California salmon slip under the wire — High Country News
Five Dam Removal Project:
"State and federal funding is available"-- now that's a phrase we
haven't heard much lately in California. The bond freeze has crippled
programs across the state, and anyone who relies on government
grants--from social services to conservation groups -- is feeling the
But the Chinook salmon and steelhead population of Battle Creek, CA,
seems to have gotten a lucky break. As other conservation projects
stall, the Five Dam Removal Project will go forward, restoring 42
miles of navigable habitat along Battle Creek as well as 6 miles of
creek along its tributaries.
"We're lucky that everything is in place," says Sharon Paquin-Gilmore,
Coordinator of the Battle Creek Watershed Conservancy, a consortium
of local stakeholders. Although the group's other projects may be put
on hold, the Battle Creek project had all its bureaucratic t's crossed
before the economic calamity.
Rarely can anything regarding water in California be described as a
"win-win" situation, but in this case it is tempting to suspend
disbelief. After ten years of hard work and cooperation by the Greater
Battle Creek Watershed Working Group, which includes the Battle
Creek Watershed Conservancy, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Game, the
Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the National
Marine Fisheries service, and PG&E, regional Reclamation director Don
Glaser signed the Record of Decision, setting things in motion.
The first phase of the project, which will include installing fish
screens and ladders, removing Wildcat Diversion Dam, and installing
other infrastructure, could begin as early as this summer.
Perhaps the most surprising marriage of interests that brought this
project about was with the Municipal Water District of Southern
California. MWD supplied the grant which paid for the conservation
group's science consultant,the Washington-based consultant TerrAqua.
The science report helped secure the demolition of five dams, which
will increase flows to Southern California (admittedly a questionable
virtue) while simultaneously restoring almost half of what was once an
87 mile-long salmon and steelhead run.
What made this project successful? Lots and lots of meetings, says
Paquin-Gilmore. The Working Group was determined that the project be a
success not only for salmon restoration but for the community at
large. No one wanted to have to live with more regulations, and it was
also important to acknowledge the value of hydropower. The alternative
deemed most environmentally beneficial would have decommissioned six
dams, but they settled for five instead.
Over the ten-year process, she says, the main strategy was
education, bringing everybody together, and making sure that "views
and beliefs on all sides of the spectrum" were included. "We weren't
fisheries biologists or agency people," but the government "saw how
serious we were."
Paquin-Gilmore is especially grateful to Mary Marshall of the Bureau
of Reclamation for her hard work in getting the project approved.