Comments of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations Concerning Preparation of the Joint Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report for the Battle Creek Salmon and Steelhead Restoration Project
Presented by William F. "Zeke" Grader, Jr., Executive Director, PCFFA
Manton, California, January 31, 2000
Thank you for this opportunity to provide the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations [PCFFA] recommendations concerning how the Battle Creek Salmon and Steelhead Restoration Project [Restoration Project] can conform to the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act [NEPA] and the California Environmental Quality Act [CEQA]. PCFFA has been deeply involved in this project from its very beginning. The successful accomplishment of this project is extremely important to PCFFA for three principal reasons:
We have grouped our recommendations in what we think are natural divisions: those concerning the necessary scope of the project, deficiencies in the MOU-contemplated project; issues concerning the operation of the project that bear on its ability to succeed; and project monitoring and evaluation issues.
Scoping the Restoration Project correctly
1. The location, configuration, and operations of the Coleman National Fish Hatchery directly effect fish life in Battle Creek above and below the hatchery. The operation of Coleman Hatchery and the management of lower Battle Creek need to be included within the project area.
For much of the year the hatchery barrier dam is the end of line for salmon and steelhead returning to Battle Creek. More than 100,000 adult chinook salmon perished in the creek below the dam last fall without spawning. Without dwelling on what that represents in the way of lost economic opportunity, which drives my members nearly berserk, I would point out that that is 600 or 700 tons of rotting flesh in the stream attributable to Coleman operations - a significant water quality problem. We are aware that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to modify the dam and their operations in the stream, and that they plan to do NEPA and CEQA paperwork at that time. We are convinced, however, that Coleman operations are so integral to the condition of Battle Creek and the success of the Restoration Program that environmental compliance efforts need to address the Restoration Project, Coleman operations, and the management of lower Battle Creek as one.
2. Coleman Hatchery operations, particularly those of the barrier dam, should be considered "connected actions" for purposes of the Restoration Project's environmental compliance.
Under its present operating regime the hatchery barrier dam is frustrating the recovery of spring-run, fall- and late fall-run chinook salmon and steelhead by preventing their timely migration into the stream above the dam. The Restoration Project cannot restore these important species unless and until the operation of the dam is modified. The two actions - the upstream restoration and the modification of the Coleman dam - are, therefore, connected and must be considered together under NEPA and CEQA.
3. The alternative measures for the configuration and operation of Coleman Hatchery and its barrier dam identified in the Battle Creek Working Group's April, 1999 report Maximizing Compatibility Between Coleman National Fish Hatchery Operations, Management of Lower Battle Creek, and Salmon and Steelhead, should be considered fully in the selection of the final elements of the Restoration Project.
The Battle Creek Working Group, developers of the Restoration Project, studied the impacts of Coleman Hatchery on Battle Creek fish life as they might effect the success of the Restoration Project. In its April, 1999 report on the subject, the Working Group identified a number of issues concerning the impact of the hatchery and advanced a number of alternative measures for resolving those issues. At the Working Group's May, 1999 meeting Fish and Wildlife Service representatives assured the Working Group that the alternative measures would be fully evaluated during the Service's 1999 Coleman Hatchery re-evaluation process. The Service did not evaluate the Working Group's alternatives fully in 1999. We understand now that the Service is funded to consider these issues in-house, instead, with the assistance of a Service-selected consultant.
The Service has demonstrated that it has difficulty evaluating its own operations in a timely, objective manner. Given the hatchery's significant impacts on Battle Creek and its fish life, responsibility for a timely, objective evaluation of the alternative measures identified in the Working Group's April, 1999 report should now be passed to those directly responsible for the Restoration Project. I am submitting a copy of the April, 1999 Working Group report with our comments this evening.
4. The Battle Creek uplands and the watershed above the PG&E reaches must be included in the Restoration Project area.
While Battle Creek represents the hands-down best opportunity to provide drought-safe habitat for California's salmon species of concern, the Restoration Project will succeed only if conditions on the side hills and in the watershed above the immediate restoration reaches remains favorable. There are times of the year when stream temperatures will absolutely determine the success of spawning, hatching and rearing of juvenile salmon. If meadows are lost, streams are silted in, or the watershed somehow gets paved over, the Restoration Project investment will be lost. The role and future of these watershed lands must be considered in the selection of the final elements of the Restoration Project.
