Wednesday December 26, 2012

Modesto Bee-

by John Holland

OAKDALE — A salmon nosed around the gravel in a Stanislaus River stretch east of Oakdale, guarding eggs she had just laid. The fish had swum this fall from the Pacific Ocean, her home for the past few years, and found spawning gravel restored by humans to suit her needs.

“It’s rewarding,” said Jason Guignard, a consulting biologist who helped on the project, during a mid-December visit to the site.

“This is what it’s about,” agreed John Davids, engineer for the Oakdale Irrigation District, which paid half of the $1.1 million cost.

The OID, which gets its water from the Stanislaus, is one of many parties involved in the effort to restore chinook salmon in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. They used to swim by the tens of thousands on the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, Merced and San Joaquin rivers — and in far greater numbers on the Sacramento River and its tributaries.

This fall’s count of salmon returning from the sea shows mixed results in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. On the Stanislaus as of Dec. 16, 7,019 fish had passed through the temporary weir that spans the stream near Riverbank. At the same point in 2007, just 403 had passed through. On the Tuolumne, the count through Dec. 16 stood at 2,075, down from 2,773 at the same point last year.

“We’re just continuing to see problems with not enough flow and not enough habitat,” said Patrick Koepele, deputy executive director of the Tuolumne River Trust. “We were hopeful that last year was the beginning of an upward swing, so we’re disappointed.”

On the Tuolumne

The Tuolumne is doing better than in 2009, when a mere 257 salmon passed through the weir near La Grange, said Walt Ward, assistant general manager for water operations at the Modesto Irrigation District. Despite the drop from last year, he said, the females that did return are larger on average and contain more eggs, which could boost reproduction.

The MID and the Turlock Irrigation District keep close watch on the Tuolumne salmon counts because another crash could bring pressure to release extra water from Don Pedro Reservoir. The counts on both rivers are conducted from October to December by FISHBIO, a consulting company based in Oakdale that also worked on the OID project. The tallies show how many fish made it to the spawning grounds, but not the number that go on to successfully reproduce.

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