Sacramento Far From Flood Safety

Sadly, due to a decades-long failure of public leadership to build Auburn Dam which would provide Sacramento the Gold Standard of 400/500-year level protection—see our report on Auburn Dam on our website—Sacramento remains vulnerable to massive floods, as reported in this story from the Sacramento Bee.

An excerpt from the Bee article.

Taxpayers have spent billions of dollars on dams, levees and bypasses to keep Sacramento and other Central Valley towns and cities from flooding, but experts say the infrastructure would prove no match for a megastorm like the one that pummeled Houston this week.

“It’s still going to flood some day,” said Jeffrey Mount, a watershed expert with the Public Policy Institute of California. “There’s still going to be that rare large event, which will overwhelm us. Houston is the reminder that you cannot engineer your way out of flooding.”

Flood control officials in Houston say Hurricane Harvey has caused at least a 500-year flood, meaning it beat the 0.2 percent odds of that much rain falling at one time. Nearly 52 inches dumped on Houston in four days, according to the National Weather Service. That’s the most ever recorded for a single storm in the continental U.S., and about what Sacramento usually receives over a three-year period.

Could such a megastorm happen here? It would be bigger by far than any ever recorded, but experts say climate change is making what were once considered impossible storms more likely.

And like Houston, whose infrastructure was rated for 100-year-flood protection (a 1 in 100 chance of flooding in a given year), a megastorm of that size would almost certainly overwhelm the Sacramento region’s flood-control defenses.

Much of the Central Valley still lacks 100-year-flood protection, and many of the rural areas have levees that are only rated for 50-year floods, said Joe Countryman, a retired U.S. Army Corps engineer who sits on the Central Valley Flood Protection Board.

After Hurricane Katrina, the Legislature in 2007 ordered California’s urban areas to be protected from a 200-year flood. Levee upgrades and other flood-protection improvements are underway to meet that goal in Sacramento, but they’re still years away from completion.

When finished, the upgrades should prove more than adequate to protect Sacramento from the largest floods ever recorded, but the region’s flood protection system still wouldn’t withstand a storm like Harvey, Countryman said.

“If it happens, there’s going to be devastation,” he said. “If we get a 500-year flood on the American River, there’s going to be huge amount of damage in Sacramento.”

Posted in ARPPS, Shasta Auburn Dam

More Money for Flood Protection

That’s the suggestion from this new report noted by Capital Public Radio.

An excerpt.

Tropical Storm Harvey has dumped 15 trillion gallons of water on southeastern Texas. Scientists warn that with climate change, future storms will be wetter and more intense – that includes in California. The state will see more rain than snow, straining an aging Central Valley flood protection system.

“From a cost perspective, we’re talking about having more water move through our systems earlier in the season, and in a shorter time period, which has really significant fiscal impacts on how we would manage the system and what we would design to handle those flows,” says Mike Mierzwa, lead flood management planner with the California Department of Water Resources.

A new plan, approved last week by the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, recommends the state invest more than $20 billion over the next 30 years to protect people from flooding.

Mierzwa, who grew up in Houston, says he thought the city was well-prepared because officials had been investing in flood control for decades.

“When this finally recedes and they move into recovery operations and the aftermath, they’re going to find that everything they had spent, wasn’t enough. And they’re going to want to spend and do more in the future,” he says. “I think we’re going to want to do the same.”

Posted in Shasta Auburn Dam

Info and Map about New Mountain Biking Trail in Parkway

This was one of the issues we supported very early on, allowing all Parkway users an opportunity to use the Parkway in the way they see fit, as long as it’s safe and not interfering with others Parkway use and this project satisfies that easily.

Map and info from Sac County News.

An excerpt.

On September 8th, the Sacramento County Department of Regional Parks will open the Off-Paved Trail Cycling Pilot Program in the ​Woodlake and Cal Expo areas of the American River Parkway. Mountain bikers will be allowed to ride six miles of unpaved maintenance and fire roads in these areas during a trial period from September 2017 to 2020. Mountain biking remains prohibited throughout the American River Parkway outside of the Woodlake and Cal Expo areas.

