caltrout,    Environment,    mccloud hydropower relicensing,    mccloud river

The McCloud River Relicensing Process Turns Ugly, And Why You Should Care (or, The Apocalypse That Wasn't)

By Tom Chandler 9/16/2010

I kept receiving the emails, which grew more apocalyptic as time passed.

If you believed them, the McCloud Hydropower relicensing process was about to deal the McCloud River a death blow: "eliminate up to two and half months (April to July) of our licensed fishing season in order to create an amusement park for whitewater kayakers."

Worse yet, the relicensing process was going to "damage the 24 miles of near-perfect aquatic habitat throughout the McCloud below the reservoir and will destroy what is a unique, world-renowned and historic fishery."

Then - to my growing astonishment - I "learned" that the CalTrout and the state TU reps were "closet" whitewater activists working in the service of a shadowy whitewater lobby with more juice than the Trilateral commission.

Fearsome stuff.

Which happened to be almost wholly false.


Don't Make Me Pull This Blog Over To The Side Of The Road...
Major dams undergo a relicensing every 50 years, and flow regimes are a part of that process.

It's an impossibly complex process whereby every stakeholder on the planet has a say (including utilities, irrigators, state water board, forest service, user groups [like anglers && whitewater types], extraterrestrials, etc), and a cynic might suggest that nobody will ever really get what they want.

Where the McCloud's concerned, the stakes for fly fishermen are high; the McCloud remains one of the most scenic - and popular - rivers in the "real" west, and things can get a little heated.

In this case, somebody went way, way over the top.

In a nutshell, CalTrout, California's Trout Unlimited chapter and FFF have been deeply involved in the relicensing process for almost four years.

More recently, another group of anglers have become involved, and while I'm all for participation in conservation issues, I'm unwilling to sanction the fearmongering, misinformation and personal attacks offered up by the McCloud Riverkeepers (MRK). In fact, I'm even unwilling to give them a link to their site.

On their website and in a series of increasingly apocalyptic emails, the group - led by Dennis Amato - have sounded increasingly shrill alarms about the McCloud's imminent demise, and continue to tar and feather the state's conservation groups with some absurd charges.

Finally, I investigated for myself, and discovered a reality was far from the one painted by MRK's emails.

In simple terms, McCloud definitely needs the help of every fly fishermen who fishes it (or wants to).

But the dire predictions, alarming emails and character assassination have almost no grounding in fact.

In fact, I'd suggest a lot of California's anglers were the targets of an over-the-top fearmongering campaign.

So what's really happening?

What's Going On With The McCloud?
Several flow proposals have been tendered during the McCloud relicensing process, including one from American Whitewater, which in fact would have rendered the McCloud unfishable for big chunks of spring.

Fortunately, that proposal was Dead on Arrival, and it now appears that American Whitewater - the seemingly omnipotent Bad Guys according to MRK - have abandoned it, throwing their support behind the more reasonable US Forest Service proposal.

That hasn't stopped the MRK from using that original proposal, raising the specter of scouring flows, a dead fishery and scores of happy kayakers paddling past frustrated fly fishermen.

In truth, the group's dire predictions are beyond the scope of even the most harmful whitewater proposal. And just to be clear, pulse flows and the like simply aren't on the table at this time.

Meanwhile, CalTrout/TU/FFF have submitted a flow proposal that recognizes the "90% users" of the McCloud (that's you and me - fishermen), and tries to rectify the more glaring problems with the existing flow regime.

What's astonishing in all this is that MRK's stated goal is to maintain flows at the status quo - a fairly reasonable stance, though given what I've learned about the relicensing process, a largely impractical one.

Which truly makes me wonder why it's being propped up by so many lies.

I'm willing to debate the merits of the CT/TU/FFF proposal vs status quo flows vs the Forest Service proposal (and we'll do that someday soon).

But I won't debate anything in a toxic environment charged with invective and misinformation.

And though I'm unwilling to dignify the personal attacks with a lengthy rebuttal, I will suggest MRK's charges are absurd, serving only to sink the credibility of MRK into the realm of negative numbers.

So Why The Fly Shops?
Almost as painful as the emails has been the willingness of several of California's biggest fly shops to hitch their drift boat to this particular anchor.

MRK's emails tout the support of Bob Marriot's
(Southern California), Leland Fly Fishing Outfitters
(San Francisco), and The Fly Shop
in Redding (which manages the old - and still seriously private - Bollibokka club for Westlands Irrigation District, who bought it to remove another obstacle to raising Shasta Dam).

You only have to read the Background/Positions section of the MRK website to get a sense for the bombast and personal attacks involved, and why the shops didn't perform that due diligence - when even a local (and tiny) fly shop managed to do so - reflects poorly on somebody.

So Who Am I Backing?
So after wasting time writing this post (the kind of post I'd happily avoid), I'm supporting the CT/TU/FFF proposal over the "status quo" flows (the gist of the CT/TU/FFF support request is placed at the end of this post).

