MEMBER SPOTLIGHT – December 2018

  • by Pam Tobin and Eric Larrabee
  • Dec 19, 2018
  • Newsletters

Attendees at the combined Region 2 and Region 4 event in Nov. toured the ACWA member-agency RD 108’s Wallace Weir Fish Rescue Facility. Masks were made available due to the smoke from the Camp Fire.

Scientists, Farmers and Water Agencies Collaborate on Fishery Health

Last month, ACWA Region 2 and Region 4 joined forces to provide the latest example of the exceptional value of ACWA Region events by educating attendees about the powerful logic behind functional river flows and habitat restoration in enhancing the Bay-Delta’s salmon fishery. ACWA Region events bring together members to learn, share ideas, and strategize for the future. All the subjects we explore together ultimately benefit our districts and their customers.

Hosted by the Yolo County Flood Control & Water Conservation District in Woodland, the event attracted about 40 members of the ACWA community to Woodland. 

Titled “A Lesson in Functional Flow,” the event focused on workable alternatives to taking a percentage of unimpaired flows approach to restoring fishery health. This dovetailed with the broader debate over the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan, which includes proposed changes to minimum flow standards for the Lower San Joaquin River by the State Water Resources Control Board.

This comparison between a smolt raised in the Sacramento river, and a smolt reared in flooded ricefields, demonstrates how agricultural land can be used to duplicate historical floodplains and enhance salmon health. Courtesy of Dr. Jacob Katz of California Trout

Focusing on the bigger picture, the region event demonstrated how collaboration and science are delivering results. A morning panel moderated by Western Canal Water District Assistant General Manager Anjanette Shadley included Yuba Water Agency General Manager Curt Aikens, Water Forum Executive Director Tom Gohring and Northern California Water Association Legislative Affairs Director Adam Robin.

Gohring described how the Water Forum pioneered the concept of voluntary agreements, which offer a collaborative alternative to the state’s proposed flow regulations. The Water Forum Agreement includes Sacramento-area water districts, businesses, cities, counties and nonprofit groups such as environmental organizations. The Agreement, forged in 2000, employs seven elements to attain coequal objectives on the lower American River that preserve its fishery and meet the region’s water supply needs. The elements range from flow standards and habitat management to groundwater management and prescribed actions for dry years. Functional, or targeted flows, have proved valuable in successfully regulating water temperature through timed releases from Folsom Dam, Gohring said.

NCWA’s Robin delivered a presentation that illustrated how reactivating floodplains can work to restore the health of the Delta’s salmon runs. Experiments have shown that flooding rice fields and turning them into nurseries for salmon smolt can result in larger, healthier and more durable fish, greatly improving their chances for survival once they reach the Sacramento River and other Delta tributaries. On the human side, it requires collaboration across a wide spectrum of interests, including growers, water suppliers and state agencies, but can succeed as it already has through restoration work on the Sacramento River watershed’s Butte Creek.

“Functional flows allow us to think beyond the existing channels and to use all the opportunities that exist,” Robin said. “There’s a growing body of evidence that this is the way forward. … The current regulatory discussion will lead to a dead end and does not benefit the environment or water suppliers.”

Yuba Water’s Aikens outlined the Lower Yuba River Accord as another example of collaboration, one that celebrated its 10th year in existence earlier this year. The Accord struck an agreement between stakeholders such as local, state and federal agencies, in addition to nonprofits and environmental groups. 

Aikens said working toward a successful Accord required putting “all the water on the table” with signatories twice a month for six years to hammer out an agreement that struck a balance between enough water for fish and for water supply reliability. The Accord has since supported a healthy salmon and steelhead fishery. 

Following the presentation, attendees visited the Wallace Weir Fish Rescue Facility operated by ACWA member Reclamation District 108. The weir prevents adult salmon from swimming into a drainage ditch and also allows better control of farm drainage releases to avoid attracting salmon. Tour speakers included CalTrout Senior Scientist Jacob Katz, Department of Water Resources Lead Scientist Ted Sommer and UC Davis Center for Watershed Science Research Ecologist Carson Jeffres. The scientists outlined the success of field work dubbed Operation FATFISH, which you can learn more about at www.acwa.com/news/operation-fatfish/. 

The Region 2 and Region 4 event concluded a year of ACWA Region events that featured programs and tours hosted by all 10 ACWA regions. These events are just one of many ways our membership can interact between regions, share innovation, and learn more about their counterparts in other areas of the state. Our thanks go out to the Region 2 and Region 4 staff who made the Nov. 15 event both educational and enjoyable. To learn more about upcoming ACWA region events and registration information, visit www.acwa.com.


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