An unsettling sight unfolded on Friday as Butte Creek took on an unexpected hue – orange.
The alarming change in color is attributed to a malfunction of a canal owned by Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E), leading to the release of sediment into the creek. This incident poses an imminent threat to the native fish population, particularly the endangered spring-run Chinook salmon.
Today Butte Creek is filled with turbid waters apparently due to a canal failure. The normally crystal clear water has about 1 in (2 cm) visibility as noted in the transparency tube. Sad to see on a spring run Chinook salmon stream. Underscores needs for #30×30 @CalNatResources pic.twitter.com/AlhvffVQpT— Don Hankins (@Pyrogeographer) August 11, 2023
Partnerships with local conservation groups, including Friends of Butte Creek and the Mechoopda Tribe, are proving crucial in monitoring the situation and coordinating the response efforts. Collaborating with relevant agencies, these organizations are rushing to assess the extent of the damage and implement measures to alleviate the potential harm caused by the influx of sediment.
“Sediment in a stream is natural, but if sediment levels get too high, like they are currently at Butte Creek, it can be extremely dangerous for fish and other wildlife,” wrote CalTrout on Facebook. “Sediment blocks light that allows algae to grow, harms fish gills, fills or blocks important habitats, and stops fish from seeing well enough to move around or feed.”
The significance of Butte Creek, which runs through Butte County before joining the Sacramento River in Colusa, cannot be understated. Not only does it bear importance as a watershed, but it also holds deep cultural significance as it traverses the ancestral territory of the Mechoopda Tribe. The waterway also supports the largest population of wild spring-run Chinook salmon in California.