The CT/TU/FFF flows appear to fix many of the problems that plague the McCloud, including the springtime dewatering of the first mile below the dam, and the too-rapid fluctuations (hard on insects and fry).

Local Shasta Trout guide/outfitter Craig Nielsen actually fished the McCloud during the flow regime testing, and also supports the new CT/TU/FFF flow proposal on his website.

We spoke on our way to and from our alpine lake fishing trip, where Nielsen asserted said that higher flows (up to a point) will actually open up more water to anglers, increasing the "carrying capacity" of the river and improving the habitat for trout.

In simple terms, he thought fly fishermen would "lose access to a few spots, but gain many more new spots in the process."

That's not a bad start.

Summary, and More Information
These issues are rare easy or clear cut, but nobody's served when the facts are obscured under a heaping mound of fear, exaggeration and character assassination.

You can advocate for a status quo on the flows without any of the above, which is how I wish this was playing out.

It's clearly not. Still, perhaps it can, if we stick to the facts at hand.

Excerpt From the CalTrout/TU/FFF Letter

We have proposed an alternative flow regime with the intent of protecting, if not enhancing, the McCloud River fishery and improving its world class angling. Our recommendation calls for increased flows in the late-winter and early-spring during the critical time that rainbow trout are spawning and fry are rearing. Our proposal provides a more gradual down ramping of flows compared to how the river is managed now and will decrease the risk of rainbow trout fry stranding and reduce fish mortality.

We also believe that by releasing more water in the winter and early spring months we can minimize the amount of uncontrolled spills from the dam that create unexpected blow out conditions. These rapid increases and decreases in flow are detrimental to both fish and anglers.

While today some think the McCloud is as good as it can be, we believe that by addressing some detrimental flow issues we will both protect and improve the health of the famous McCloud River for years to come, and maintain wading access and fishability of the McCloud that anglers have come to expect. And, ultimately protecting the fish will enhance the overall fishing experience.

To understand the impact on anglers we reviewed over 30 years of McCloud River flow data. Our proposal would have impacted wadability in only the early weeks of the season in only five of those years. We believe that is a reasonable compromise in providing an even healthier fishery. We have consulted with dozens of anglers and guides who agree our proposal is the best for the fish and anglers.

Bottom line:
1. Our flow proposal will maintain world class angling conditions in the Lower McCloud River.
2. Our flow proposal will improve rainbow trout spawning conditions during early winter and
3. Our flow proposal will minimize flow fluctuations that can strand fry.
4. Anglers that know the McCloud best agree with our proposed flows.

Yes, we need your support. It's easy to make your voice heard directly to Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission. Click here to comment and make sure you file under the McCloud project number which is P-2106-047.

Tell them how important the McCloud River's angling heritage is. Tell them you support the CalTrout, Trout Unlimited, and Northern California Federation of Fly Fishers proposal to improve the way the river is managed and protect McCloud River's fishery.

Your voice can be heard (and yes, FERC is listening (sorta)).

Like many things in government, the process is easy, but convoluted.

  1. Go here.

  2. Click on the "eComment" button.

  3. FERC will ask for an email address, then send an email with instructions to that address.

  4. Click the link in the email.

  5. Paste this project number in the space (it's there): P-2106-047

  6. Write, or copy && paste your comments in the text box.

  7. (I told them I supported the CalTrout/TU/FFF proposal because it protects fisheries and supports the biggest recreational use of the river.)

See you on the McCloud, Tom Chandler.


Tom Chandler

As the author of the decade leading fly fishing blog Trout Underground, Tom believes that fishing is not about measuring the experience but instead of about having fun. As a staunch environmentalist, he brings to the Yobi Community thought leadership on environmental and access issues facing us today.

