Another View: Too much water for too few fish

Visitors watch yearling king salmon swim in an aquarium at the 2013 Stanislaus River Salmon Festival.
Visitors watch yearling king salmon swim in an aquarium at the 2013 Stanislaus River Salmon Festival. Modesto Bee file

I read with disappointment Bruce Maiman’s column (“Another fish tale mucks up state water debate,” Viewpoints, April 21). His investigation into the “muck” on the release of 27,000 acre-feet of water from New Melones Reservoir to benefit 29 steelhead trout on the Stanislaus River did little to clear up these muddied waters.

The first question to the federal, state and university “experts” he talked to should have been: “What is the scientific basis for the pulse flow releases, and by scientific basis we mean, are there peer-reviewed and published works, journals or papers that indicate spring pulse flows will make or encourage resident trout become steelhead?”

The answer is no.

When the Oakdale and South San Joaquin irrigation districts inquired about the number of steelhead trout the federal government was managing on the Stanislaus River, they told us 29. Based on actual monitoring data collected by the districts, the number of adults (greater than 16 inches) migrating upstream through the weir over the last seven years has ranged from two to 17, and averaged six. If you include 30 fin-clipped hatchery fish and eight classified as unknown, the seven-year average is 12, not 29. In fact, without close evaluation of the scales, it’s unknown how many were actually steelhead.

There’s an agricultural business saying: “It’s not what you sow, it’s what you reap that counts at the bank.” That’s how most farmers view the world, and it is that perspective that separates us from the environmental community.

When a farmer plants a field of tomatoes, he harvests them and trucks them to the cannery for processing. He is paid based on their weight. What’s left in the field is immaterial to the check he’ll receive from the cannery. That’s considered a management loss.

Now let’s talk fishery management. The federal government sent 27,000 acre-feet (8.8 billion gallons) of water down the Stanislaus to flush out “several hundred to 1,000 fish to the ocean.” This is done with the prospect that the water investment will produce 29 steelhead.

In a simple business analysis, that is nearly 1,000 acre-feet to produce one returning steelhead trout. That’s enough water for 1,000 families for an entire year in order to “produce” one fish. That’s not muck, that’s fact.

Steve Knell is general manager of the Oakdale Irrigation District in Stanislaus County.