Salmon Threatened As Oroville Dam Spillway Water Gushes

The above photos from Twitter show a rather frantic scene at the Oroville Dam Spillway above the Feather River. As the Sacramento Bee reports, damage on the spillway has forced water to be released from Lake Oroville that is threatening baby salmon at a Feather River hatchery just downstream.

Here’s some of the Bee’s recap of the events that started yesterday and became even more dramatic earlier today:

So much sediment and debris are washing into the Feather River from the fractured spillway at Oroville Dam that workers on Thursday were frantically racing to transport by truck 4 million baby salmon from a downstream hatchery before they die in the thick, muddy waters.

“They have turbidity in the river like they’ve never seen before,” said Harry Morse, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Turbidity is a technical term that refers to how cloudy the water is. Morse said the hatchery has no method of filtering water as brown as it was Thursday.

Meanwhile, state dam officials made a third release from the dam Thursday morning that sent a roaring river of muddy water down the spillway. Officials at the scene said the release was expected to reach 35,000 cubic feet of water per second, or nearly twice as much as Wednesday’s controlled release, which was designed to test how much water could run past the damaged section without further eroding the chute.


The Feather River Hatchery sits just below Oroville and was scrambling to save the salmon, as the Bee points out:

At the fish hatchery just below the dam – one of a handful the state counts on to sustain its $1.4 billion commercial and recreational fishing industries – 4 million salmon were being trucked to holding ponds adjacent to the nearby Thermalito complex, a system of downstream reservoirs. Those ponds would be safe from the cloudy water conditions, said Morse, the fisheries agency spokesman.

That represents just half the baby fish at the hatchery. Morse said the Thermalito facility can’t accommodate all the fish at risk, so more than 4 million will remain in the hatchery while filtration experts try to devise a solution.

Each year the Feather River Hatchery releases some 7 million baby salmon into the Central Valley’s waterways. Last March, state officials estimated that fish raised in the Feather River accounted for 63 percent and 76 percent of the state’s recreational and commercial ocean catches, respectively.

“The loss of hatchery-produced salmon from Feather River Hatchery would be a major blow to salmon fishermen in California,” said John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association.