March 01, 2018    Headlines
 Eel Steel


Rainfall totals across the North Coast have ranged from 1.3 to 3" over the past 24 hours. All rivers are on the rise and most look to be close to blowing out if they are not already done so. The Smith is currently Thursday 3-1 at 11 feet and is forecasted to rise to 12 feet tonight. The good news is the guidance plot calls for the Smith to crest tonight and drop through the weekend.
The South Fork Eel is seeing a far faster rise jumping from 7.5 feet this morning to 10 feet this afternoon. The guidance plot calls for the river to crest late Friday at nearly 13 feet and will need a minimum of fiver days to drop back in.
The Mad has jumped from 7.5 to 9 feet and is muddy. The Mad has been a big producer this year and these March rains will bring in the late run wild fish.
The Russian has seen some of the heavier rainfall totals with 2.7" falling in the past 24 hours. That said with near zero releases off either Lake Mendocino or Warm Springs dams (and lack of rain in the area for 6 plus weeks) the river is currently just up from 200cfs to 600cfs. It's likely muddy but with the low flows could drop in very quickly.
The bottom line is that the Smith or Chetco should be a good bet this weekend but don't overlook the Russian as the low lake releases should allow it to quickly clear.

After weeks of dry weather the storm door is slooooowly creaking open. Here on Thursday 2-22 rainfall totals have ranged from a 1/4 to 1/3" inch in  Humboldt and Del Norte to less than a 10th" south of Garberville. While this may have added a touch of color to some rivers most have not come up more than an inch or three.
Showers / light rain is expected again on Saturday with a more significant system forecasted to arrive next Monday 2-26.
Some of the best reports continue to come from the Chetco where guides are pulling out all their tricks to put clients into 1 to 3 fish per day.
The Mad run of hatchery fish is waning but bankies are scoring some fish tossing roe and spoons below the hatchery.
The Eel could break lose after this next rise and will be a great bet considering the mid February date. This is prime time for the Eel and one of my favorite rivers to fish.

The Russian is very low at 250cfs but bankies are still finding good numbers around Dry Creek. Conditions have been crowded but fresh fish are still pushing up. Do your homework and you will find both fish and less crowded sections upriver.
In a nutshell all rivers are still low and clear but these next storm systems look to shake things up and turn the back on.

Eel River Research Examines Dams’ Effect on Salmon

Snaking along California’s North Coast is the Eel River, the state’s third largest watershed, which along with its tributaries, covers 3,684 square miles and crosses five counties.
Humboldt State Environmental Science & Management professors Alison O’Dowd and William Trush conducting field work on the Eel River last year. Photo courtesy of S. Greacen

Along the upper part of the river sits the Potter Valley Project, a massive power-generating facility that consists of two dams and a tunnel that diverts water to the East Fork of the Russian River.

The project has become controversial in recent decades due to its serious impact on the river’s salmon populations. Advocacy groups and others have called for the dams to be removed.

Now, as the government prepares to consider relicensing the project, Humboldt State Environmental Science & Management professors Alison O’Dowd, William Trush, and James Graham, along with several undergraduate and graduate students are working to get a better understanding of how the dams affect the salmon.

“Salmon are not only charismatic species but they’re indicative of watershed health. So if the salmon aren’t doing well then the amphibians, invertebrates and other aquatic organisms probably aren’t doing well either,” says O’Dowd.

The plummeting population of Eel River salmonids (coho and Chinook salmon, and steelhead trout) over the last several decades paints a grim picture. Before 1900, there were an estimated 500,000 salmonids (70,000 coho, 175,000 Chinook and 255,000 steelhead) in the Eel River watershed, according to the National Marine Fisheries and Service (NMFS).

Today, there are fewer than 15,000 salmonids—a 97 percent drop in population that environmentalists have partially attributed to the Potter Valley Project owned by PG&E;.

Starting in the mid-1800s, hundreds of dams were built along California’s rivers. The Potter Valley Project began in 1908 with the completion of the Cape Horn dam, and it has been diverting water to the Potter Valley in the Russian River watershed ever since. Scott Dam was completed in 1922 and that year, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted the project a 50-year license.

Over the next decade, the Commission will review licenses for about 150 dams, including Scott Dam, which is set to expire in 2022.

In the meantime, local environmental advocacy group Friends of the Eel River, which has been fighting for the removal of the dams for the last 20 years, has turned to O’Dowd and Trush to study blockwater releases.

The impetus for this research, conducted through HSU’s River Institute, was the plight of the salmon that lingered between the two dams. Under natural conditions, rising water temperatures and lower flows are Mother Nature’s signals for juvenile salmon to begin migrating out to the ocean.

However, fish rearing in the artificially cool and consistently flowing waters between the dams lingered into the summer months so that by the time they left, they swam into water with lethally high temperatures and lower flow conditions.

To push the fish downstream and help their outmigration, PG&E conducted blockwater dam releases in 2012, 2014 and this past spring. Releases are at the discretion of the NMFS and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, while the timing and volume of each release are based on a NMFS recommendation. However, O’Dowd and Trush hope to pinpoint exactly when, how much, and for how long water should be released to help the fish thrive.

They’ll do this by examining what the Eel River ecosystem looked like before the dams were built, and recommending ways to mimic the natural flow at times when the fish are most vulnerable.

Another aspect of their research will examine how much salmonid habitat exists in the watershed upstream of the impassable Scott Dam. To find the answer, O’Dowd and Graham (with support from California Trout) will use GIS modeling and field data to find spawning areas, rearing pools for juveniles, and any migration barriers. This information will be used to create a habitat map that shows what stream areas area accessible for which fish species.

“In a relicensing process when all the pros and cons are weighed, quantifying the amount of salmonid habitat upstream of Scott Dam can help bolster the argument for the modification or removal of the dams,” says O’Dowd. “On the other hand, our results may find that there isn’t much salmonid habitat in the upper watershed critical for their recovery. That’s why we’re doing the science—to see how we can best help the recovery of these threatened fish species.”

Related Links: Map: Eel River ( | Map: California Dams (KQED) | The Power of Potter Valley (Ukiah Daily Journal) | History of Hydropower (Dept. of Energy) | West Coast Salmon & Steelhead Listing (NOAA)

River Levels:

For river status (low flow closure) updates from Fish and Game please call +1.707.442.4502 for the North coast and +1.707.944.5533 for Central coast streams. Be sure to check out the California Fish and Game regulations before you go. Regulations vary on every river and you need to pay attention to bait and hook restrictions. Due to winter closures on HWYs 5, 101 & 299 we recommend you check Caltrans road conditions as well.

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