Shortcomings in the MOU-contemplated Restoration Project
5. Removal of Eagle Canyon diversion dam should be included in the formulation of the Restoration Project.
The removal of PG&E's Eagle Canyon diversion dam was contemplated in the Working Group's January, 1999 Battle Creek Salmon and Steelhead Restoration Plan [Plan], the document that got the ball rolling to where we are this evening. The Plan makes clear that the reach of Battle Creek above Eagle Canyon diversion dam has some of the highest habitat values for winter- and spring-run chinook salmon in the entire basin. The restoration of this habitat was compromised when the resources agencies bowed to PG&E's demands, in the course of developing the MOU between them, to leave Eagle Canyon dam in place.
The Plan was further compromised by the agencies-PG&E negotiations in that a principal criteria used by the Working Group for selecting restoration actions was to "Provide stable environments not subject to drastic changes due to mechanical failures, inadequate maintenance, and reservoir drawdowns" [Plan at page 52]. The MOU provision for installing a "fail-safe" fish screen and ladder at Eagle Canyon, i.e, instead of removing the dam, is nearly comical when you contemplate boulders the size the Volkswagens sloughing into that box canyon and bouncing along on the floods. That "fail-safe" Eagle Canyon fish screen will join the scrap downstream on a flood like that of January 1, 1997 - or any number of other recent flood events. The Restoration Project should give serious consideration to the removal of Eagle Canyon diversion dam and adherence to the Plan's call for trouble-free restoration measures.
6. Opening the South Fork of Battle Creek above the Panther Creek Grade should be included in the formulation of the Restoration Project.
Good additional fish habitat lies upstream of the boulder cluster at Panther Creek. Modifying this barrier to enable fish migration above Panther Creek should be included within the formulation of the Restoration Project.
7. Barrier removal and gravel supplementation on Baldwin Creek should be included in the formulation of the Restoration Project.
The high potential for steelhead habitat improvement on Baldwin Creek should not be ignored in developing the final elements of the Restoration Project.
Operating considerations necessary if the selected Restoration Project is to succeed
8. The selected Restoration Project should include a conservation easement element.
Much has been said about the quantity and quality of Battle Creek streamflow as potential fish habitat. Of nearly equal importance to the success of the proposed Restoration Project is the condition of the watershed lands. It is our understanding that the residents have expressed, in their Battle Creek Strategy, their wish that the human population of the watershed remain pretty much as it is today. That, in our view, would work best for the success of the Restoration Project. Things being what they are in California today, however, things are not likely to remain as they are in the watershed without a conscious plan and program for assuring that. Conservation easements must be investigated, planned in cooperation with the watershed landowners, funded, and implemented as an explicit element of the selected Restoration Project.
9. The selected Restoration Project should include an on-going upper watershed conservation element.
As we explained in Recommendation 4, above, restoration investment in the PG&E reaches will not produce sustainable new populations of salmon and steelhead in Battle Creek unless the quality of the streamflow into the restoration reaches equals or exceeds that which is available today. Even a modest decline in Battle Creek's upper watershed water quality, particularly with regard to temperature, can cause a significant decline in downstream fish habitat. The Restroration Project must include on-going support for community-based watershed assessments and efforts to improve watershed management activities, including forest harvesting, road maintenance, grazing, and others.
Project monitoring, evaluation, and adaptive management issues
10. The selected Restoration Project should include an on-going monitoring, evaluation, and adaptive management program that targets community involvement and fosters community support for the Restoration Project.
It is our belief that the Battle Creek Salmon and Steelhead Restoration Project, perhaps more than any major ecosystem restoration project we know, is going to succeed or fail on the amount of local participation and support the project can engender. Battle Creek watershed youngsters will develop into either hands-on stewards of the most exciting stream restoration project in the state or poachers of the most expensive salmon in the state. And I don't mean poached lightly in white wine, either. I mean poached like every kid who has grown up near a salmon stream has been poaching salmon for as long as any of us can remember. The choice is ours - or, more precisely, that of the Restoration Project developers.
There is a tendency for projects of government to turn increasingly inward, to become the province of government employees. That simply will not work in the case of Battle Creek. Private property owners control the lands over which stream monitors must pass. These owners will have concerns about who is crossing their land, for what purpose, where the information is going to end up, and what it is going to be used for. These are all legitimate concerns.
A program for monitoring stream temperatures, stream flows, stream "ramping" rates, and a host of other information elements needed for the evaluation and adaptive management of the Restoration Program, needs to be designed early and in ways that the watershed community itself can reliably gather most of the information. The Working Group developed a tool, the so-called "KRIS-Battle Creek" program, that can be used by ordinary citizens to capture and update the necessary monitoring data. Government specialists can help the watershed community interpret the data for a larger audience - in all likelihood the Internet community.
These measures - community involvement, community funding, community training - must all be conscious elements of the Battle Creek Salmon and Steelhead Restoration Project if the project is to succeed. Thank you.