A year ago, California lost nearly an entire generation of endangered salmon because the water releases from Shasta Dam flowed out warmer than federal models had predicted. Thousands of salmon eggs and newly hatched fry baked to death in a narrow stretch of the Sacramento River near Redding that for decades has served as the primary spawning ground for winter-run Chinook salmon.
Earlier this year, federal scientists believed they had modeled a new strategy to avoid a similar die-off, only to realize their temperature monitoring equipment had failed and Shasta’s waters once again were warming faster than anticipated.
In the months since, in what is essentially an emergency workaround, they’ve revised course, sharply curtailing flows out of Shasta. The hope is that they reserve enough of the reservoir’s deep, cold water pool to sustain this year’s juvenile winter-run Chinook. But it’s meant sacrificing water deliveries to hundreds of Central Valley farmers who planted crops in expectation of bigger releases; and draining Folsom reservoir – the source of drinking water for much of suburban Sacramento – to near-historic lows to keep salt water from intruding on the Delta downstream.
In spite of all this, another generation of wild winter-run Chinook salmon could very well die.
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