Comments to State Water Board on Federal Plans to Overheat Upper Sacramento River

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May 11, 2020

Eileen Sobeck
Executive Director
State Water Resources Control Board 1001 I Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

Sent Via Email to:

RE: Request that the State Water Resources Control Board Reject the Bureau of Reclamation’s draft Temperature Management Plan for Shasta Dam under Water Rights Order 90-5

Dear Ms. Sobeck:

On behalf of the Golden State Salmon Association, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and the institute for Fisheries Resources, we are writing to urge the State Water Resources Control Board (“Board”) to reject the Bureau of Reclamation’s draft Temperature Management Plan for Shasta Dam (“Draft Plan”) pursuant to Water Rights Order 90-5. The Board should reject the Draft Plan because it fails to provide reasonable protection for fish and wildlife, and because Reclamation has failed to demonstrate that factors beyond its control preclude compliance with Order 90-5 at a location further downstream that would better protect salmon. The Board’s obligations under Order 90-5 are not limited to complying with the minimum requirements of the state and federal Endangered Species Acts, but instead it requires stronger protections for fish and wildlife, including species that are not listed under the Acts, such as fall-run Chinook salmon. As a result, the Board should require Reclamation to adopt more protective operations, which limits temperature-dependent mortality of endangered winter-run Chinook salmon to less than 12 percent this year and provides reasonable protection to spring-run and fall-run Chinook salmon that spawn later in the year than winter-run.

The state board is the only state agency with the authority to require flow and temperature protections for fall-run chinook salmon. This is the non-ESA listed run that the California and Oregon salmon fisheries depend on. In particular, $1.4 billion in annual revenue and 23,000 salmon fishing jobs rely on GSSA, PCFFA and IFR Comments Regarding Reclamation’s Draft 2020 Sac. River Temperature Mgt. Plan May 11, 2020

a healthy Sacramento River basin fall-run. The commercial and recreational salmon fishing industry is a beneficial use that the Board must protect.

The Board should scrutinize reclamation’s proposal carefully. Poor management of the CVP is a major reason why the California salmon fishery was closed down in 2008-2009. In particular, poor management of Shasta Dam was responsible for a massive temperature-driven fish kill in 2014 and 2015, as documented by both NMFS and CDFW. During those years, as many as 95%-97% of wild spawning winter-run and fall-run died before they emerged from the gravel or travelled as far down river as red bluff. During those two years, inaccurate Reclamation models projected better conditions than were experienced “on the ground”. The Board has acknowledged that the management of Shasta Dam during the last drought was a failure. We urge the Board to learn from that failure, to scrutinize Reclamation’s draft plan carefully, to reject it and to require stronger protections.

Order 90-5, which was adopted by the Board in 1990, requires Reclamation to achieve daily average water temperatures of 56 degrees Fahrenheit at Red Bluff Diversion Dam whenever warmer water temperatures would harm salmon and other fish. The Order also allows Reclamation to petition the Board to change this requirement in any year if factors beyond Reclamation’s control prevent Reclamation from achieving this 56 degrees Fahrenheit requirement, and instead allow Reclamation to meet 56 degrees daily average temperatures in a different reach that is within Reclamation’s reasonable control. See Order 90-5 at 20.

While inflow to Shasta in 2020 has been very low, Reclamation also began the year with maximum water storage behind Shasta Dam. Reclamation has the ability to provide better water temperatures and reduced mortality of endangered salmon, but instead chose to “maximize water deliveries.” The level of temperature-dependent mortality predicted this year is unreasonable, particularly given this level of water storage at the beginning of the year. Moreover, Reclamation’s proposed operations would greatly reduce carryover storage in Shasta, leaving California vulnerable if 2021 is also dry. The Board should reject Reclamation’s proposal because it fails to provide reasonable protection for fish and wildlife, and because Reclamation has failed to demonstrate that more protective operations are not within its reasonable control.

I. The Draft Plan Fails to Provide Reasonable Protection of Winter-Run Chinook Salmon in the Sacramento River

First, Reclamation’s Draft Plan estimates that it will kill 27-28% of the critically endangered winter-run Chinook salmon this year as a result of temperature dependent mortality, because Reclamation’s proposed operations result in water temperatures in the Sacramento River that far exceed scientifically sound thresholds. See Draft Plan at 5. This level of mortality fails to provide reasonable protection for fish and wildlife; indeed, killing 27-28% of the species this year due to temperature dependent mortality far exceeds the level of mortality that the National Marine Fisheries Service has concluded would jeopardize the continued existence of winter-run Chinook salmon, in violation of the Endangered Species Act. For instance, in 2017 NMFS proposed, as part of an amendment to the 2009 biological opinion, that Reclamation’s operations should limit temperature dependent mortality of winter-run salmon…