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Farmers Sacrifice Water to Help 2014 Spring Fish Migrations

With extreme drought and a record coho salmon run, members of the Farmers Ditch Company agreed to release most of their irrigation water rights to help with juvenile fish migrations this spring.On April 30th, 19 cfs was added to the mainstem Scott River at river mile 54, a challenging reach for sustaining flows within the disturbed dredger tailings. The purpose was to extend the period of time that salmonids could move through several miles of the upper river to access needed habitat.

This transaction was the first spring lease by the Water Trust. Usually instream flow is sufficient during snowmelt runoff to provide for outmigrating yearling coho and steelhead seeking to exit the Scott River to the Klamath River and out to the ocean for their next life stage. But this year, snowpack was 0% of normal on May 1st so snowmelt runoff was non-existent. Besides the outmigrating older fish, young-of-the-year coho salmon (“0+”) also needed to move upstream to cooler tributaries for rearing, due to the adults’ atypical spawning in the mainstem. By June 6th, too little flow was available to sustain this lease.

“It was a difficult task negotiating this transaction in such a limited water year while trying to meet the needs of the farmers whom depend on this water for their livelihoods,” said Preston Harris, Executive Director of the Water Trust. “Farmers Ditch Company’s participating members are making a big sacrifice. This type of collaboration is good to see.”

Gary Curtis, senior environmental scientist with the Calif. Dept. of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW), added that “the department appreciates the great efforts these landowners are making to improve conditions in the Scott River for the fishery resource during a very difficult water year.” The Karuk Tribe’s Natural Resources Director, Leaf Hillman, acknowledged the effort also: “It’s a very tough year for fisheries and irrigators alike. The Tribe is very appreciative of the hard work by the Water Trust and sacrifice of the Farmers Ditch irrigators to provide much needed flow relief for juvenile salmon.”

Gareth Plank, a member of the Ditch Company, said they supported the lease because “we recognize the importance of having as many salmon survive this extraordinary year, not only for our stream system, but for others throughout California where the coho salmon were not able to enter due to lack of precipitation and resulting low flows.”

A goal for all parties involved in the transaction is indeed cooperation for the betterment of future management efforts and to ensure a viable economy and a healthy watershed.

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