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California Drought: Warm Water, Limited Supply For Salmon Run


The California State Water Resources Control Board has temporarily suspended a Sacramento River management plan in order to protect a salmon run. The Board is expected to consider its next moves during its Tuesday meeting. 

The management plan regulates the release of water from state and federal projects, dams and reservoirs, so stream temperatures are cool enough for winter run Chinook salmon.

Current temperatures are warmer than expected. So the water releases are on hold.

In 2014, water released from Lake Shasta was too warm and caused a die off of incubating salmon eggs in the upper Sacramento River.

"We're happy that water managers are taking a slightly more protective, conservative approach in trying to protect salmon 'cause we can't afford to have another loss of salmon like we had in 2014,” said John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association.

He said in the fourth year of drought, managing limited water supplies for salmon requires hard choices.

McManus says the past two years, salmon hatchery managers trucked most of their migrating fall run salmon to the ocean.

But he said the ocean will be mostly empty of naturally spawned salmon that would return as adults in 2017 and 2018 because of the die off.

"Managers try and manage to save the cold water at the bottom for when its needed for salmon spawning, and we're hoping that they'll be enough there so we can have successful salmon spawning and see successive generations of salmon," said McManus.

He said the fishing industry is concerned that regulators could impose severe fishing restrictions, or even a closure of the salmon fishery, to protect the fishery.

McManus said salmon generates $1.4 billion a year in the California economy.