Caltrans Gives Frugal Parkers A Break On Highway 49

State Parks officials say traffic and pedestrian safety is an emerging issue at one of the last free parking areas at the American River confluence in the Auburn State Recreation area.

But Caltrans has looked into concerns and is citing a lack of crashes or pedestrian injuries along Highway 49, just past the American Riverbridge on the El Dorado County side, as reason enough not to change current parking conditions.

The right-hand shoulder leading out of the canyon toward Cool fills with vehicles on weekends and holidays, if the weather is good, for outdoor recreation.

Even on a coolish, winter day like Tuesday, about a dozen were parked there while areas on thePlacer County side, where parking costs $10, were nearly empty. There are no signs directing parking or pedestrians and some vehicles were backed in while others were parallel parked.

Supervising Ranger Scott Liske said that more and more autos are parking along Highway 49 up from the bridge heading south for about 250 yards. On busy days, it’s not unusual to see 70 cars parked there, he said.

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Dike Failure Worries Prompt Major Repairs Near Folsom Lake

Concerns about a dike failing near Folsom Lake have the Bureau of Reclamation preparing to make major repairs.

Sean Glavin loves connecting with nature on his mountain bike near Folsom Lake. He’s one of countless people biking, hiking and boating in the area on a daily basis.

But federal officials have concerns for a heavily traveled road near the lake. The asphalt on top of Dike 1 needs to be fixed immediately, says Kyle Keer with the bureau.

“We are trying to tighten up and control the seepage right now,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is make sure is this is not a weak link in system.”

The feds say they’re going to cut the risk of the road collapsing or buckling up above by constructing a new filter and drain to keep any water seeping through the dike from eroding the soil.

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Steelhead Numbers Alarmingly Low At American River Hatchery

The upper section of the American River that has been closed to fishing since Nov. 1 reopened to steelhead fishing on Jan. 1, but the outlook for the fishing is not very promising, based on a very low fish count to date at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery.

This stretch of river is from the U.S. Geological Survey gauging station cable crossing about 300 yards downstream from the Nimbus Hatchery fish rack site to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) power line crossing at the southwest boundary of Ancil Hoffman Park.

Only 10 adult steelhead were reported at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery as of Dec. 29, an alarmingly low number for this time of year. By contrast, the hatchery had trapped 335 adults to date last year, according to Gary Novak, hatchery manager.

Normally there are hundreds and sometimes thousands of steelhead showing at the facility at this time of year.

Hopefully, the steelhead are late in their migration, just as the fall run Chinook salmon were. The main body of the fall Chinook salmon run arrived over a month late this fall on the American River.

Few anglers have been fishing on the American River lately. The salmon fishing closed Dec. 31, but most anglers have already put down their rods.

“Opening day is going to be SLOW if the action at the basin is any indication,” reported Roland Aspiras, an avid American River steelhead fisherman. “I fished both yesterday and today for barely a sniff. I floated eggs, swung spoons, tossed jigs for zilch. I saw one fish follow a spoon in to the bank. The fish seem confused with the new channels they (state and federal governments) created at the basin.”

One angler, Leo Salcido of Sacramento Pro Tackle, reported landing two steelhead in the 4-pound class while tossing out Little Cleos in the basin on Dec. 23.

Releases to the lower American below Nimbus Dam continue to be 900 cfs, very low for this time of year.

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Residents Cut Water Usage 32 Percent

San Juan Water District reported their retail customers reduced water use by 32 percent in 2014 after the board of directors implemented 25 percent mandatory cutbacks.

“We are thrilled our customers took action during this unprecedented drought and significantly reduced their water use,” said Shauna Lorance, general manager of San Juan.

The district relies on water supplies from Folsom Lake, the primary water source for a half million people in the Sacramento region. Thanks in part to water conservation efforts, Folsom Lake levels are higher than they were this time last year.

“Our customers were active in their efforts to use less water,” said Judy Johnson, customer service manager. “Water conservation staff spent more time than ever talking with customers about how they can use less water. They performed water audits, helped detect leaks and made sure customers were aware of drought conditions.”

San Juan Water District was one of the first in the state to implement mandatory water use restrictions and has since seen a spike in customer engagement. More than one in ten customer accounts have received personal assistance to become more water efficient and customers have redeemed over $50,000 in water conservation rebates.

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Foothills Man Released From Prison After Judge Overturns Eco-Terrorism Conviction

A Placer County man was released from prison Thursday afternoon after a federal judge overturned his conviction on eco-terrorism charges following the discovery of new evidence.

Eric McDavid, of Foresthill, walked out of the federal courthouse in Sacramento and into the arms of friends, family members and attorneys.

“It was wonderful,” said his mother, Eileen McDavid.

When asked if she felt her son had been vindicated, Eileen McDavid said, “I don’t want to talk about that. I just know that he’s home.”

Eric McDavid, 37, was arrested in 2006 and convicted the following year.

Prosecutors said he planned to blow up various government targets, including the U.S. Forest Service’s genetics laboratory in Placerville and the Nimbus Dam on the American River.

