Federal lawsuit filed over Yuba River dams for salmon habitat | TheUnion.com

Federal lawsuit filed over Yuba River dams for salmon habitat

Photo for The Union by John Hart
John Hart | The Union

Daguerre Point Dam was built after the U.S. Congress authorized its construction in 1902, as part of the Rivers and Harbors Act. Englebright Dam’s construction was authorized in 1935.

The California Debris Commission built Daguerre in 1906 (rebuilt in 1965) and is 25 feet tall and contains two fish ladders. Englebright was constructed in 1941, is 260 feet tall and contains no fish ladders due to its considerable height.

Englebright is located near the border of Yuba and Nevada Counties east of Marysville. Daguerre is further down river in Yuba County.

The fight over the existence of two major dams on the Yuba River entered a new phase Wednesday afternoon, as the Yuba County Water Agency filed a federal lawsuit in the Eastern District Court against the National Marine Fisheries Service regarding the operation and maintenance of Daguerre and Englebright dams.

In February 2012, the fisheries service, a federal agency responsible for the management of the nation’s marine resources, issued an order to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — which operates both dams — to implement multiple actions to reintroduce three endangered species of fish to the upper watershed of the Yuba River.

The fisheries service stated in a biological opinion that the best method of fish reintroduction is dismantling the two dams.

“Dam removal is the most preferred approach,” the opinion states.

The YCWA’s lawsuit reflects its position that the opinion released by the federal agency is “significantly flawed, presents unacceptable social, economic and environmental risks to … the entire region.”

The YCWA further stated the opinion threatens a collaborative and science-based effort to improve salmon and steelhead habitat in the Yuba watershed.

“This opinion threatens YCWA’s operations, the people of Yuba County and even California’s economy and environment,” YCWA Board of Directors Chairman Roger Abe said. “We believe the court will recognize the errors and flaws in this NMFS opinion and direct it to prepare a new one that is legally and scientifically credible.”

Removal of the 260-foot tall Englebright Dam would not only detrimentally impact hydroelectric operations currently in place, but would be environmentally disastrous in that there are 28 million cubic yards of contaminated debris left over from the hydraulic mining days that are stored behind the Englebright Dam, according to a YCWA news release issued Wednesday.

The release of these materials would create “immense public health and safety, environmental and financial challenges,” the release states.

However, many wildlife advocates say the Corps needs to do more to restore habitat critical to three fish species — spring-run Chinook salmon, central valley steelhead and green sturgeon.

“We’re very disappointed with YCWA’s decision to take this matter back to court,” said Caleb Dardick, executive director of the South Yuba River Citizens League. “It’s been in and out of court for years. Despite the biological opinion needing some technical revision, it provides a solid basis and a solid pathway to restoring wild salmon to the Yuba River watershed.”

A more collaborative process would have benefited all parties, Dardick said, adding his organization remains committed to a healthy river and that wild salmon would not only restore environmental vitality but bring an economic boon to the region.

Chris Grey, spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers, said the agency is also committed to a healthy river.

“We are trying to work with everyone involved to find solutions,” he said. “We care about the river.”

In a study conducted by Folsom-based HDR Engineering Inc., the authors conclude the biological opinion “contains numerous conclusionary statements that are not supported by analyses, citations or rationale, as well as contradictory information addressing specific issues.”

DaGuerre Point Dam has also been a flashpoint for controversy after a Canadian Energy company, Archon Energy Ltd., filed an application to build a hydroelectric facility on the dam in July.

SYRCL also led the movement to oppose the dam, saying the company failed to factor the risks to the endangered species and the watershed as a whole.

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email mrenda@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4239.

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