With California Salmonids Facing Extinction Crisis, Conservation Group IDs Top Five Dams to Remove in State

Jan. 30, 2019

As a follow up to California Trout’s 2017 SOS II report, new report calls out best opportunities for improving fish passage

In response to statewide fish extinction crisis, which indicates 74 percent of California’s native salmon, steelhead and trout species are likely to be extinct in the next century, the fish and watershed conservation non-profit organization California Trout (CalTrout) today released its list of the top five dams prime for removal in the golden state. The dams identified in the report were carefully selected: dams that provide the least benefit for people and caused the greatest hazards for imperiled native fish rose to the top.

“With the majority of California’s native salmonids at significant risk of extinction in the next 100 years, it’s imperative that we look for low-hanging fruit opportunities to improve conditions for fish, especially when we can do so without compromising public safety or water security for people,” said Curtis Knight, executive director of CalTrout. “The top five dams identified in the report provide only marginal value for people, while their removal would provide significant ecosystem and economic benefits.”

CalTrout’s Top Five California DAMS OUT Report is a natural next step to the organization’s 2017 State of the Salmonids II: Fish in Hot Water report, which was completed in partnership with UC Davis. That report detailed the status of 32 types of salmon, steelhead, and trout that are native to California and offered data about the threat of near-term extinction facing each of these fish populations. It also identified opportunities for stabilizing and even recovering many of the state’s native fish species. Restoring access to upstream habitat through efforts like dam removal is a priority action in the drive to prevent a mass extinction of California’s native fish.

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More than 1,400 dams block California rivers, creeks and streams. Many of these structures block access to salmon and steelhead spawning and rearing habitat. Studies have shown access to upstream habitat is critical for promoting self-sustaining populations of migratory fish. While a great number of the state’s dams provide critical water supply, flood control and hydroelectric power, many others have outlived their functional lifespan and could be removed without impacting human health and safety.

CalTrout’s Top Five California DAMS OUT

· Matilija Dam, Ventura River in Ojai

Built in 1947 for water storage and flood control, now essentially defunct due to excessive sedimentation. Widespread support for removal among locals and public agencies. Species to benefit: So. Calif. steelhead.

· Scott Dam, Eel River in Lake Co.

One of two dams in PG&E’s Potter Valley Project, which provides hydroelectricity, water storage and diversions into the Russian River. Pending FERC relicensing process likely to call for fish passage over dam, which would be cost prohibitive. Species to benefit: Calif. Coast Chinook salmon, So. Ore./No. Calif. Coast coho salmon, No. Calif. summer steelhead, No. Calif. winter steelhead.

· Searsville Dam, Corte Madera Creek/San Francisquito Creek watershed in Redwood City

Built in 1892, has lost over 90% of its original water storage capacity due to sedimentation. The dam does not provide potable water, flood control, or hydropower. Removal would allow steelhead to access historical spawning grounds. Species to benefit: Central Calif. Coast steelhead.

· Rindge Dam, Malibu Creek in Malibu

Located in Malibu Creek State Park about three miles upstream from the coastline, the concrete dam was completed in 1926 to provide water for irrigation and household use. The reservoir filled entirely with sediment by the 1940s. Removal would provide access to high-quality steelhead habitat. Species to benefit: So. Calif. steelhead.

· Klamath Dams (Iron Gate Dam, Copco Dam #1, Copco Dam #2) in Siskiyou Co.

Four aging hydroelectric dams, three of which are in California, block salmon and steelhead fish from reaching more than 300 miles of spawning and rearing habitat. Dam removal is now expected to proceed in 2021, pending a dam license transfer to the non-profit Klamath River Renewal Corporation. Species to benefit: So. Ore./No. Calif. Coast Chinook salmon, Upper Klamath-Trinity Rivers fall-run Chinook salmon, Upper Klamath-Trinity Rivers spring-run Chinook salmon, So. Ore./No. Calif. Coast coho salmon, Chum salmon, Klamath Mountains Province summer steelhead, and Klamath Mountains Province winter steelhead.

CalTrout identified these dams as ripe for removal by analyzing information found in several studies to assess the overall benefits that removal would present to native fish, water, and people. Every dam considered for inclusion in the list blocks access to habitat for salmon and steelhead species listed as critical or of high concern in the State of Salmonids II report. These dams also no longer serve the purpose for which they were built and, in some cases, may now pose a public safety threat. Dams that currently provide flood control or water supply for people were not considered for inclusion in the list, nor were any dams that are part of the State Water Project or federal Central Valley Project due to their vital role in securing water for residents throughout the state.

“CalTrout’s priority is always to find a middle ground that protects the water needs of people while improving conditions for native salmon, steelhead and trout where possible,” continued Knight. “Removing these five dams would be a significant step in the right direction for imperiled native fish without having a significant impact on people. It would also be a step in the right direction for the overall health of our watersheds, which is especially important in this era of climate change.”

You can read the full report here. Contact Nina Erlich-Williams at [email protected] or 510-336-9566 to arrange interviews with a representative from California Trout.

California Trout is a non-profit conservation and advocacy organization that is dedicated to solving California’s complex resource issues while balancing the needs of wild fish and people. The organization focuses on science-based, scalable solutions to California’s most complex water management challenges. CalTrout has six regional offices throughout the state with headquarters in San Francisco.

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