Gavin Newsom Pledges to Revive Salmon Populations by Removing California Dams

California Governor Gavin Newsom toured California Trout’s restoration projects in Humboldt County on Monday. Photo: California Trout

California Governor Gavin Newsom is taking ambitious steps to restore salmon populations by pledging to expedite the removal or bypassing of aging dams that have obstructed salmon migration in the state’s mountain streams. This initiative aims to rejuvenate the complex ecosystem vital for both the economy and spiritual beliefs of local tribes.

While Newsom has strived to establish himself as one of the nation’s most environmentally-conscious governors, he has faced criticism from environmental groups. These critics argue that his water policies prioritize large-scale agriculture, potentially endangering salmon and other threatened fish species.

Once abundant, salmon played a pivotal role in California’s natural resources, providing crucial nutrients from the ocean and forming the basis of creation stories central to indigenous tribes’ way of life. However, last year witnessed such a sharp decline in salmon numbers that officials were forced to close the commercial fishing season.

In response to the criticism and concerns, Newsom unveiled his strategy to protect salmon. This plan prominently features projects designed to remove or work around aging dams preventing salmon from returning to their birth streams for spawning.

Some of the key elements of Newsom’s strategy include:

  1. Removal of Scott Dam and Cape Horn Dam: These dams, owned by Pacific Gas & Electric, block salmon access to 288 miles of habitat along the Eel River. The plan aims to complete this project by the end of the year, transforming the Eel River into the state’s longest free-flowing river.
  2. Rindge Dam Removal: By next summer, Newsom intends to finalize plans for the removal of the nearly century-old Rindge Dam along Malibu Creek in Los Angeles County. This project would open up an additional 15 miles of habitat for steelhead.
  3. Matilija Dam Removal: Before the end of his term in 2026, Newsom pledges to complete the necessary infrastructure for removing the Matilija Dam in Ventura County.

These dam removal projects have already been announced and are in the early stages of development. Newsom’s commitment is to either complete these projects or obtain approval from state regulatory bodies before the end of his term.

Photo: California Trout

“The Governor’s strategy brings in many of the elements we think are effective to bring back salmon populations. Restoring habitat, removing fish passage barriers, and investing in technology and science are crucial to ensure these fish are around for future generations,” said California Trout Executive Director Curtis Knight. “We don’t have a moment to waste, and this approach, built on partnerships with tribes and many others, indicates the right level of urgency to address the crisis these native fish are facing.” 

However, Newsom’s proposal has faced criticism from various quarters, including the Golden State Salmon Association, which considers it insufficient in addressing the core issue of water flow in the state’s rivers. Environmental groups are also critical of Newsom’s support for voluntary agreements with major farmers over water usage.

Newsom’s announcement aligns with the ongoing dam-removal project along the Klamath River near the California-Oregon border, marking the largest such effort in U.S. history. This initiative, which includes the removal of four dams along the Klamath, has received support from tribes and environmental groups.

Governor Newsom also highlighted the $800 million approved for projects aimed at restoring creeks and streams to their natural state, providing better habitat for salmon. Additionally, he stressed the importance of continued collaboration with native tribes, acknowledging their spiritual connection to the rivers and their pivotal role in restoration efforts.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California

One Comment

  1. Our family homesteaders in the Tulelake basin in 1949. To say the least, those still there farming, do not like this move by newsom. All the homesteaders had a signed document securing their water rights. Hello, we are from the government and are here to help.

    But there are still no reservoirs to catch the precipitation. Some talk but no action.

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