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Down to the River

Updated: Jul 12, 2020

Shasta Dam in April 2009

On April 20, the federal Bureau of Reclamation announced terms for how water will be released in the coming months from California’s Shasta Dam. This dam is the largest reservoir in the state’s Central Valley and irrigates a major portion of central California’s farmland.

Of particular note, according to Debra Kahn at E&E News (subscription required) is the impact on California’s Chinook salmon, which are on both federal and state endangered species lists. Ninety-five percent of Chinook fish eggs laid below the Shasta Dam didn’t mature into juvenile fish last fall, she writes, compared with a normal rate of about 75%.

It is inevitable that with the onset of a significant and lengthy drought, water issues take center stage. Add in concerns over threatened and endangered species and you have a formula for high emotions and critical decisions pitting various communities and interest groups against each other.

Endangered species are important but more important, they are the proverbial “canary in the mine.” They indicate how we humans will eventually and in this case, not too distantly, be impacted.

We do not know which species will signal the start of the unraveling of our web of life. Which species can we afford to lose forever? We constantly discover the unknown contribution of plants and animals for critically important benefits for all life.

The real challenge is securing a reduction in water use that will permit continuation of critical activities to sustain all life at lower water usage levels. This is not a short-term issue, as populations increase and weather patterns remain as they are.

Several years ago, events in Wisconsin showed how reasonable parties could work together to find a suitable balance among people, flora and fauna. The timber industry wanted to log within the State but a tiny butterfly stood in the industry’s way. Many citizens were upset as their livelihood depended on the timber industry moving ahead with logging activities. Other members of the public were concerned for the survival of the tiny Karner blue butterfly.

The division and the discussion went on for years. Logging was halted. Ultimately, some dedicated officials at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service brokered an agreement among the timber industry and environmental groups.

The industry could proceed with a well-designed plan coordinating timber harvests in a rotational pattern. This offered protection to the butterfly while providing a controlled long-term forestry plan.

William Hartwig Senior Advisor

A member of the Dawson team since 2007, Bill formerly served as Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dawson & Associates.


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