[...] be California’s most-loved river, and despite a contentious licensing process and a lot of misinformation to the contrary, the dam relicensing process is probably going to result in flows that look pretty good for fish [...]
Beth! So good to hear from you again. Hope all is well down there. I would like to learn more about what is actually proposed, and how that affects the river, and what has happened up til now. Sounds like a research project. Frankly, that would be a research project. And I don't really have the time to summarize the whole mess outside of an outrageously simplistic thumbnail sketch, which doesn't do ... more it justice. My real hope here is that everyone can move to a discussion of flows, not one of misrepresentation or covert character assassination. That said, the flow discussion is a difficult one even if everyone adheres to the same reality; American Whitewaters suggests that boatable flows in the spring actually serve to increase access to recreational fishery use, yet the vast majority of fly fishermen would disagree. And I've already received several emails from one of the low-flow folks (one of which was laced with words I don't repeat in public), who offer what amounts to a radically different perspective on this whole thing. And as we know, being in the middle only earns you a spot at the center of the firefight. A forum where everyone was heard might be the best tonic for all the misinformation and alien perspectives flying about, but I'm leaving soon for a week in Montana, so that will have to wait.
Hello Tom, Nice to cross paths with you again. I would like to learn more about what is actually proposed, and how that affects the river, and what has happened up til now. Sounds like a research project. Yes I'm a kayaker and have good friends who are fishermen/women. But I'm for the river. It's a gorgeous place and we need to keep it healthy. Drawing lines in the sand and deviseness will not help ... more us and I think that is part of what you are saying. Take care! Beth
[...] really like the Trout Underground… especially when I totally agree with him on things like the re-licensing effort on one of my [...]
Amen to what Tom said. If AW were so much in favor of natural flows, I'm sure they'd be willing to look at restoring natural flows to the Feather and American and other rivers that have really abnormal flows designed for nothing but recreation, right? I mean, if they have the interests of the rivers at heart... It is true that there used to be a whole lot more water in the McCloud. However, there ... more also used to be 1M salmon in that river, most likely steelhead and certainly Bull Trout (or Dolly's depending on who you listen to). Just putting the water back in the channel wouldn't replace all that and would certainly screw up the trout fishery as it exists, which is loved by a great number of people (myself included).
As a rafter/kayaker/drift boat oarsman, I support the American Whitewater proposal. My understanding is that it would not affect fishing much at all and would open the area to more fishing access in the early part of the season (since people could raft down to fish). Sadly, your understanding is dead wrong. The AW proposal would largely put an end to fly fishing on the McCloud in the first part of ... more the year because wading access would be largely impossible. It's a wholly unacceptable proposal for a wild trout river - one where 90% of the use is fishing. If that's AW's official position, then I suppose it's a good thing the AW proposal has a snowball's chance of acceptance, and probably one of the reasons that the relationship between the two groups (fishermen and whitewater folks) seems to be heading downhill in a hurry.
As a rafter/kayaker/drift boat oarsman, I support the American Whitewater proposal. My understanding is that it would not affect fishing much at all and would open the area to more fishing access in the early part of the season (since people could raft down to fish). That's AW's position, anyway. I was at the FERC hearings and was amused by one comment made by the guy who represented himself as being ... more from the McCloud RiverKeepers (interesting comments above on that), when he said that the McCloud was "perfect". I am willing to bet a large sum of money on that the McCloud was a whole lot more "perfect" both from the standpoint of fishing and for the whitwater folks (not that there were any around back then) back before the hand of PG&E and the Central Valley Project was laid upon it. Seems like now we're all just trying to make the best of a bad situation. Mark Let me add one more thought to this: I think there's room for healthy debate between a status quo approach and a call for higher flows (though I tend to support the slightly higher flows), and I don't want this to serve as a condemnation of everyone who favors the lower flow regime. There's room to disagree in all this, but we'd moved way, way beyond that.
Let me add one more thought to this: I think there's room for healthy debate between a status quo approach and a call for higher flows (though I tend to support the slightly higher flows), and I don't want this to serve as a condemnation of everyone who favors the lower flow regime. There's room to disagree in all this, but we'd moved way, way beyond that.
True, but it's not clear to me who's messing with Mother Nature more at this point, especially given that the historic flows on the McCloud were many times higher than currently...
Based on your previous comment, I do wonder about a civil debate between a "status quo" advocate vs a pro-CT/CU/FFF position, both of which have some merit. Then again, I've already wasted a bunch of time on this thing...
Given your experience in this area, glad to hear it.
As the current President of the California Coastkeeeper Alliance representing the 12 licensed Waterkeepers spanning the state from the Klamath to San Diego I would like to point out that the person and organization claiming to be the McCloud Riverkeeper in fact has nothing to do with the Waterkeeper Alliance members and does not represent our position. Additionally Mr Amato is unlawfully usurping ... more a licensed trademark and has been sent two Cease and Desist Notices and then gave his word to the Waterkeeper Alliance staff he would cease unlawfully using a Waterkeeper Alliance trademarked name and broke his word and started using our trademarked name again as the FERC relicensing process kicked in. We 190 real licensed Waterkeepers around the globe go to the mat every day for everyones right to have healthy abundant fisheries, swimable waters free of pollution and access to clean water for our communities and are incensed at Mr. Amato's selffish and unlawful use of our valuable brand. Our Executive Director Linda Sheehan has delivered comments to FERC stating the true stance of real Waterkeepers on this issue coming down on the side of science that provides the best possible flow regime for the McCloud River fishery so that everyone especially our friends in the constant fight for healthier fisheries know where real Waterkeepers stand on this issue. Again we true Waterkeepers demand Mr Amato cease for unlawfully using our trademark and until he does he certainly shows all the level of integrity he posses....if any. Sincerely, Don McEnhill President of the Board of California Coastkeeper Alliance
Great report Tom! Thank you for your time, energy, and due diligence in exposing some of the murkiness and clarifying a few things!
Thanks again for your voice, Tom, and for taking much of the murkiness out of this pivotal issue. I'm now reserving only half a breath.
I am not saying YOU are adding to the mix...very nice job wading thru all the bs and delivering the facts, thank you. However,,,mess with "Mother Nature" and her rivers and she will bite you (riverkeepers and water mongers) in the ass.
Nice digest of the issue. Cutting off the nose despite the face and all that by MRK.
Thanks for sifting through the mud Tom.
Well said Tom. Agree 100%.

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