Conservation News

Downstream from the stricken Oroville Dam, the Feather River Fish Hatchery manages to save millions of fish
From the LA Times - February 17, 2017

On Friday, the staff at the Feather River Fish Hatchery, just downstream from the stricken Oroville Dam, took stock of their losses, gave thanks for their victories and girded for a long, hard recovery after being inundated with debris-laden water the color of chocolate milk.
A few thousand Chinook salmon fry didn't make it. But millions of others survived, as did 1 million federally endangered steelhead trout eggs.
The dirty water had been spewed from a jagged crater in the dam's main, concrete-lined spillway discovered after California Department of Water Resources officials increased releases of reservoir water a week ago to offset inflows of rainfall. By the time they halted the releases to inspect the damage, the Feather River below had been transformed into a torrent of fouled river water.
"Our hatchery, which rears salmon and steelhead, draws all of its water from the river," said facility manager Anna Kastner, 52, wincing at the memory. "Suddenly, it was awash in liquid mud."
The initial response from the California Department of Water Resources, which manages the towering dam four miles to the north, was disheartening, and out of the question.
"The agency wondered if letting our fish go in the river would increase their chances of survival," Kastner recalled. "Instead, we marshaled an army of volunteers and put our heads together with one goal in mind: saving the fish."
The hatchery is the largest in the state, owned and operated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The roughly 10 million young salmon it releases each year in the Feather River and San Pablo Bay, near San Francisco, make up more than half of the annual ocean and inland catch in California.
An estimated 6 million Chinook salmon were immediately transported in tanker trucks to another state wildlife facility about 10 miles from the turgid river. But Kastner, staffers and a contingent of state fish pathologists and veterinarians feared they were losing a battle to maintain tanks safeguarding a bumper crop of steelhead eggs harvested from spawning fish earlier in the year. Aeration, filtration and cooling systems had been hobbled by sediment.
"Over the next two days, a group of very clever team members rigged together a mechanism to dechlorinate water from garden hoses," Kastner said. "But that wasn't sufficient to meet our needs - and time was running out. So, they next devised a larger aeration and filtration system and connected it to a fire hydrant on the property."
Elsewhere, shovel brigades clad in raincoats and galoshes scooped up tons of smelly mud and rescued dozens wriggling survivors in eight concrete rearing pools, each 10 feet wide and 600 feet long.
They were still at it on Friday. Among them was Larissa Van Der Linde, 31, a scientific aide with the Fish and Wildlife agency.
It's strenuous, filthy and seemingly endless labor, but Van Der Linde kept up the pace by reminding herself that, as she put it, "We're shoveling sludge and saving rare fish."
The hatchery is normally a placid place, the only sounds are the soothing flows of the Feather River. That has been replaced by the scraping of shovels on concrete. But to Kastner and her staff, that is an encouraging sound.
"We've got a lot of work ahead of us," she said. "But we've already accomplished great things: Most of our salmon and all of our steelhead eggs are safe."
Giving her exhausted shovelers an appreciative nod, she added, "Aren't they something wonderful?"

Northern California dam forced to use emergency spillway for first time as water tops capacity
From CNBC; CNBC News

OROVILLE, Calif. (AP) - The Latest on problems with an emergency spillway at the nation's tallest dam (all times local): 7:30 p.m. - Feb. 16
A report prepared for crews responding to damage at a Northern California dam suggests rain may have contributed to a massive crater in the main concrete spillway for Lake Oroville.
An "incident status summary" prepared by a CalFire official on Saturday says the spillway "was compromised during heavy rains." It says water was diverted toward the hillside next to the spillway, undermining the concrete structure and causing a portion to collapse.
The spillway damage caused a series of events that led authorities to order nearly 200,000 people to evacuate Sunday.
CalFire spokesman Richard Cordova says the document is an internal status update issued every 12 hours. It was first published by the Los Angeles Times on Thursday.
Cordova says complete cause of the damage is still unknown.

1 p.m.
Officials monitoring the stricken Oroville Dam in Northern California say they're confident the damaged spillway and eroded hillside can withstand approaching storms.
Department of Water Resources Acting Director Bill Croyle said Thursday that officials identified three areas where erosion caused the most concern about potential flooding.
He says one area has been 100 percent repaired, while the others were 25 percent and 69 percent fixed. Croyle says officials are reducing the amount of water released from the lake, but he still expects the level to continue falling through the duration of storms forecast in the coming days.
With less water flowing down the dam's spillway, officials hope to clear debris that threatens a hydroelectric power plant at the base of the dam.