The planning for the pilot program began with a public workshop with the American River Parkway Advisory Committee that received public comment and discussion in February 2016. Through a series of public meetings, an implementation and monitoring plan was developed.​

The purpose of the pilot is to determine whether Off-Paved Trail Cycling can be an appropriate permanent use in the American River Parkway. After the three year trial period and evaluation, this pilot program may be made a permanent use with an Area Plan Map Amendment approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Pilot trail map:

Trail Rules:

  • ​Communicate your presence
  • Cyclists and hikers yield to equestrians
  • Stay on designated trails
  • Building features on​ trails is prohibited
  • No riding on wet trails
  • Obey all signs and barriers
  • Off-paved cycling is prohibited in the Parkway outside of the Woodlake and Cal Expo areas
Posted in ARPPS

American River Polluted

The title of this article in the Sacramento Bee asks if the homeless camps are to blame, and all who have kept up on this situation can reply with a resounding Yes! as the level of trash and human waste is, and has been for decades, very high due to the hundreds of illegal campers.

An excerpt.

Levels of E. coli bacteria found in the lower American River exceed the federal threshold for safe recreational use, in part due to human waste from homeless camps, state regulators say.

The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board has proposed adding the bacteria to a list of pollutants that make the lower American River a federally designated impaired water body. A state board is expected to sign off on the decision later this year and ask for final approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

  1. coli can sicken and even kill people who swim in or drink contaminated water. State regulators say they’re not aware of anyone who has been sickened by E. coli in the the lower American River, but nearly a decade of test data indicate the risk of exposure.

“It should give people some discomfort about using the water – it’s not good,” said Ron Stork of Friends of the River.

A report summarizing test results from 2007 to 2014 found average levels of E. coli at three sites that were higher than the EPA standard, “beyond which the water body is not recommended for recreation.” The three sites are in the westernmost section of the American River Parkway, near downtown Sacramento, where the highest concentration of homeless camps are set up.

Seventeen of the 25 test sites had at least one recording in excess of the federal threshold, according to the “Safe-to-Swim Assessment.”

Thousands of people use the lower American River each year, from the boaters who launch at Discovery Park, to the swimmers who enjoy the beach at Sutter’s Landing Regional Park, to the triathletes who participate in Eppie’s Great Race.

“My concern is that it could make me sick,” said Alex McDonald, who was sitting in the water with his wife at Sutter’s Landing last week. “I would like to know more.”

The Regional Water Quality Control Board is still investigating the exact causes of E. coli pollution, but clearly it comes from animal and human waste, including from the homeless camps along the lower American River between the Nimbus Dam and the Sacramento River, said Andrew Altevogt, assistant executive officer.

Placing a pollutant on the federal list gives the state greater authority to regulate it. In the case of E. coli, that would typically mean restricting wastewater discharges, Altevogt said.

But the lower American River doesn’t receive any sewer discharge. The likely sources of the E. coli are homeless campers, recreational users of the river and birds, Altevogt said.

“This is a bit of an unusual situation,” he said.

If bacteria on the lower American becomes a federally designated pollutant, the state could set limits on how much could be discharged into the river, Altevogt said.

Posted in Environmentalism, Homelessness

Homeless Taking Over L.A.?

Some would say this is Sacramento’s future, while others say it is already, while the truth is somewhere in between but too far to the latter to reassure us.

An excerpt from this scary article from Los Angeles Daily News.

Amid rising homelessness and mounting outcry from residents and business owners, a Los Angeles city councilman said Wednesday he wants to take a hard look at the way the city responds to the increasing presence of encampments and recreational vehicles.

“What we have isn’t working,” Councilman Mitchell Englander said.

In recent months, the issue of homelessness has become inescapable, with residents encountering more homelessness in their neighborhoods, according to the councilman, who represents the northwest San Fernando Valley.

“There’s not a conversation I have — whether it’s fixing a street, trimming a tree, walking to school or going to a grocery store — where we don’t talk about homelessness,” he said.

