party in California’s latest drought.

“They want to protect this fish right here called the delta smelt,” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said on the House floor in February, pointing to a poster of the fish. “This is what this is about. It is about the Endangered Species Act. It is about the biggest water grab in history and running people out of water to protect this little fish.”

The semitransparent delta smelt has a life span of one year. Swimming using a “stroke-glide” style that takes advantage of the tides, the fish inhabits the zone where the salty waters of the Pacific mix with the fresh water of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the largest such estuary on the West Coast. Before the 1980s, it was often abundant in the delta — the only place in the world where this particular species lives.

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KEPRTV

As construction workers race against the clock to make fish ladders at Wanapum Dam operational, state fishery managers are standing ready with an alternate plan to move spring chinook salmon up the Columbia River.

Shortly after discovering a 65-foot-long fracture in a spillway pier Feb. 27, dam operators lowered the water level behind the 185-foot structure by a record 26 feet, leaving the fish ladders high and dry.

Sometime this week, the first of an estimated 20,000 spring chinook salmon are expected to arrive in the area near Vantage, pressing upriver to spawn. Nearly 4,000 of those fish are wild, naturally spawning fish, and the entire run is listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The Grant County Public Utility District, which owns the dam, has been scrambling to modify the fish ladders to make them operational by April 15, but also worked with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to develop a backup plan.

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Peninsula Daily News

A panel of federal appellate judges has rejected a wild-fish advocacy group’s request to stop the planting of hatchery-born steelhead in the Elwha River.

The ruling clears the way for Lower Elwha Klallam tribal hatchery managers to proceed with their planned release of as many as 175,000 steelhead — an ocean-going salmonid trout species — from the $16.5 million hatchery built to help restore Elwha River fish runs.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday dismissed a request from four wild-fish advocates for an emergency injunction to stop the steelhead plantings.

The appellate court upheld a U.S. District Court judge’s decision to reject the injunction March 12.

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Nature World News

The injuries marinelife sustain as a result in sudden changes in pressure – known as barotrauma – can be mitigated in the turbulent waters surrounding hydroelectric dams by modifying the design of turbines, according to a new study.

Fishes are in danger of suffering from barotrauma when they pass through a dam or when they’re hauled up form the depths during catch-and-release fishing.

When passing through a dam, the change in pressure the fish experience can be equivalent to ascending the entire height of Mount Everest in a matter of seconds. For some species, the change in pressure is too great, and comes on too quickly, resulting in their death or injury.

Some dams make it easy for fish to pass over or around them, but in others the fish can wind up passing through the dam’s internal structure, where they can be subjected to enormous and rapid drops in pressure, followed by rapid increases in pressure.

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Heartland

An increase in marijuana growing on the West Coast is straining water supplies in drought-stricken California and imperiling the region’s salmon populations, environmental groups claim.

Prodigious Water Needs
Marijuana plants require up to six gallons of water per day, putting tremendous strain on water resources where marijuana plants are grown in large quantities. The Northern California coast is known as the “emerald triangle” for its high concentration of marijuana growers. The same region, however, includes important breeding territory for salmon. With the Golden State suffering a prolonged drought, environmental groups worry the increase in marijuana growing is pushing salmon populations to the breaking point.

The deforestation that often accompanies marijuana growing also threatens salmon populations, environmentalists note. Marijuana growers favor locations where water is plentiful, typically close to streams and rivers. They often cut down trees and brush to make room for the marijuana plants, which removes important streambed buffers. After the buffers are removed, more soil is eroded into the streams. The eroded soil contains fertilizers and pesticides used to encourage marijuana plant growth, compounding the eroded soil’s negative impact on streams and rivers.

“I have nothing against people growing dope,” Dave Bitts, a Humboldt County commercial fisherman and the president of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, told National Public Radio. “But if you do, we want you to grow your crop in a way that doesn’t screw up fish habitat. There is no salmon-bearing watershed at this point that we can afford to sacrifice.”

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