12:10 p.m.
California officials are slowing the release of water from a lake behind the nation's tallest dam so crews can remove debris from the bottom of the structure's damaged spillway.
State Department of Water Resources officials said Thursday that removing debris protects Oroville Dam's power plant and will allow for it eventually to be restarted.
Officials had been releasing 100,000 cubic feet of water, or enough to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool, each second from the lake since Sunday, when the sheriff ordered an immediate evacuation. They didn't say how much water is now being released.
Department acting Director Bill Croyle said Wednesday that water managers would start dialing back the flow now that the lake has been reduced and can absorb runoff from storms expected over the next several days.

The emergency spillway at California's swollen Oroville Dam was activated Saturday, as water levels from heavy rains this week caused the reservoir to rise above its capacity during an unusually plentiful rain season.
Saturday marked the first time the emergency spillway has been used in the dam's 48-year history. Normally the dam would use its concrete-lined spillway to discharge water, but that primary channel is severely damaged. However, utilizing the emergency spillway - essentially an unlined hillside - is likely to send mud and other debris into the water of rivers and channels downstream.
The California Department of Water Resources said in a release that the "the volume of water is expected to pose no flood threat downstream, and should remain well within the capacity of Feather River and other channels to handle.
Even so, the state agency cautioned that "the rate of flow into the ungated emergency spillway may change quickly."
The use of the emergency spillway follows a series of so-called atmospheric river storms that have dropped huge amounts of rain into Northern CaliforniaŅa region tracking to have its wettest year ever recorded.
The mountains surrounding the Oroville Dam received between 10 and 20 inches of rain from Wednesday to Friday, according to the National Weather Service in Sacramento. The dam is located in the foothills of the western Sierra Nevada mountain range.
"This is tracking to be perhaps the wettest season in Northern California ever," DWR spokesman Doug Carlson said Friday. According to Carlson, the Northern California region as of Friday was at 228 percent of normal for this time year. This year's wet season, which began on October 1, is on track to be wetter than the 1982-83 season, which was the wettest.
Oroville Dam, the state's second-largest reservoir, suffered damage to its primary concrete-lined spillway due to erosion. The primary spillway was designed to divert rising water out of the dam, but damage to the channel was discovered Tuesday just as major storms were approaching.
"Oroville Dam itself remains safe, and there is no imminent threat to the public," DWR said Saturday. "DWR is coordinating closely with state and federal wildlife and dam safety officials at Oroville Dam."
The average annual rainfall in Northern California is 50 inches, based on data the state tracks going back to the 1920s. As of Saturday morning, the region was tracking at 68 inches of precipitation and trending higher than 1982-83 when the wet season produced a whopping 88.5 inches.
Late Friday, California Gov. Jerry Brown announced that he requested a presidential disaster declaration for the state. It comes after a series of damaging storms in January "that caused flooding, mudslides, erosion, power outages and damage to critical infrastructure across California."
In a letter to President Donald Trump, Brown said "preliminary assessments indicate the most severe impacts were to public infrastructure, including roads and bridges, flood and water control structures, and other public facilities."
The failure of the concrete base at Oroville Dam's primary spillway has put the spotlight on the state's aging infrastructure at a time when Trump is talking about increasing U.S. spending on infrastructure. Oroville Dam was dedicated in the late 1960s when Ronald Reagan was the state's governor.
Inflows into the Oroville reservoir - located about 70 miles north of Sacramento - were rising faster than outflows late Thursday as the storm system brought heavy rain to the Oroville area. And Friday it appeared the inflows were moderating from earlier levels.
Indeed, state officials Friday at a press conference indicated they were unlikely to use the emergency spillway since the damaged primary channel still was able to release sufficient water levels. Yet, things changed by Saturday as more water continued to flow into the reservoir as a result of the heavy rains.
The state began preparations Thursday to use the emergency spillway. The auxiliary outlet is designed to kick in automatically if the reservoir reaches the 901 feet elevation. As of 11pm on Friday the elevation stood at 899.16 feet according to the state's website. By Saturday morning at 7am the level was at 900.89 feet and rising, according to the DWR data website.
The emergency spillway was always considered a backstop option if the existing 3,000-foot-long spillway could not be utilized for outflows. Engineers were able to use the damaged spillway to a limited extent although water releases into damaged spillway caused further erosion of the channel.
The erosion to the Oroville Dam spillway was originally estimated to be a 200-foot-long strip, and about 30-foot depth. But by Friday the length of the erosion had grown by at least 50 percent due to more concrete crumbling.
Ahead of possible use of the emergency spillway, there were frantic efforts over the last few days, as teams worked to prepare the hillside for a deluge of water. Heavy earth-moving equipment was brought in and there were helicopters assisting with efforts on the ground.
Cal Fire crews cleared a hillside area near the dam's emergency spillway of trees, rocks and other debris to reduce potential debris flows downstream. Crews from the local power company, PG&E, removed several electrical lines and with the help of helicopters moved two transmission towers from the path of the emergency spillway.
Also, the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife on Thursday began to evacuate fish from a hatchery located downstream.

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