FERC Public Hearing; Project 2105.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you this evening. My name is Bob Orange and I am a Regional Representative and state vice-president for the California Fish & Game Wardens Association, whom I am representing here tonight. This organization has proudly represented California Game Wardens for nearly 80 years. I have been a Warden for 26 years, my patrol district is right here in Plumas County. My father is a retired Warden with 38 years of state service. I am the proud second generation of Game Wardens in my family.
A historical fact for your reference that you may or may not know: Game Wardens are fully sworn state peace officers, and have been protecting California's resources and enforcing state laws since 1870 - 59 years before the California Highway Patrol was created. Game Wardens are unique because we do not only enforce game law – we also review and assist in the preparation of complex environmental documents – which brings me to the purpose of my speaking to you today.
There are currently two Wardens working in Plumas County, one on the east side or the county in the Portola area, and I have the West side of the county, which encompasses all of the Project 2105 area. As part of my concern for the resources of my patrol area, I have reviewed much of the documentation regarding the thermal curtain and all of the alternatives presented so far. However, it is my opinion that there are several more practical and effective alternatives that have been omitted from this plan that deserve utmost serious consideration.
The purpose of the coldwater curtain is to lower the water temperature of the Feather downstream. The end-desired product is to improve the fisheries: correct? There are other ways to improve the fisheries in the same section without the thermal curtain. As a direct result of the FERC 2105 relicensing process, there has been very restrictive fishing rules placed on the waters in this system in order to improve the fisheries. These are laws that I must enforce everyday, so I have first hand knowledge of the impacts.
Let me explain some of the laws I am talking about. For 26 miles of the river from Belden to Pulga the regulations are zero limit, artificial lures, barbless hooks, with a season from the last Saturday in April to November 15. (In other words – you must catch and release all of your fish back into state waters. However, in the three power dam forebays in this geographical section of river (Cresta, Poe, Rock Creek) you can use bait, barbed hooks, keep a five fish limit, and fish year round.
In all the tributaries that empty into this, zero fish limit zone, you may keep five fish, and use bait. At the next power dam above this section, Caribou Forebay, the trout limit is now two, and the season is again the last Saturday in April to November 15. Now let’s move farther up to Butt Lake.
The limit Butt Lake is two fish, and the season is year round, save for the area around Butt Lake Powerhouse where the season is the Saturday preceding Memorial Day through Feb. 28. Now the tributaries to Butt Lake have a different season than the other reservoirs downstream. These tribs don't open till Memorial weekend. Now finally we are at Lake Almanor. The fishing season there is year round with a five fish trout limit. Tributaries to Almanor do not open to fishing till Memorial weekend also.
Does this sound confusing to you? You bet it is. It’s confusing for me as the enforcing officer and for the sportsmen and women that fish these waters.
Poaching problems abound. Can the laws be effectively enforced with personnel we have? Frankly the answer is NO. Every spring and fall, trout spawn in tributaries up and down the river & lake system encompassed by project 2105. They become blocked at barriers where they are highly susceptible to being snagged and netted out. One officer cannot patrol hundreds of miles of streams. At the diversion dam fish ladder just a couple miles upstream from here, poachers have been caught at 3 in the morning snagging spawning fish. A very simple solution to improve the fisheries here is to increase enforcement of the laws already on the books. By doing this literally thousands of trout will be able to successfully spawn creating larger numbers of fish.
You may think just checking fishermen would be all we do. It is not. We also enforce fish passage laws. We need to check the streams to ensure fish passage by artificial barriers. Here is a water gauging station on Butt Creek just above Butt Lake. These are photos of fish trying to jump over it. My observations are that out of approx every 50 attempts, only one leap is successful. These large trout are literally beating themselves to death by trying to migrate upstream over this barrier. Modify this barrier to incorporate a fish ladder and you will add dozens of miles of prime spawning stream for the wild trout fishery of Butt Lake. This again, is a poaching problem as these fish are stopped at the barrier and are then easily caught by unethical anglers.
Problems similar to this obstruction abound throughout the stream system in this area.
Here is a photo of a water crossing under a railroad down the canyon. Modifications need to be made to ensure spawning out of the main river system. This can be made at a number of locations. All would greatly improve the existing fisheries in the Feather River which is the original intent of the cold water proposal.
Another critical item has been completely neglected throughout this whole process. One of security for the power plants, dams, transmission lines, and energy infrastructure licensed by this project. Homeland Security issues cannot be forgotten here. Chances are that in this great state, if there is a terrorist event against these facilities, it will be the podunk game Warden out there working who will discover it and be involved.
Wherever you have a lake or powerhouse, you have a Game Warden, that's us watching it when we have the time. This is often in a surveillance mode from cover, watching for overlimits, snagging, litter, vandalism, etc... Wardens know what is going on from repeated visits on foot, not driving by in a car going 60 miles an hour. We don't whiz over the bridges in the canyon; we get out and check out what is underneath them. Transmission line corridors have quail and rabbit hunters, who patrols them on a regular basis? Wardens do.
In summary, we can do the following items which would have an immediate impact of improving the fisheries within the FERC 2105 project. In my opinion, they would improve the fisheries more than the installation of the thermal curtain. A precedent has been set by the state of California already. In the Bay-Delta there are large pumping plants which pump water for the Central Valley Project Aqueduct. As a result of the huge pumps at Tracy, millions of small fish are killed each year. As mitigation, seven game warden positions are funded by the California Department of Water Resources to prevent over fishing, snagging, pollution, gill netting, etc... By enforcing fishing regulations, fishery resources are protected and enhanced.
I propose that PG&E fund one Game Warden position full time in Plumas County for the life of this agreement. The primary focus of this position would be enforcement of the fishing regulations encompassed by the waters of FERC 2105. This Warden would also enhance security against possible terrorist activity of any type. The position would serve as a public relations contact for the recreational users of this project. This would include boat patrol of both Butt and Almanor Lakes. The purpose of this position would be to enforce, educate, and provide security. Right now there is very little enforcement of the fishing regulations in this area due to lack of personnel. This proposed officer would also inspect and ensure removal of stream barriers which prevent spawning fish migration along the North Fork of the Feather River. In addition I propose a yearly overtime budget for officers who are in the squad for additional patrol of the FERC relicensing area.
The costs of providing a Warden I have in this handout being presented to you. We don't make a whole lot of money, so it can really be a bigger bang for the buck than the tens of millions going into the thermal curtain and we can achieve the same purpose: that of a better fishery. The first year start up cost for a Warden to attend the academy, train, and receive all of his equipment, firearms, vehicle, boat, etc would be approx. $150,000. A top step senior Warden with all pay incentives makes $52 k a year. With administrative costs that bumps up to $85 k a year. Here is how it breaks down:
First year costs for a Warden position to be implemented- $150,000
Every year thereafter for the life of the agreement budget a Warden position including administrative costs, expenses, fuel etc: $100k
$50k a year in Warden and squad overtime.
Budget a new patrol vehicle every 7 years within specified purchase standards.
New Almanor patrol boat every 10 years compatible with Sheriff's Dept. purchase costs of their boats.
Finally, I propose a modification of the Butt Creek water gauging station above Butt Lake to improve spawning migration. This may be easily accomplished by installing a fish ladder.
Again, I reiterate that I believe implementation of this alternative presented would result in more overall quality fisheries, experience, and enhancement than building a thermal curtain. Certainly a whole lot less controversy......
Vice President, CFGWA