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SARSAS snags salmon expert

Salmon could thrive in Auburn Ravine
By: Bruce Warren Journal Staff Writer
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A local group intent on returning salmon to the Auburn Ravine has snagged one of California’s top fish experts. Save Auburn Ravine Salmon and Steelhead just obtained the services of Peter Moyle, a UC Davis professor, who recently came out with his authored report: “SOS: California’s Native Fish Crisis.” Jack Sanchez, president and founder of SARSAS, now a non-profit organization, describes Moyle’s qualifications in two sentences. “He’s Mr. Salmon Universe,” Sanchez said. “His whole life has been devoted to saving the salmon.” The goal of SARSAS is to make Auburn Ravine Creek habitable for salmon – specifically the stretch that runs 33 miles from the town of Verona, where the Sacramento and Feather rivers come together, to the Auburn School Park Preserve. Considering Moyle’s report on the demise of salmon and trout, improving Auburn Ravine could not happen soon enough. Moyle’s findings indicate that the state’s native salmon are in “unprecedented decline and are teetering towards the brink of extinction.” The report predicts that 65 percent of native salmon, steelhead and trout species may be extinct in the next century. Despite the record-low number of salmon in both the American and Sacramento rivers this year, Moyle said that Auburn Ravine could support salmon if conditions are right. “If they get adequate flows down that stretch of Auburn Ravine and it connects to the Sacramento River, the fall run Chinook will come up partly on their own,” Moyle said. “The fall run is the easiest of these runs to get established because they are easy to raise in hatcheries. You would have an easy source of fish.” Part of the fish population decline is due to pollution. “There are so many streams in California that have been polluted and many have man-made barriers,” Sanchez said. “There really aren’t many places for the salmon to go. The salmon just run into these barriers and die.” Several barrier dams along the Auburn Ravine have already been removed. The Gold Hill Diversion Dam remains as the last major barrier to be retrofitted in order to make the creek passable for salmon spawning, according to Sanchez . “All we have to do is open a fish passage in the Auburn Ravine and the salmon will come,” Sanchez said. Getting enough water in the creek during dry summer months and in the fall, however, will be one of the challenges. SARSAS has been working with the Nevada Irrigation District and the Placer County Water Agency in order to make water available during dry months. “There is water available during canal maintenance that starts in October,” Sanchez said. In order for salmon to survive in Auburn Ravine, they also will need clean water. Recently, the city of Auburn was fined $60,000 for serious violations from 2000 to 2007, when the Ophir Road wastewater treatment plant released significant amounts of water that was either over or under treated with chlorine. If those conditions persist, salmon or any fish will not survive, according to Professor Moyle. “If they put too much chlorine in the creek, they will kill the fish,” Moyle said. “That happens all the time when wastewater is released into streams.” Jack Warren, the city’s public works director, said the plant’s releases and subsequent fines were “very normal.” City councilman Mike Holmes, who is Auburn’s incoming mayor, disagrees with Warren regarding the wastewater fines. “I don’t agree with our director’s comments about that being routine,” Holmes said. Holmes has attended several SARSAS meetings in order to keep up with what’s going on, he said. “The city has not committed anything yet,” Holmes said. “The major area would be below our treatment plant. Our wastewater plant supplements water in Auburn Ravine, which would not be there in the dry times in the summer.” In the meantime, Sanchez remains convinced that a salmon habitat can be created because of what he has seen at Butte Creek in Siskiyou County, which runs some 70 miles compared to the 33-mile stretch of Auburn Ravine. “At Butte Creek, they had 6,000 spawning salmon in October this year,” Sanchez said. “PG&E released water there and they have 20-pound salmon in a small creek the size of Auburn Ravine.”