Winter Run - January 17

Since January 1, the sandbar has breached and the rain has stopped. As an optimist, this represents the glass-half-full-scenario. The major obstacle on their spawning run has washed out to sea, but now they face a new problem. The creek is extremely low. (See picture below.) We all know fish need water to swim and live in. A low creek in the middle of January is not what the doctor ordered.

30 day water flow discharge from creek

Just look at the adjacent graph. The downward sloping blue-line maps the current discharge from the creek. It shows less than 3 c.f.s. for January 17th. Now look at the upward sloping set of small-triangles. Those represent the median of discharge over a 57 year record for that time of year. The median discharge for January 17th is 30 c.f.s. The difference is staggering! If you don't believe me just try asking a five year old steelie making it's second return to this creek. And good luck finding one, because they're smart enough not to be in this skinny water.

Low levels of creek at guage stick and exposed creek bed not good signs in mid January

I surveyed three other coastal creeks in the vicinity. Each creek supports small winter runs of steelhead. Sadly, each creek lacks water. A couple of these creeks' flows have even backed up to the point where their waters are not reaching the ocean.

In essence, the December rains barely breached sandbars on most beaches here. I can imagine salmon and steelhead forced into "holding patterns" - circling in open waters, vulnerable to sea lions and other ocean predators.

"It's not looking good," said Sean Hayes, a National Marine Fisheries Service biologist who monitors salmon in Scott Creek, the southernmost coho run in California, north of Davenport (Santa Cruz County). "The fish have been hammered a couple of years in a row now. If it doesn't rain, there could be a spawning failure this year, which would be catastrophic."

Spawn Blocker