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Yes. If successful, the YSPI could improve the abundance of anadromous salmonids migrating through the Bay-Delta.
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The Yuba Salmon Partnership Initiative is a collaborative, science-based initiative to contribute to the recovery of Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon and steelhead by enhancing habitat in the Yuba River downstream of Englebright Dam and reintroducing salmon (and possible steelhead) into their historic habitat in the North Yuba River upstream of New Bullards Bar Dam.
California's Department of Fish and Wildlife, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service, Yuba Water Agency, American Rivers, California Sportfishing Alliance and Trout Unlimited.
California's once abundant salmon and steelhead runs have experienced severe declines over the last century, in part due to habitat loss and degradation. The YSPI represents a promising opportunity to continue to rebuild their populations in the lower Yuba River and reconnect these species to over 30 miles of valuable habitat in the Sierra Nevada's North Yuba River that has been inaccessible to them for more than 74 years. Reintroducing salmon and steelhead to habitat upstream of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Englebright Dam has been a priority for NMFS and was included in its 2014 Recovery Plan for Central Valley Chinook salmon and steelhead.
The YSPI envisions a program to analyze, prioritize and implement habitat actions in the lower Yuba River, downstream of Englebright Dam. Plans for lower Yuba River habitat enhancement activities have not been finalized but will be selected based on their ability to meet certain principles described in the term sheet. These are likely to include improvement of riparian vegetation, improving fish passage at Daguerre Point Dam, actions to restore salmon spawning habitat, and measures to improve rearing habitat for juvenile salmonids, including expansion of side channel and floodplain areas to promote rapid growth of young salmon before they migrate to the ocean.
There are two major dams that salmon and steelhead need to get around to reach the North Yuba River: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' 260-foot-high Englebright Dam and Yuba Water Agency's 640-foot-high New Bullards Bar Dam. The YSPI is evaluating the feasibility of a collect and transport program to move adult fish upstream to spawning habitat and juvenile fish downstream around these dams for rearing and migration to the sea.
The YSPI is considering the construction and operation of facilities downstream of Englebright Dam for the collection and transport of adult salmon, and facilities upstream of New Bullards Bar Dam for acclimatization and release of adult salmon to migrate to and spawn in upstream habitat and collection and transport of juvenile salmon for release downstream of Englebright Dam. The YSPI is reviewing several alternatives for accomplishing reintroduction.
Collection and transport programs for the reintroduction of salmon have been used in the Pacific Northwest for decades. The YSPI reintroduction is a grand endeavor intended to take advantage of recent advances in reintroduction technologies from the Pacific Northwest and employ them here in the Sierra Nevada as a tool for contributing to the recovery of salmon and steelhead.
There have been a number of studies of anadromous fish passage alternatives in the Yuba River watershed, including by the Yuba Salmon Forum, which did evaluate dam removal, but the YSPI is not considering dam removals. YSPI parties participated in the Yuba Salmon Forum. A variety of other actions are underway in the Yuba River watershed to protect, restore and enhance habitat for salmon, steelhead and other fish and wildlife species. For example, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will soon begin a feasibility study exploring the options to contribute to the restoration of the Yuba River ecosystem, including an assessment of options to reintroduce fish upstream of Englebright Dam. Additional measures are being implemented to improve fisheries habitat as part of the Lower Yuba River Accord.
Englebright Dam has been a focus for many agencies and interests for more than 15 years, but the implementation of practical passage options are complicated, expensive and controversial. As brief background, the California Debris Commission built the 260 foot tall Englebright Dam in 1941 to safely retain mining sediment that was unleashed in the upper watershed during the Gold Rush and from mining efforts after that period. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the dam has stored over 28 million cubic yards of sediment, much of it contaminated with arsenic and mercury. Safely managing that debris would be a significant undertaking. Englebright Dam also presents a complete passage barrier to salmon, steelhead and other fisheries to the upper watershed. The YSPI represents a promising opportunity to finally identify and implement a practical option for moving salmon and possibly steelhead around the dam.
Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon and Central Valley steelhead are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and are federally protected. The YSPI will be working with local, state and federal agencies to implement provisions to gain the support of communities in the reintroduction area. Additionally, the 2014 NMFS Recovery Plan states that salmon recovery actions in the Yuba River Watershed should include measures to minimize regulatory requirements on local land and water users. YSPI plans to use multiple tools to ensure that the needs of water users, anglers, businesses and landowners in the reintroduction area, as well as other legal, social and economic concerns, are addressed. For instance, NMFS has authority under ESA Section 10(j) to designate these species as nonessential experimental populations. A designated experimental population that is determined to be not essential to the continued existence of a species does not receive the benefit of certain ESA protections normally applicable to threatened species, as a way of building community support for a reintroduction. This is a critical issue for the YSPI’s success.
YSPI plans to use available tools to ensure that the needs of water users, anglers, businesses and landowners in the Yuba River Watershed are addressed. YSPI anticipates that the tools will be used to ensure that angling is allowed to occur as it does today as long as anglers are otherwise complying with fishing regulations and not intentionally fishing for reintroduced fish
The YSPI participants have approved a non-binding Term Sheet, which provides a framework for the negotiation of a settlement agreement. The settlement agreement and related action plan will specify issues such as the facilities necessary to transport fish, habitat restoration actions downstream of Englebright, biological and technical metrics, legal and regulatory matters, funding, and the roles and responsibilities of each party for implementing the YSPI. If a settlement agreement is completed, these and other variables will affect when any aspect of the habitat enhancement and reintroduction programs could begin, but a pilot program could begin within 5-7 years and a full-scale reintroduction could potentially begin within 10-15 years, under ideal circumstances.
The full range of YSPI actions has not yet been developed. Until additional analyses are complete, it is difficult to estimate capital, operation and maintenance costs. Based on other passage and reintroduction programs, including the Baker River and Pelton Round Butte projects, the YSPI reintroduction project may cost upward of $400-$500 million over the 50 year life of the program (2015 dollars). YCWA and others have provided significant funding for the Yuba Salmon Forum and other fisheries studies, and YCWA has committed up to $100 million to the YSPI over the next 50 years. Funding from other sources, however, would be absolutely necessary to implement the full action plan. As part of the settlement agreement, the YSPI intends to develop a comprehensive funding plan that identifies other local, state and federal entities with interests in salmon enhancement in the Yuba River. YCWA’s commitment is a tremendous start toward implementing a program of this scale and will make it much easier to attract funds for specific program components from a variety of local, state and federal sources.
The YSPI is an ambitious effort to establish that salmon reintroductions in California’s Sierra Nevada can contribute to the recovery of these iconic species. The discoveries and lessons that emerge from this process could be invaluable to biologists throughout the range of Pacific salmon species. Ultimately, this process is part of an effort to undo some 5 the damage caused during the Gold Rush. Hydraulic mining was one of the most disruptive events to occur in the Yuba River watershed – and it was undertaken for years without a full accounting of the unintended impacts to other resources in the watershed. Restoring this river and its salmon runs will be a significant step towards salmon recovery and has social, cultural and even economic benefits to all of California, especially future generations.
A fundamental commitment of the YSPI is to collaborate with regional stakeholders. The YSPI is committed to ensuring that local communities in the reintroduction areas, particularly Yuba County and Sierra County, receive long-term social, economic and environmental benefits from a reintroduction.
The North Yuba River contains more than 30 miles of unregulated (i.e., no additional dams) river upstream of New Bullards Bar Reservoir. This is more than all other reaches above Englebright Dam combined. This segment of the North Yuba River also has higher and colder summer and fall unimpaired flows compared to the Middle Yuba River or South Yuba River, and the North Yuba River segment is a heavily forested area with several tributaries and more favorable fisheries habitat. For these reasons, the YSPI believes that a salmon and/or steelhead reintroduction in the North Yuba River has the best chance of being successful. The YSPI Term Sheet states that, at some point, YSPI parties (other than YCWA) will consider anadromous salmonid reintroduction to the Middle Yuba River upstream of Our House Dam, if feasible and supported by the best available science. YCWA’s role with respect to such consideration for the Middle Yuba River would be as a stakeholder, rather than as a project proponent. Yuba Salmon Forum studies show that, due to limitations in potential habitat during dry year types, reintroduction of salmon likely would not be selfsustaining in the South Yuba River.
The YSPI is separate from proceedings for relicensing by FERC of YCWA's Yuba River Development Project (YRDP), and the relicensing of other projects in the watershed (e.g., the Yuba-Bear and Drum-Spaulding projects). YCWA will file the YSPI settlement agreement with FERC for informational purposes, asking that the terms of the settlement agreement not be incorporated into the new YRDP license or related regulatory approvals.