After a long and severe drought, parts of California are now looking at the opposite end of the weather spectrum. Rough storms and heavy rain pummeled the northern part of the state yesterday, and the sudden appearance of large amounts of water is proving to be problematic for Chinook salmon. According to CBS San Francisco, the salmon are getting lost while traveling to their spawning grounds, often ending up in small irrigation canals or in ditches.
“We’ve rescued over five hundred fish,” said Colin Perdy, a biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Perdy and her colleagues spent the last several days retrieving lost salmon from places such as a rice farm north of Sacramento. The fish had gotten there after taking a wrong turn in the Sacramento River Delta and ended up in a irrigation canal—a dead end if not for the efforts of Fish and Wildlife employees. It is not the first time that the agency had to transport lost salmon back to the right place, but the heavy rains are exacerbating the problem by tricking fish into thinking that normally shallow waterways are rivers. The situation is likely to get worse before it gets better, as USA Today reported that as much as nine inches of rainfall is expected for the Sacramento area in the coming days.
Yet not all fish are facing problems from this much-needed rain. The Department of Fish and Wildlife has begun opening trout hatcheries to take advantage of colder winter temperatures and higher water levels.
“The drought forced us to think quickly and make the best decisions for the health of the fish,” said Dr. Bill Cox, Fishery Program Manager. “Because of the rain and colder weather, we can start producing trout right away.”
The rain will not end California’s drought, but experts say the storms will help bring the state further out of its dry period. According to the Los Angeles Times, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated that it would take 18 to 21 more inches of rain over the next half year before California could be considered out of the drought.
“It takes a long time to get in a drought this severe, and it takes a long time to get out of a drought this severe,” Deke Arndt, a NOAA climatologist, told the Times. “Any precipitation is welcome, but… it will take at least months of above-normal rain to reset things.”
Image courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service