Out of Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino’s office: “Ditto,” said spokesman Branimir Kvartuc.

“We’re very, very conscious of it,” Kvartuc said. “It’s a battle every day.”

Englander also has been hearing concerns from city officials tasked with enforcing rules around encampments and recreational vehicles, he said.

Posted in Homelessness

American River Salmon

A very informative article from the California Sport Fishing Blog about our local salmon.

An excerpt.

The American River is one of the larger tributaries of the Sacramento River (Figure 1). Its watershed runs from the central Sierra Nevada range, from which it runs through the city of Sacramento to join the Sacramento River. The American River’s lower 20 miles are a tailwater of the Central Valley Project’s Folsom Dam. This tailwater supports a major run of fall-run Chinook salmon that produces 15-20% of the total Central Valley fall-run Chinook salmon population.

American river run size (adult escapement) has ranged from 6,000 in 2008 to 178,000 in 2003 (Figure 2). The CVPIA long-term average goal for the American River fall-run is a contribution of 160,000 adult fish to the overall goal of 750,000 for the Central Valley. Many of the American River spawners are from the American’s Nimbus hatchery, or are strays from other Valley hatcheries. However, a large part of the run spawns naturally in the upper ten miles of the lower American River below Nimbus dam within Sacramento County’s urban parkway. The hatched fry of natural spawners rear by the millions in the lower river and in the Delta. Each spring, about 5 million Nimbus hatchery smolts are trucked to the Delta or Bay and released.

The American River fall run is often considered a hatchery run, with the 20 miles of river described as a mere conduit to the hatchery. The hatchery smolts are nearly always trucked to the Bay or lower Delta because of the high potential risk from water diversions or predation in the river or the upper Delta. Trucked and Bay pen-acclimated hatchery smolts generally have a relatively high survival-contribution rate and low straying rate compared to other Central Valley hatchery tagged fish.1

Brown 2006 reviewed the status of the American River population during its peak 2000-2005 runs. He attributed the strong runs to a variety of improvements at the hatchery:

  • Changes in fish ladder operations to bring fish into the hatchery later in the fall to minimize temperature problems.
  • Change in egg incubation and size at release (to all smolts).
  • Elimination or control of early disease problems with the help of DFG pathologists.
  • Elimination of most bird depredation within the hatchery through deployment of exclusion nets over the raceways.
  • Change in the DFG approach to hatchery operations since 1999 when the National rine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) urged DFG to adopt standard operating procedures.
  • Change in release location to San Pablo Bay and change in the method of release to net pens in place of direct releases from the transport trucks to the Bay.

Others offered additional reasons for the improvement in the fall Chinook runs in the Central Valley, including the following:

  • Gravel and rearing enhancement (enhancements to spawning and rearing habitat had occurred under the CVPIA Program).
  • Better hatchery practices (mentioned above)
  • Good ocean conditions
  • Reduced ocean fisheries
  • Better instream conditions (1995-2000 were wet years)
  • Some combination of the above
Posted in Hatcheries

Salmon, Innovative Ideas

Hakai Magazine provides information on two very innovative ideas—one in flooding farmland and one in hatcheries—in this article.

An excerpt.

California, land of almonds, avocados, and Arnold. But beyond its famous edibles and a celebrity governor, California, like its Pacific Northwest neighbors, is also a salmon state. At least, it will be again if salmon advocates have their way.

In the state’s Central Valley, researchers Jacob Katz and Carson Jeffres have spent the past seven winters along the Sacramento River. They have slogged through muddy fields and marshes, netted fish, tagged some with tracking devices, and released them into the water. Katz is a biologist with the nonprofit organization California Trout, and Jeffres is an ecologist with the University of California, Davis. The duo has been gathering evidence to rationalize making a fundamental change to California cropland.

