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Davis, California

Friday, April 12, 2024

Federal, state and local governments work to protect salmon in the Sacramento River


$2.5 million project installed to keep salmon from straying into irrigation canals.

Irrigation canals threaten the lives of salmon as they swim up the Sacramento River on their way from the ocean to the spawning beds from where they were hatched. These misleading paths threaten their lives before having the opportunity to reproduce.

A $2.5 million project was developed in an effort to ensure that salmon do not stray from the Sacramento River, but return safely to their spawning grounds.

Peter Moyle, distinguished professor emeritus of the UC Davis Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology Center for Watershed Sciences, explains that one crucial stage for salmon is when they are fry or smolt, the stages prior to being considered adult salmon.

“When they hit the ocean, they have to hit it at just the right time so that there’s enough food,” Moyle said. “They wander widely in order to find the patches of food of the right kind in order to grow rapidly and avoid predators.”

According to Jacob Katz, central California program director for California Trout, salmon must overcome numerous challenges in the early stages of their lives. As they’re about to reach their destination, one wrong turn can lead to their death.

“Drainage canals appear to be like a tributary. Often fooled by drainage canals, salmon swim in it thinking that they’re in a tributary and die,” Katz said.

Adult salmon use water flow as a cue while swimming upstream, and certain flows cause them to stray away from the Sacramento River. This leads them to travel up to 70 miles into drainage canals from which they cannot escape.

The Knights Landing Outfall Gates (KLOG) and Yolo Bypass are common places for salmon to deviate, leading them into the Colusa Basin Drain.  These two entry points have trapped many endangered winter chinook salmon.

Many of the salmon were rescued and placed back into the Sacramento River but the majority died before they were able to spawn due to stress.


Reclamation District 108 (RD 108) took the lead and initiated the KLOG project. RD 108 contributed $400,00 to pay for the design plan and permitting.

According to Katz, the KLOG project installed concrete wing walls and a metal picket weir that allows irrigation water to flow out of the gate and into the river, but blocks fish from entering.

“The KLOG idea is simply to block [salmon]. We’ve really changed the way the water flows,” Katz said.

For construction costs, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation contributed $1.5 million while the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the California Department of Water Resources provided $300,000 each.

“This was a project that everybody was supporting,” said Lewis Blair, general manager of RD 108. “We’re really gaining momentum with this project.”

He said that the nongovernmental organization community as well as the state and federal government worked together to accomplish a solution to the problem which has been ongoing for many years.

According to Katz, farm revenues are adversely affected when salmon populations are in a crisis because it affects their water supply.

Katz said that the senior water rights holders understand that they have an obligation to sustain fish and wildlife populations.

“There is a real spirit of collaboration for these win-win projects,” Katz said.

The next project will be to build a similar structure at the Yolo Bypass via the Knights Landing Ridge Cut Canal (KLRC).

“[It’s important to protect salmon because] when [they] make it through all the threats of avoiding predators, successfully swimming through the ocean, just before they make it to their spawning ground, they’re lured into these drainage death-traps,” Katz said. “[It’s an] exciting partnership and [because] things are getting done, has a lot of promise.”

Written by: CARLA ARANGOcity@theaggie.org


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