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Salmon Migration Blocked at Hemphill Dam on Auburn Ravine

Many individuals and agencies have worked diligently to get salmon 22 miles up Auburn Ravine to the current blockage at Hemphill Dam. NOAA Special Agent Don Tanner brought nine downstream dams into compliance with NOAA regulations; that is, all dams are removed by October 15 and stay down until April 15 each year. Albert Scheiber installed a fish screen over his water outtake. South Sutter Water District, Family Water Alliance, and others have worked to install fish screens on Pleasant Grove Canal, which is said to trap and kill up to 90% of young salmon as they try to reach the Pacific Ocean. And under their former management, Nevada Irrigation District (NID), with a large grant from CalFed, and contributions from Placer County, Dry Creek Conservancy, Granite Bay Flycasters, and the Bella Vista Foundation implemented the fish ladder at the Lincoln Gauging Station. Save Auburn Ravine Salmon and Steelhead (SARSAS), Auburn Ravine Preservation Committee, Dry Creek Conservancy, Placer Legacy, Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA, the California State Waterboard and many others have combined to get salmon to as far upstream as they are today. But dozens of salmon (some 2 to 3 feet long) are currently trapped below Hemphill Dam. Some did get over the dam in our last high-water year, but so far this year, none have made it. Much talk and planning has taken place, but action is needed to get salmon over Hemphill Dam. The salmon were in Auburn Ravine on October 15, but NID management did not even apply to California Fish and Wildlife (CFW) for a permit to modify the dam for salmon passage until November 2, too late because salmon were already at Hemphill Dam — construction would have negatively impacted them. We met with NID leadership at the dam in October 2013 to plan fish passage (see photo) but to date they have not completed the implementation. The City of Auburn recently authorized a Resolution of Support to get salmon to Ashford Park and Auburn School Park Preserve. The city is visionary because, located on Highway 80, many visitors will stop in Auburn to watch salmon spawn, bringing real economic benefits for the city. Taylor Creek, for example, on Highway 89 near South Lake Tahoe has a small non-native kokanee salmon run. During spawning season, ten thousand people come to their visitor center each week to watch the kokanee spawn. Salmon are already in two parks in Lincoln. Stantec has installed signage on Auburn Ravine at McBean Park. Wildlife Heritage Foundation continues the Salmon Celebration instituted by SARSAS, now in its fifth year. Plans are underway to clean up the old dumpsite in Lincoln. When that is completed, beautiful frontage along Auburn Ravine could be opened up, and viewing stands could be installed so visitors view our wild 30-pound native salmon as they surge upstream. CFW’s Mike Healey recently completed a study which showed that, in addition to Fall Run Chinook Salmon, Auburn Ravine is also home to Winter and Spring Run Salmon. Agent Healey’s findings lift the bar on protection needed for our salmon because Winter Run salmon were listed as an endangered species on January 4, 1994, and Spring Run Chinook salmon were listed as a threatened species on September 16, 1999 by National Marine Fisheries Service. SARSAS Board Member, Robert Hane, is coordinating restoration of North Ravine, a major tributary of Auburn Ravine. That project will allow salmon to spawn there when they are finally able to get to the Auburn area. Damion Ciotti of US Fish and Wildlife Service, Amanda Vasquez of the Sierra Native Alliance and their Native Youth Conservation Corps, and Carrie Monroe of the California Conservation Corps have all been instrumental in that program. SARSAS Program Director Steve Hubbard envisioned a SARSAS Citizen Science Program (SCSP) for Migratory Fishes (Anadromy), using volunteers to gather data on Auburn Ravine. He, and Coordinator Jim Haufler, are implementing the Program with Peter Moyle, the salmon scholar from UC Davis, as their advisor. Up to 20 volunteers record vital data weekly on salmon migration, and habitat, and record their data at the web site, a place where you can record what you see in nature, meet other nature lovers, and learn about the natural world. Many good things are happening as a result of salmon returning and spawning in Auburn Ravine, but salmon must be allowed to continue upstream past Hemphill Dam. Returning salmon to the entire length of Auburn Ravine will provide countless benefits, many unforeseen at this time. Because of all the benefits to salmon, and people in the Auburn-Lincoln area, we are looking forward to a renewed commitment by NID to resolve their issues so salmon can be returned to the entire 33-mile length of Auburn Ravine.

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