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Stories from the valley

Helping Salmon

Contributed by Jennifer Harrison

2021 was quite a year. Although not easy, the Sacramento Valley experienced successes and quiet victories. Saving salmon remains a top priority in our region, with multiple groups and organizations collaborating to protect the species. As the calendar closes, we reflect on what went right in our corner of California.

Fish Numbers

It was a hot and dry 2021, the third driest on record and the most parched since 1977. For fish, this is can be devastating, but state and federal agencies and biologists are seeing hopeful numbers when it comes to fish.

“The three major runs of salmon in the Sacramento Valley were solid this year,” explained Todd Manley, of Northern California Water Association. 

Resiliency can explain the numbers. Salmon are doing what they are programmed to do, and as of late December experts remain hopeful, given the below highlights. 

  • A large adult winter-run Chinook salmon run returned up the Sacramento River to spawn earlier this year and there are already more than 559,801 young salmon migrating downstream and potentially more still rearing.
  • The number of fish estimated to have passed Red Bluff, the upper part of the Sacramento River during this incredibly dry year already have surpassed the number of estimated out-migrants in 2015 (the last drought year) by more than 220,000.
  • A strong fall-run Chinook return to Battle Creek, seen in the video from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They project more than 40,000 adult salmon have returned to Battle Creek this year.

Project Protection

Currently, fifteen projects that help fish are underway in the Sacramento Valley.

“Four were completed in 2021, four are underway and then seven will be initiated in 2022,” said Manley.

The goal? Improve habitat and spawning areas that help fish not only survive but thrive in Sacramento Valley waterways. These projects accomplish that goal in various ways. From reactivating floodplains to fish screen improvements to adding gravel to spawning sites, it’s a multi-pronged approach to helping fish.

Looking back and ahead

The seven additional projects starting this year are multi-year efforts. 

Since 2000, 140 different projects have been completed to help salmon recovery in our region. Collaboration between landowners, scientists, water users, conservation organizations and state and federal agencies is not only possible, but vital to this continuing effort to save salmon in the Sacramento Valley.