Salmon Move Into Nimbus Hatchery As Folsom Lake Reaches Record Low Level

By Dan Bacher | November 18, 2015 |

(Rancho Cordova) Nimbus Fish Hatchery workers have counted a total of 2,765 fall-run Chinook salmon, including 789 jacks and jills (two-year-old fish), at the facility since the salmon ladder opened Monday, Nov. 2 

Photo by Dan Bacher. 
Considering the low flows of 500 cfs, this return is surprisingly good. Last year at this time the hatchery staff had counted approximately 2950 salmon, including 350 jacks and jills.

The other good news is that the water temperature on the river has cooled down 5 to 7 degrees over one week. 

“The water temperature has gone down to 55 to 57 degrees, depending on which gauge you go by,” said Gary Novak, hatchery manager. “That’s phenomenal; last year the water temperature didn’t cool down to this temperature until the middle of November.” 

The hatchery has spawned salmon three times to date. Novak noted that many of the fish at the facility are still “green,” not ready for spawning yet. 

The 300,000 juvenile steelhead that will be released into the river system next February have also returned to the hatchery, after spending the summer at the Feather River Fish Hatchery in Oroville, due to high water temperatures at Nimbus. 

A record low number of Central Valley steelhead, listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, returned to the American River in January, February and March of 2015 and December of 2014. Only 143 adult steelhead returned to Nimbus Fish Hatchery during this time. In good years, the hatchery has trapped between 2000 and 4000 adult steelhead. 

Folsom Lake is currently at a record low level of 139,982 acre feet of water, only 14 percent of capacity and 29 percent of average. The water level is 350.16 feet above sea level, 115.84 feet from maximum pool. 

Over the last three years of drought, the Bureau of Reclamation and California Department of Water Resources systematically drained Folsom Lake on the American River, Lake Oroville on the Feather River, Lake Shasta on the Sacramento River and Trinity River on the Trinity River to export water to corporate agribusiness interests on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, Southern California water agencies and oil companies conducting fracking and other extreme oil extraction methods in Kern County. 

Because of mismanagement of the Central Valley and Trinity River reservoirs and the Delta during the drought, Sacramento winter-run Chinook salmon, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other imperiled fish species are getting closer and closer to the dark abyss of extinction. If preliminary figures released by the National Marine Fisheries Service in late October are confirmed, this would be the second year in a row that nearly all of the juvenile winter-run Chinook salmon perished in lethally warm water conditions on the Sacramento River, due to the over-appropriation of water to agribusiness. 

Other fish species have also declined dramatically, due to massive water exports from the Delta and mismanagement of the reservoirs. The fall midwater trawls surveys conducted annually by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife show that population indices of Delta smelt, striped bass, longfin smelt, threadfin shad, American shad and Sacramento splittail have declined 97.80%, 99.70%, 99.98%, 97.80%, 91.90%, and 98.50%, respectively, between 1967 and 2014, according to Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA). 

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