Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Salmon & Water Flavor

So that’s the secret…it’s the taste of the water…

Low runoff blamed for scant salmon sightings in Putah Creek
By ERIN PURSELL, The Reporter, Vacaville
Article Launched: 12/18/2006 07:00:12 AM PST

It appears it may not be a very good year for salmon in Solano County.

The window for the fish to return to their native Putah Creek watershed to spawn is coming to a close, and with only one confirmed sighting so far.

Biologists and those who maintain the creek say they might have to wait until next year to see the record numbers they had hoped for.

"I think what may have happened is we haven't had enough runoff," said Rich Marovich, of the Lower Putah Creek Coordinating Committee.

Every watershed has a different mineral content, Marovich explained, and when it rains, the runoff gives the water a certain "flavor" that helps the adult chinook salmon find their way back from the Sacramento Delta through Rio Vista to the streams where they were spawned.

Putah Creek runs from the Monticello Dam at Lake Berryessa , into Lake Solano, and on into Winters and Davis.

"The fish coming back to Putah Creek are looking for that Putah Creek-flavored water," Marovich said. "We think that's because there has been less rain and runoff, and that's probably why we haven't seen as many salmon."

While researchers aren't exactly sure what conditions foster an ideal salmon run, they suspect the runoff has a lot to do with a successful year, given that the record 70 fish counted in 2003 came just after heavy November rains.

"It's kind of a no-brainer that more water is better," Marovich said.

This year is the first year that salmon spawned in 2003 would return to do their own spawning. And if significant numbers return, it could prove that Putah Creek supports a self-sustaining salmon run.

"There's fish biologists we contract every year to canoe and survey egg nests," Marovich said.

This is done the first week after the annual salmon attraction flows, which occur for about five days during the first week of December. Heavy flows of water are released from Lake Berryessa by way of the Putah Diversion Dam for five consecutive days.

"Typically, what they do is survey Putah Diversion Dam to Winters," Marovich said. "It's 4.5 miles of the best salmon spawning ground on the creek."
The surveys are a very reliable method for counting salmon, he added.

"In 2003, every place that they approached that they thought looked like good spawning habitat there was a nest," he said.

As of Friday, however, there had only been one confirmed salmon sighting.
The next few weeks will be critical if the salmon are to find their way into their native streams and then die.

But researchers remain optimistic.

"We're more interested in long-term trends than we are in the results in any one year," Marovich said. "The big question is, does Putah Creek have a self-sustaining salmon run?"