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The long game: TU and the Yuba River

Getting bent on the lower Yuba River.

The Yuba River is one of California’s many coldwater fishery jewels. In its upper forks the Yuba is a fine freestone trout stream; in the reach between Englebright Dam, where the river flows into the Central Valley, and its confluence with the Feather River near Marysville, the Yuba shines for salmon, steelhead and trout.

Like virtually all major rivers in California with anadromous native fish, the Yuba’s once proud runs of salmon and steelhead are shadows of their former selves. But there is tremendous potential here for improving both habitat conditions in the lower watershed and utilization of upper watershed habitat.

TU staff and grassroots have worked for years in partnership with the Foothills Water Network (FWN) to realize this potential, in particular by improving flows and other habitat conditions for salmon, steelhead and trout in the lower Yuba River. TU grassroots leaders such as Baiocchi’s Troutfitters have a longtime affiliation with this watershed and are on the front line in the effort to restore and improve this important fishery.

TU recently joined other groups involved with the FWN (including the Gold Country Fly Fishers, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, and the Northern California Council Fly Fishers International) in submitting a formal comment letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regarding the terms of re-licensing the Yuba River Development Project.

The water network issued a press release for the occasion. TU’s senior policy director Chandra Ferrari is quoted in it.

(L) Upper North Fork Yuba River.

While the letter acknowledges that FERC staff approved many of the recommended terms and conditions jointly agreed to and submitted by the parties to this proceeding, and that the Staff Alternative contains elements that improve upon the Yuba River Development Project’s proposal, it concludes “the Staff Alternative will not functionally improve habitat conditions for aquatic resources in the lower Yuba River.”

There is still much work to be done to bring back the Yuba as a more functional watershed for salmon and steelhead. The FERC relicensing process for the Yuba and other rivers is important for identifying needed changes in dam operations, flow management and habitat restoration to support anadromous fish runs, and in making those changes required in the new operating license. This is a “long game,” and TU is fully invested in it—on the Yuba and other Central Valley rivers.

Photos: Jon Baiocchi / Baiocchi’s Troutfitters