Conservation News

The Drought - We Are In Dire Straits
From the Sierra Club California - Kathryn Phillips, Director

Recent news about the dreary status of California's drought, and the mixed response to it, has me wondering why more of us aren't running down the street looking like the distraught character in painter Edvard Munch's "The Scream."
Water scientist Jay Famiglietti warned last week in a Los Angeles Times op-ed that NASA satellite data, combined with what we know about rapidly declining groundwater stores, shows that California has just about a year's worth of water left. This is as we come to the close of the fourth dry winter in a row, with no end to the drought in sight.
Right now, Sierra snowpack water content is as low as ever recorded by the Department of Water Resources for this time of year. In some places, it is six percent-and less-of the average.
This grim news shouldn't come as a surprise. Famiglietti warned that we're rapidly approaching a waterless reality in a July op-ed, too.
What does come as a surprise is that the level of action to respond to the drought hasn't been as focused or intense as the issue warrants.
On a positive note of action, the State Water Resources Control Board this week is expected to tell water agencies that they need to actively limit to two the number of days homeowners and commercial businesses can water their landscapes. This may seem like something that should have happened at least a year ago, but that it is happening at all is a good move.
On the other hand, the governor just spent some of his precious time working the system in Washington, DC to try to clear the way for his San Francisco Bay Delta tunnel project. And there is likely to be additional efforts by Congress to accelerate the tunnels or weaken other laws protecting the Delta.
Absolutely nothing about the tunnels project will help California's drought. At best it would just dangerously delay the inevitable necessity to dramatically change the way we deal with water. It's a distraction.
Our focus now needs to be on regional solutions to increase conservation and careful reuse and recycling. Huge infrastructure projects better suited to the Eisenhower era-the governor's tunnels, some proposed dams-provide certain big engineering firms with fat public contracts. But they don't solve or even rationally respond to the essential problem: We are in the fourth year of a drought driven by climate disruption. Drought is going to be a more frequent and more intense part of our existence, and so we need to permanently change the way we handle water in California.
And that brings me back to the water scientist, Jay Famiglietti. The guy deserves a medal for speaking out clearly about the problem and offering solutions. In last week's op-ed, he recommended four things that need to happen to address the drought: mandatory water rationing across sectors, accelerated implementation of the groundwater act passed last year, a task force of thought leaders to brainstorm better long-term water management in the state, and public ownership of the drought and water management issues.
Californians use about twice as much water per capita for residential use as Australians. The Australians weren't always so thrifty. They had to entirely redo their approach to water as they trudged through a ten-year drought.
Many of the things the Australians did are consistent with Famiglietti's four-point proposal. But we now know that we don't have ten years to spare. Indeed, some communities in the state already don't have drinking water.
If you are looking for ways to personally cut your water use, there are some great resources online. One of the best is produced by a consortium of Arizona communities. It lists nearly 200 things you can do to save water. California also has a water saver website with similar recommendations.
Personal responsibility is important. But, as Famiglietti's list suggests, there are key policy shifts needed, too. So on your behalf, we'll keep pressing here in Sacramento for those shifts.
We will continue to oppose the Bay Delta tunnels and any proposed dams. We hired a new staff person who focuses on groundwater law implementation and other water issues. And we'll continue to educate and promote ways for everyone to conserve.

Monterey Bay Salmon and Trout Project Out Plants Steelhead and Coho
By Barry Burt

The MBSTP has spent the last two weeks out planting 17,000 smolt steelhead into the San Lorenzo River System. A big shout out goes to the Santa Cruz Fly Fishermen for all their volunteer work, which made it all possible. Two new members, John Nesheim and Tom Sasso, joined me on Monday to make our first delivery of approximately 3,800 very robust steelhead smolts to Highland Park in Ben Lomond. The fish were running just slightly over six per pound, which are actually the largest smolts that I've ever seen us plant. The size of the fish was definitely a limiting factor on how many could be loaded into the truck. Two of our veteran plant masters, Sam Bishop and Steve Rudzinski, helped out with successive steelhead plants in Boulder Creek, Felton, and again at our Ben Lomond site. We weren't quite able to squeeze in the last 1,000 or so steelhead from the lower raceway on our last run for fear of overcrowding, so I'll be back at it this Monday to finish up. We still have some 5,000 steelhead smolts that need to go out from our satellite facility at Powder Mill Creek in Paradise Park. Once they're released, we'll be done for the year and next year as well. As most of you know, we were not permitted to take any brood stock steelhead this year.
To view a short video clip of the steelhead plant, click here: SteelheadPlantMovie

This Thursday, we shifted gears and planted out about 3,500 coho smolts into the Scott Creek drainage. Interesting, but when dealing with coho, the Feds always show up in numbers. With the steelhead, it was just the project's good ol' boys, but as soon as we start in with the coho, we've got Fish and Wildlife from Sacramento, and four or five guys from NMFS.

Planting coho is quite a bit different than the steelhead. There's no cumbersome pipe system to have to deal with, just the A team bucket brigade of Burt, Bishop, Rudzinski, Nesheim, and our rookie, Jeff (Yog) Goyert. Each fish is micro-chipped and poured from the bucket into a chute that dumps into the creek. The chute is ringed with electronic sensors that activate the chip, which will collect data from each fish and allow tracking of their migration. It's definitely moved into the high-tech realm since I first started working the fish plants. It was interesting to note that the day before our coho release, they trapped a very ripe wild female coho at the weir in Scott Creek and at our first dump site, we witnessed a small adult male steelhead scooting around in our release site. Here it is in the middle of March, in one of the lowest water years on record, and somehow these fish still manage to persist even under the most adverse conditions. They are truly amazing.

To view a short video clip of the coho plant, click here: CohoPlantMovie.

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