“It came out in the last couple of months that they didn’t give us some very important documents for discovery, for evidence during the trial phase of the case,” said Jenny Esquivel, McDavid’s girlfriend.

Those documents, including several emails, back up the defense’s argument at trial that McDavid was entrapped by an FBI informant, known as Anna, with whom he fell in love.

“He was entrapped by love,” attorney Ben Rosenfeld said. “And he was entrapped by the persistent and unrelenting efforts of the FBI.”

McDavid’s trial attorney, Mark Reichel, said he had asked for those documents and been told by prosecutors that they did not exist.

The documents only surfaced after McDavid’s family members obtained his FBI case file through a government-records request.

“He went to federal prison for nine years,” Reichel said. “And somebody in the federal law enforcement system knew that he was innocent but didn’t care.”

U.S. District Judge Morrison England did not completely exonerate McDavid, but rather allowed him to plead guilty to another charge for which he received a sentence of time served.

As part of a plea deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, McDavid agreed not to file a lawsuit against the federal government.

McDavid declined to comment as he left the courthouse.

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Learn About Sacramento’s Winter Birds

Effie Yeaw Nature Center in Carmichael is launching a series of classes next week to help people identify birds that frequent the Sacramento area in winter.

While many of the area’s resident birds fly south for the winter, many other birds make the Sacramento region their winter destination. The classes focus on identifying many of these birds by sight and sound, including songbirds, waterfowl and shorebirds.

The series includes three Wednesday evening classroom sessions, starting Jan. 7, from 7 to 8:30 p.m.; and three field sessions on Saturdays, starting Jan. 10, each lasting starting at 8 a.m. and lasting at least four hours.

The classroom sessions will be held at Effie Yeaw Nature Center, located at Sacramento County’s Ancil Hoffman Park along the American River, at 2850 San Lorenzo Way, in Carmichael. The first field session is at Ancil Hoffman Park, and the others will require driving to different locations.

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Federal Appeals Court Upholds Protections for Central Valley Salmon

A federal appeals court in San Francisco has upheld measures imposed by federal agencies to protect salmon and steelhead that migrate through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the National Marine Fisheries Service acted reasonably and within its discretion when it prescribed limits on the amount of water exported from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in order to protect threatened and endangered salmonids.

The fisheries service “biological opinion,” issued in 2009, set seasonal limits on the volume of water that could be extracted by the massive federal and state pumping plants at the southern edge of the Delta. From there, water flows down a pair of massive canals to farms in the San Joaquin Valley and to urban customers from the South Bay to the Los Angeles area.

A wide array of irrigation districts, serving valley farmers, and urban water districts went to court to challenge the biological opinion. Those plaintiffs won the first round of the case when U.S. District Court Judge Oliver W. Wanger, of Fresno, ruled that fisheries service scientists had erred in developing their findings and that the agency’s action was “arbitrary and capricious” under federal law.

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Chinook Salmon Could Be Wiped Out By 2100: Study

New climate-change research involving a University of British Columbia scientist predicts that one of the West Coast’s most prized salmon stocks could be wiped out over the next 85 years.

A study has concluded that there is a five per cent chance of a catastrophic loss of the chinook salmon by 2075, and that upwards of 98 per cent will be gone by 2100, if climate change warms the water.

An international research team looked at the ability by the chinook to adapt to warming water temperatures caused by climate change.

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First Responders Practice Dangerous Water Rescues

Wind whipped up whitecaps on the already turbulent American River as a Sheriff’s helicopter moved in to position to save a man swept downstream. The name of the game: swift water rescue.

The victim in this scenario volunteered to brave the frigid waters as part of joint-agency training Thursday morning at the river’s confluence.

The water is cold, powerful and moving fast – it doesn’t leave any room for error – but Deputy Kristopher Ulshoffer waded midstream and let it carry him toward waiting rescuers.

His dry suit and life vest kept him relatively safe, but the river poses an unyielding threat all the same – not to mention the fact that risks increase even more when you add a helicopter to the mix.

Jim Mathias, battalion chief with Cal Fire, said exercises like this one are vital when it comes to multiple agencies combining their resources effectively during an emergency situation.

At the Auburn Airport there are three helicopters available to assist with rescue operations; two belonging to the California Highway Patrol and one belonging to the Placer County Sheriff’s Office.

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Reservoir Levels Rising, But Not Fast Enough

Reservoir levels are rising in Northern California thanks to the recent rain, but much more is needed to make a dent in the state’s three-year drought.

The water levels at Folsom Lake, for example, have risen 7 feet in the past week to stand at 397 feet.

That’s a good start, but Folsom needs much more water before boaters can exceed the 5 mph speed limit.

The slow speeds make it smooth sailing for paddle boarders like Alex Minno, who noticed a big difference in scenery Sunday.

“This used to be all exposed right here,” said Minno, pointing to a water-covered area. “It used to go out like a peninsula and now it’s all covered.”

Fisherman Brian Wallace didn’t catch many bass Sunday at Folsom Lake, but he did notice a difference in water levels.

“The water has come up and covered some of the islands a little more in different places,” Wallace said.

Fisherman Steve Yee has noticed it, too.

“More water, less land,” Yee said.

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