Celebrating a win for salmon

Calling for continued sufficient flows to save the spring-run chinook

The author is the executive director of Friends of Butte Creek.

Butte Creek salmon have made the news often this summer. That’s because there are a lot of them—more than 16,000 by early estimates. The early returning spring-run chinook are often a harbinger of things to come with the fall-run salmon in the Sacramento River basin. The fall run of the Sacramento, and other streams, will be returning from the same ocean environment that the Butte Creek “springers” grew up in.

The Butte Creek salmon also traveled through the Delta as juveniles, and they had good flows to carry them by the “pumps” on their way to the Pacific. They also pass through both the Lower Butte Creek and the Sutter Bypass, which have some of the best rearing habitat for juvenile salmon left in the Central Valley.

More than $35 million has been spent on ensuring this safe passage, and it has paid off. With a few more modifications, it seems that Butte Creek salmon could do even better. This summer PG&E—with guidance from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the State Water Resources Control Board—began diverting the least amount of water ever for the Centerville Powerhouse, to keep the record number of adults and juveniles in good condition. Considering Centerville Powerhouse is broken and out of commission, providing more water for the salmon is a no-brainer.

Butte Creek is still running at only about 60 percent to 70 percent of the natural flow above the powerhouse, and to relicense the rest of the DeSabla-Centerville Hydroelectric project (DeSabla and Toadtown powerhouses) by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, PG&E will have to prove that any diversion of water for the powerhouse is good for the fish. This may be an impossible task, and it could be the final chapter for the operations of the Centerville Powerhouse, which has diverted water from the creek for more than 100 years, greatly affecting the salmon.

We are hopeful that PG&E will shut down the Centerville Powerhouse for good, Centerville Head Dam will be removed, and that the full flow of Butte Creek will return, improving the habitat for fish and all creatures.

Come celebrate the return of a record run of endangered spring-run salmon in Butte Creek with the Friends of Butte Creek at the annual Wild and Scenic Film Festival, Sept. 14, at Sierra Nevada Brewery’s Big Room. Tickets are on sale now at the Chico Natural Foods Cooperative, Pure Skin, and online at www.buttecreek.org.