Operation FATFISH

  • by Dave Eggerton
  • Nov 26, 2018
  • Voices on Water

A recent ACWA event jointly hosted by Region 2 and Region 4 vividly illustrated the value behind functional flows and science-based solutions for the Bay-Delta’s salmon population.

Just north of Sacramento, a 19-member partnership between growers, nonprofits, water districts, and state and federal agencies plans to flood agricultural land and connect it through waterways to the Yolo Bypass and Sacramento River. This collaborative effort is the Fish Food on Floodplain Farm Fields Project, which aims to recreate seasonal floodplains that once transformed much of the Sacramento Valley into a vast freshwater inland sea providing critical habitat for fish and wildlife.

A modern-day experiment proved how we can continue to recreate those historic floodplains and restore healthy salmon populations. Scientists named it Operation FATFISH, which stands for Flooding Agricultural Tracts For Improved Salmon Habitat. They compared salmon smolt reared in flooded agricultural land with smolt of the same age in the river channel. The results were stunning, as seen in this photograph from partnership member CalTrout. Smolt taken from the floodplain were twice the length and more than double in girth than the river smolt. The scientists nicknamed them “Floodplain Fatties,” and they owed their plump looks to slow-moving water rich with insect life nurtured by decaying rice straw. Sheeted across hundreds of acres, the floodwaters had acted as a giant solar panel that transferred energy into the habitat to grow bugs and feed fish.

Scientists then analyzed how specifically timed reservoir releases upstream pushed food-rich floodplain water down into the Sacramento River channel within its armored banks, where smolts are typically starved for nutrients, over-exposed to predators and ill-equipped for life in the ocean. These functional, or “pulsed,” flows created a measurable wave of plankton that washed downstream and into the Bay-Delta. If we can implement this tactic on a widespread scale, we can help grow healthy salmon smolt that have a chance against predators and that can survive long enough to make it to the Pacific.

A video shown during the Region 2 and 4 event envisions how this can work. Produced by River Garden Farms and available through the Northern California Water Association – both members of the partnership mentioned above – it encapsulates the potential behind this approach. The concept behind this video presents an alternative to Bay-Delta ecosystem restoration that some reflexively disregard in favor of using set percentages of unimpaired flows. It’s an example of a scalable solution that could be considered on Dec. 11 in place of the State Water Resources Control Board proposed Bay-Delta Plan update.

The State Water Board’s current proposed update is to mandate a percentage of unimpaired flows by further limiting water for agricultural and urban use. In theory, this would mimic the natural hydrology as it existed 150 years ago when the Bay-Delta supported an abundant fishery. But the problem is, inflexible regulations with prescribed times and set percentages of flows ignore a rapidly changing reality on the ground and in the river. The levies, the cities and farmland that have long since replaced the marshes and tidal estuary are not going away. The mostly channelized rivers, particularly the Sacramento River, no longer resemble the natural riverine environment of the mid-19th century. But there are a number of non-flow measures, such as habitat restoration, that are critical to species survival, and these measures are working. The ability to reintegrate the floodplain through agricultural land with flexible, timed, functional flows is an important tool.

It will take a lot of tools to build a Bay-Delta solution, but we’ll have to think outside the river banks to find them. That will require collaboration between everyone with a stake in the Bay-Delta ecosystem, which is virtually the entire state. Fortunately, we have examples supported by measurable proof of how this works right in front of us through the Fish Food on Floodplain Farm Fields Project and Operation FATFISH.

 

Suggested Resources

15 RESOURCES prev next
Energy and Water Resources Policy Principles – Adopted Jan. 2019

In January 2019, ACWA released its updated policy principles on “Energy and Water Resources” in California. The updated principles will help […]

Comment Letter – Options for Implementation of a Statewide Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Program

Agency: California State Water Resources Control Board Subject: Options for Implementation of a Statewide Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Program Letter excerpt:  […]

2019 Legislative Outreach Toolkit

To assist  members in communicating and engaging with their legislative representatives, ACWA has published a 2019 Legislative Outreach Toolkit. Toolkit […]

Comment Letter on the California Water Plan Update 2018, Public Review Draft

Agency: California Department of Water Resources Subject: California Water Plan Update 2018, Public Review Draft Letter excerpt:  Dear Mr. Massera: The Association […]

Coalition Letter on Water Infrastructure Investment Needs

Sorry, but only ACWA members have permission to view this content. Member login is required.

