Huge victory for salmon

Federal agency rules they must have access to streams above four major dams

In what may be the most significant—and costly—decision of its kind ever made, the National Marine Fisheries Service issued sweeping new federal rules June 4 to protect declining salmon and steelhead populations.

The ruling, called a biological opinion, mandates that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation provide the fish with access to streams above several major Northern California dams: Shasta on the Sacramento River, Folsom and Nimbus on the American, and New Melones on the Stanislaus.

Because the dams lack fish ladders, they block access to hundreds of miles of historic spawning grounds. The NMFS has set a deadline of 2020 for carrying out its new rules, which were issued in the form of a biological opinion.

Farm groups oppose the NMFS ruling, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger accused the agency of “putting fish above the needs of millions of Californians,” according to the Sacramento Bee. In a press release, Department of Fish and Game Director Donald Koch reiterated the state’s support for the “ecosystem approach” of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

Water agencies can—and no doubt will—appeal the ruling.