Thursday, October 13, 2011

The SARSAS Plan for Saving Salmon and Steelhead in California and the Pacific States

Jack L. Sanchez,
Volunteer Coordinator/President/Founder
501C3 EIN 80-0291680
Save Auburn Ravine Salmon and Steelhead (SARSAS)
P. O. Box 4269
Auburn, CA 95604
530 888 0281

Yes, the people of California, volunteering together, can save the salmon. The people must spearhead the saving of the salmon because time is critical. The salmon has little time left on the planet without the help of the people.

Salmon expert Peter B Moyle, Professor of Fish Biology, University of California Davis, in
“Multiple Causes of Central Valley Chinook Salmon Decline,” Mar 31, 2008, wrote,

Ever since Euro-Americans arrived in the Central Valley, Chinook salmon populations have been in decline. Historic populations probably averaged 1.5-2.0 million (or more) adult fish per year. The high populations resulted from four distinct runs of Chinook salmon (fall, late-fall, winter, and spring runs) taking advantage of the diverse and productive freshwater habitats created by the cold rivers flowing from the Sierra Nevada. When the juveniles moved seaward, they found abundant food and good growing conditions in the wide valley floodplains and complex San Francisco Estuary, including the Delta. The sleek salmon smolt then reached the ocean, where the southward flowing, cold, California Current and coastal upwelling together created one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world, full of the small shrimp and fish that salmon require to grow rapidly to large size. In the past, salmon populations no doubt varied as droughts reduced stream habitats and as the ocean varied in its productivity, but it is highly unlikely the numbers ever even approached the low numbers we are seeing now.

This Golden Age of Salmon is long past but the people can insure at least their continued existence. California salmon were thought to be extinct as early as1865 because of the sediment that choked off the streams from hydraulic mining and strip logging. Salmon are miraculously resilient and they survived. The salmon of California are now once again nearing extinction for many reasons: global warming, pollution, upwelling of ocean currents, lack of fish passage and spawning areas. The main fix we can do quickly is not to argue about the root cause but to quickly open California streams as soon as possible for salmon spawning. Whatever the reasons, a clear, simple plan is necessary to save them. The SARSAS Plan, formulated for the Auburn Ravine, is the simplest way to save salmon from certain extinction and should be implemented on all streams in California immediately. What is the SARSAS Plan?

If every stream in California has a volunteer group working to do what SARSAS is doing with the Auburn Ravine, that is, to return salmon and steelhead to its entire length and secure fish passage, adequate water and spawning grounds, then salmon will not go extinct. The line from the movie Field of Dreams, “If you built it, they will come” can be paraphrased to be applied to anadromous fish:: “If you clear it, they will come”; that is, SARSAS with the cooperation of Governor Jerry Brown and the federal Salmon Czar David Hayes (see Sacbee editorial, “We Might need Salmon Czar, Too,” July 8 09) can encourage other groups to do with other streams, what SARSAS ( is doing with the Auburn Ravine. By providing fish passage on all 738 tributaries to the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, salmon will have many spawning grounds currently denied them.

Will the Governor help? SARSAS is urging his staff and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and his Water Czar David Hayes to help. President Obama must appoint a Salmon Czar to keep the salmon from going extinct. Only the Governor with his sweeping influence over California agencies and the Obama Administration can coordinate this program and create an incentive program to encourage other organizations to take ownership of particular streams and retrofit them completely for salmon passage so that citizens become the instruments of the salmon salvation. We the People must pressure the President and the Governor to save our salmon. Salmon are moving closer to extinct while we do nothing. Acting now is imperative. Only the Governor can fast track the California 501C3 process, necessary for collaboration and fundraising, and connect each group to the right agencies quickly and efficiently.

An All-Volunteer Oversight Group (A-VOG) for each stream needs to have a lead person who can be connected directly to all California environmental agencies but especially with DFG, CVWQCB, DWR, and EPA. Each group must have an active Special Agent from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a federal agency, to provide access to problem areas on each stream over which only the federal government has jurisdiction. The Governor and citizens of California working together with NOAA will save the salmon. Most of the work of saving the salmon will be performed by volunteers, but they must have the coordination from the Governor to network with California government agencies to provide advice and services.

Let’s look at the SARSAS Plan for the Auburn Ravine that can serve as a model for other organizations to work on other streams. To start with, the Auburn Ravine has thirteen diversion dams on its length. SARSAS has put ten flashboard diversion dam in compliance with fish passage, two NID dams are currently being retrofitted, which leaves one dam, the Gold Hill Dam to be retrofitted. When this dam is completed, 32 of the 33 miles will be open to salmon. If we can get 2,500 egg-laying female salmon (Butte Creek near Chico had 6,000 Spring Run salmon in 2008) into this Ravine, each laying up to 8,000 eggs, the Auburn Ravine will contribute up to 20,000,000 (2,500 times 8,000) fry just in one stream, the Auburn Ravine.

If only three percent of those salmon return to the Auburn Ravine after maturing in the Pacific, that is 600,000 salmon, which is almost 15 times the total number of salmon (39, 037) that returned to the entire Sacramento River in 2009 with fewer than 12,000 salmon making it to Coleman National Fish Hatchery near Anderson on the Sacramento River. Remember that the Auburn Ravine is just one stream in California; there are over 738 tributary to the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers.