They believe that by carving notches into several key levees and allowing the Sacramento River to routinely flood the surrounding farmland, they can re-create essential natural habitat for the river’s wild chinook salmon, which have plunged from historical levels. Biologists believe between one and two million adult chinook once spawned every year in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, which merge several kilometers inland of San Francisco. Dams and levees, which channel rivers and prevent natural flooding cycles, and diversion of rivers into farmland, have drastically reduced the chinook population. Today’s spawning returns number several hundred thousand at best. But Katz and Jeffres believe restoring the Central Valley’s floodplains will bring back the fish.

Through several years of research, the pair has found that cropland inundated for just a few weeks with river water becomes ideal habitat for juvenile salmon. As Katz describes it, large areas covered with shallow water function like a solar panel: sunlight hits the water, which then explodes with phytoplankton and invertebrate life. Finger-sized fish migrating toward the sea feast and grow fat on such floodplains. They also find refuge from predators, and their odds of reaching salt water improve, Katz says. “We lose this when we confine rivers between levees.”

Employing agricultural land as habitat represents a critical conservation challenge of the 21st century. “Integrating the human footprint with functioning ecosystems is how we have to move forward,” Jeffres says.

It sounds like a progressive, ecologically sound habitat restoration story, backed by organizations that can make it happen.

But there is a fundamental flaw in the plan: hatchery fish. A half-dozen Central Valley hatcheries capture adult chinook that have returned to the river system to spawn and manually combine their eggs and sperm in trays. Each year, these facilities release about 30 million young salmon into the wild, often trucking them to the ocean to boost their odds of survival.

It’s been a lifeline for California’s salmon fishery. But while hatcheries seem to be a fix in the short run, biologists warn they’re affecting the entire salmon population in profound ways. The underlying problem with hatcheries is that they have genetically altered salmon by rearing them, if only briefly, in an environment lacking natural selection forces.

“This basically creates a domesticated animal adapted to living in artificial environments, but not in the wild,” says fish biologist Peter Moyle at the University of California, Davis.

Because hatchery fish that reach adulthood pair up with wild salmon at spawning time, they compromise the genetics and fitness levels of the entire population, Moyle explains.

Hatcheries also tend to genetically homogenize salmon runs into populations of clone-like individuals with limited behavioral diversity—a direct result of low genetic diversity. This makes them more vulnerable to adverse environmental conditions. For example, a few months after birth, hatchery fish tend to migrate out to sea all at once, rather than across a larger timespan as wild fish do.

This had serious consequences about a decade ago, when a period of weakened ocean upwelling meant a shortage of phytoplankton and krill—food for baby salmon. So, when millions of hatchery-born chinook smolts reached the sea more or less in unison, they starved, and virtually the entire population was lost several years in a row. The runs crashed, bottoming out in 2009 and causing the first-ever emergency fishing moratorium that lasted for two years.

The Central Valley’s chinook have rebounded thanks to better ocean conditions in recent years. However, degraded habitat remains a problem. So do hatchery fish, which far outnumber naturally born salmon and continue to threaten the viability of wild populations.

Hatcheries can cause other problems, too. Recently published research describes how hatchery salmon have overwhelmed small coastal streams in southeastern Alaska, depleting oxygen in the water and increasing the risk of death.

Moyle says survival rates of Central Valley hatchery chinook are declining. Eventually, so few fish will reach spawning age that hatcheries that rely on their sperm and eggs will be unable to continue operating.

But not all hatcheries are the same. So-called “conservation hatcheries” focus on carefully selecting broodstock and, through sophisticated systems, attempt to mimic natural selection processes on the juveniles. Brett Galyean, manager of northern California’s Livingston Stone National Fish Hatchery, says his facility’s staff go to great lengths to avoid inbreeding the Sacramento River’s winter-run chinook, which are nearly extinct.

“We get a genetic ID on every fish, and as we spawn them we can look at the spreadsheet and make sure we aren’t spawning related salmon,” Galyean says, describing a meticulous process meant to maintain this distinct population of chinook that has nearly vanished at least twice in recent history.

Moyle says it will take a combination of sophisticated hatchery programs, like Livingston Stone’s, and habitat restoration efforts, like that of Katz and Jeffres, to maintain salmon runs in California’s future.

Posted in Hatcheries