While some groups are excited about what the Yuba County Water Agency’s FERC relicensing applications contains, other groups are lamenting what is missing — namely, provisions that address removing barriers to native spawning habitat for endangered fish.
Numerous conservation groups called for the YCWA to look into developing fish passage through, or removing entirely, Englebright Dam, which is a direct barrier to more than 120 miles of salmon habitat, according to comments submitted by the Foothills Water Network, which represents a group of water resource stakeholders in the Yuba, Bear and American River watersheds.
“The ultimate goal is to restore salmon to their native habitat,” said Tyrone Gorre, co-founder of the Sierra Salmon Alliance. “In order to restore habitat, we have to have passage through the dam.”
Chinook salmon and steelhead and rainbow trout are both native to the upper Yuba River watershed.
The problem with those requests is that the Englebright Dam is not within the FERC boundary of YCWA’s project and is operated by the Army Corps of Engineers.
“There’s not a connection between that dam and the FERC relicensing,” said Yuba County Supervisor Mary Jane Griego. “Some of the river agencies would like to connect those so there’s a requirement for us (to install fish passages), but the FERC relicensing really separates those issues.”
The Foothills Water Network said excluding Englebright from the relicensing process is a mistake, arguing that because YCWA operates its reservoir levels and releases, it should be included in their FERC license.
“We have maintained that fish passage is not part of our FERC relicensing. YCWA facilities don’t block fish passage; the major barrier is Englebright Dam,” said Curt Aikens, YCWA general manager. “We do realize that this is a significant issue in the Yuba watershed, and we’ve helped lead and facilitate different fish passage studies and programs.”
Aikens said the colder water released from the higher elevation of New Bullards Bar dam has helped improve salmon habitat in the lower Yuba River.
The salmon population has recovered since a stark decrease around 2007 caused a temporary halt in the salmon fishing industry, but reported numbers from the Yuba River in recent years are below those of the decades prior.
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