When SARSAS became an All-volunteer, 501c3, public benefit corporation with officers and an eleven-person Board of Directors, it was able to more seriously work on the Auburn Ravine by identifying all thirteen man-made barriers and working to retrofit them. SARSAS then set about creating a network of state and federal governmental agencies, county supervisors, city councilmen, other NGO’s, landowners and individuals, all meeting once a month under the auspices of Placer County Supervisor Robert Weygandt. The group worked collaboratively, cooperatively, to reach its respective goals as smoothly and as quickly as possible. SARSAS recently acquired the volunteer services of grant writers and one of the nation’s foremost experts on fish passage, Ron Ott.

Having all principals at the same table monthly working in a non-confrontational atmosphere facilitated accomplishing much in a short time. Much progress has been made but much yet needs to be done.

Working with a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Special Agent, SARSAS contacted all private owners of diversion dams on the AR. Many owners simply needed to be reminded of their specific water rights and by not observing those rights doing harm to fishes. Education was and is key. All ten flashboard dams with the cooperation of the landowners were quickly brought into compliance to make them passable for fish. The remaining three dams are owned by a water agency, Nevada Irrigation District (NID). Working with Placer Legacy, NID was able to fund and begin constructing a fish ladder and a fish channel to create fish passage over the Lincoln Gaging Station and the Hemphill Dam scheduled to be completed by the end of summer 2011.

The remaining dam is the NID Gold Hill Diversion Dam, which will be addressed after the other two dams are retrofitted. When the GHDD is retrofitted for fish passage, 32 of the 33 miles length of the Auburn Ravine will be ready for fish passage and much of it opened to spawning.

Is the task completed? Far from it, but the tasks completed to date will allow anadromous fishes to spawn in most of the Auburn Ravine.

The Auburn Ravine is but one stream. Gene Davis’ pesticide studies for CVWQCB Natural Streams and Aquatic Life Within the Central Valley Project Area Pesticide Basin Plan Amendment, 2007, shows a total of 738 identified creeks and possibly over 750 run into California’s two great rivers so 738 times 20,000,000 (2,500 females laying 8,000 eggs each), the potential number of salmon returning to the ocean is 14,760,000,000,000 spawned fishes. If only 3 percent, the standard for most salmon runs, of this total number survive in the ocean to return to spawn in California streams, then 44,280,000 salmon will return to spawn in California streams, up from 39,000 in 2009, and the salmon crisis is no longer a crisis and salmon will no longer be going extinct. If more than that number returns to spawn, then salmon will be with us for a long time. The numbers of salmon spawning will be influenced by whether the stream is above or below a dam on the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers.

Is the SARSAS Plan perfect? Of course not. Is this explanation a possible over-simplification of a very complex problem? Probably. Even if the SARSAS Plan is only partially successful, salmon will still survive. The federal government’s plan to get fish above the great dams to spawn is excellent and high tech, very expensive but rather slow; the SARSAS Plan is quick, low tech and inexpensive and designed to complement not replace the federal plan.

Will Governor Brown provide the leadership and support to coordinate the activities needed? Will the Obama administration step up? Will enough volunteer groups take charge of each of the 738 plus creeks to restore salmon? Will the SARSAS Plan be implemented in time to prevent the salmon from going extinct? The SARSAS Plan has a possible successful outcome for anadromous fishes that will cost only thousands not billions of dollars. The SARSAS Plan is a simple, inexpensive plan that may go a long way toward alleviating the salmon march to extinction especially when it is effected in conjunction with the federal NOAA Salmon Recovery Plan.

But even without the Governor’s, the SARSAS Plan can be implemented by the people of California working collaboratively, but not as quickly, and but perhaps quickly enough to save one of the most magnificent creatures in the entire animal kingdom, Chinook Salmon. To hasten the process, please write a letter/email urging the Governor to support the SARSAS Plan.

By rescuing one stream, the Auburn Ravine, the people of California may be rescuing the entire Pacific Coast Salmon Fishery and, in addition, providing food for the endangered orca population that usually lives in the Puget Sound region but has come to within one hundred miles of San Francisco looking for salmon, their only food. This orca pod, which currently numbers 84, must reach 125 animals in order to survive.

Since most tributaries to the Sacramento/San Joaquin Rivers are blocked by diversion dams for irrigation, the salmon cannot currently spawn in numbers large enough to prevent extinction. Using the SARSAS Plan as a model for saving salmon in the Auburn Ravine MAY be enough to save the entire Pacific Coast Salmon Fishery and put thousands of unemployed fishermen back into their boats, free sports fisherman to follow their passion, and help Californians feel good about themselves because they did something to help themselves, the fishes and nature and for their children.

Using the SARSAS Plan as a model for saving salmon in the Auburn Ravine may be enough to begin the restoration of the Pacific Coast Salmon Fishery and put thousands of unemployed fisherman back into their boats, free sport fisherman to follow their passion and help Californians feel good about themselves because they did something to help themselves, their children, and the fishes. The $6 million that will be spent on getting anadromous fishes to Auburn and the tourist dollars spent in our area to watch the salmon spawn with help to create many jobs for the Auburn-Lincoln area.

SARSAS needs help, political will and public support to finish our work on the Auburn Ravine so please contact us at Only volunteers, focusing together, can work quickly enough to revive our salmon population to health and well-being. If salmon are saved by the people of California working cooperatively, not only will the gift to our fellowmen be significant, but the gift to our children will be of historic magnitude and nothing less than heroic. As Norman McClean wrote in A River Runs Through It “Finally, all things merge into one and a river runs through it. I am haunted by water (with salmon in it).”

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