Coalition Letter on Proposed Public Health Goals for Trihalomethanes in Drinking Water

Agency: Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment Subject: Proposed Public Health Goals for Trihalomethanes in Drinking Water Letter excerpt:  The Association of […]

Coalition Letter on Public Comment Period for Draft Technical Support Document for the Proposed PHGs for THMs

Agency: Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment Subject: Public Comment Period for Draft Technical Support Document for the Proposed PHGs for […]

January 2019 Federal Regulatory Issues Chart

ACWA’s January 2019 Federal Regulatory Chart, is now available. This chart details the status of federal regulatory issues being tracked by […]

Joint Comment Letter on Toxicity Provisions

Sorry, but only ACWA members have permission to view this content. Member login is required.

Comments on Nutria Removal Program in Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta

Sorry, but only ACWA members have permission to view this content. Member login is required.

2019 ACWA Scholarships Toolkit

To assist  members in promoting available ACWA scholarship opportunities, the association has updated its Scholarships Toolkit for the 2019-’20 academic […]

Comments on Prop 1 IRWM Implementation Draft Guidelines

Agency: California Department of Water Resources Subject: Proposition 1 IRWM Implementation Draft Guidelines and Proposal Solicitation Package Letter excerpt:  The Association of […]

Extend California Title of WIIN Act

Letter excerpt: Dear Speaker Ryan and Minority Leader Pelosi: The Association of California Water Agencies urges you to extend the […]

ACWA 2018 Fall Conference Presentations

Presentations from ACWA’s 2018 Fall Conference & Exhibition held Nov. 27-30 in San Diego are available below. Please note that […]

2018 Summary of Legislation

ACWA’s 2018 Summary of Legislation provides concise information on legislation enacted in the second year of the 2017-’18 legislative session that […]

Suggested News

15 Articles prev next
Reclamation Announces Initial Water Supply Allocation for Central Valley Project

The Bureau of Reclamation today announced the initial 2019 water supply allocation for Central Valley Project water service contractors. This […]

San Diego County Water Authority Welcomes New Director of Water Resources

Kelley Gage joined the Water Authority in October 2018, after serving as a senior executive at Eastern Municipal Water District […]

Raise a Toast! Water Authority Declares February as San Diego Brewing Month

Recognizing the growing significance of the region’s craft beer and coffee roasting industries, the San Diego County Water Authority’s Board […]

New Directors Join San Diego County Water Authority Board

The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors welcomed four new members in early 2019: Almis Udrys, representing the […]

State Water Board Releases Draft Report on Statewide Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Program

Last month, the State Water Resources Control Board released its draft report “Options for Implementation of a Statewide Water Rate […]

ACWA Board Adopts Updated Energy Policy Principles

In January, the ACWA Board of Directors approved updated Energy and Water Resources Policy Principles. One of ACWA’s policy-related priorities […]

CVWD Expands Assistance Program For Customers

Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) has expanded a customer assistance program to help during times of natural disasters, government shutdowns […]

Federal Agencies Publish Revised Rule on Waters of the United States

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps (Army) on Feb. 14 published their revised rule on the definition […]

Governor Names Joaquin Esquivel Chair of State Water Board; Laurel Firestone Also Appointed

Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced the designation of Joaquin Esquivel as Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board. Newsom […]

ACWA Comments on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s State of State Address

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | Feb. 12, 2019 Contact: Heather Engel, Director of Communications | (916) 441-4545 | C (760) 217-0627 SACRAMENTO […]

DWR Finalizes Groundwater Basin Boundary Modifications under SGMA

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) on Feb. 11 announced final decisions for groundwater basin boundary modifications requested by […]

Upper District Presents Water Education Grants to K-12 Grade Schools

MONROVIA – The Board of Directors of the Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District (Upper District) awarded 16 education […]

Little Hoover Commission Releases 2017-2018 Report

The Little Hoover Commission on Feb. 7 released the 2017-2018 edition of its biennial Economy and Efficiency Report, which includes […]

ACWA/CMUA Safe Drinking Water Trust Proposal Gains Support at Assembly Joint Informational Hearing

The California State Assembly hosted a joint informational hearing today on the topic of Safe and Affordable Drinking Water and […]

Water Education Grants Make Classroom Dreams a Reality

Western Municipal Water District provides funding of $14k to Riverside County Teachers for Water Related Projects RIVERSIDE – Nineteen Riverside […]