Monday November 27, 2023

The Mercury News

The Mokelumne River, a 95-mile waterway that supplies a majority of drinking water to the East Bay, earned its name because of the abundance of salmon in its waters. Local legend has it that, many years ago, the rivers were so packed with salmon you could walk from shore to shore along their backs.

Today, after 100 years of industrialization, the Mokelumne (pronounced muh-kaa-luh-mee), which flows from the Sierra Nevada to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, is a much different river. Salmon now exist there primarily because of human intervention — hatcheries raise many of the salmon that return to its waters.

To draw salmon upstream, water must be released from dams periodically to mimic natural weather patterns. Some hatchery fish are even driven to the San Francisco Bay in trucks in an effort to aid their passage to the ocean and increase the odds that they will one day return.

This modern reality made it all the more unlikely when, last week, the East Bay Municipal Utility District announced a record-breaking fall salmon run in the Mokelumne, the name of which translates to “People of the Fish” in the language of the Miwok, an indigenous group native to the Bay Area. According to EBMUD, over 20,000 salmon have already returned to spawn in the river this year, a figure not seen in 80 years of record-keeping.

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