Divers scoured holes on the lower Eel River on Friday looking to get an estimate of how many salmon and steelhead have moved in from the ocean so far.

Fisheries biologist Patrick Higgins, joined by divers with the Wiyot Tribe, the Bear River Rancheria and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, briefed the group on how to go about counting fish in different types of holes, letting them know that poor visibility from algae growth would make the task difficult.

”This is a challenging exercise,” Higgins said on the banks of the Eel River at Fernbridge.

Higgins has been contracted by Friends of the Eel River to get an idea about how the first salmon and steelhead in the river are affected by the diversion to the Russian River. Currently, some 130 cubic feet per second of water is being sent through the diversion tunnel to Potter Valley into Lake Mendocino. Only 28 cfs is being released into the Eel.

At the same time, Lake Mendocino is substantially more full than is allowable in the winter, when space is needed for floodwaters.

Dressed in wetsuits and donning snorkels, the team worked through pools from below Fernbridge up to the Van Duzen River confluence. Higgins said he saw hundreds of chinook salmon and steelhead two weeks ago when he dove, and was hoping to see several hundred more Friday. If the team can get a good count, he said, the California Department of Fish and Game may follow the dive with weekly surveys.

These salmon are not migrating upstream due to the low flows in the river, and could be vulnerable in dry years if a heat wave sparked an algae bloom that stripped oxygen from the water, Higgins said.

Wiyot Tribe Councilman Alan Miller said that the tribe wants to get the river back to health, to where tribal members can harvest salmon and lamprey sustainably. With the river so shallow and so choked with algae -- in parts of the watershed harmful to contact or drink -- there's clearly a long way to go, Miller said. 


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The world's rivers, the single largest renewable water resource for humans and a crucible of aquatic biodiversity, are in a crisis of ominous proportions, according to a new global analysis.

The report, published today in the journal Nature, is the first to simultaneously account for the effects of such things as pollution, dam building, agricultural runoff, the conversion of wetlands and the introduction of exotic species on the health of the world's rivers.

The resulting portrait of the global riverine environment, according to the scientists who conducted the analysis, is grim. It reveals that nearly 80 percent of the world's human population lives in areas where river waters are highly threatened posing a major threat to human water security and resulting in aquatic environments where thousands of species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction.

"Rivers around the world really are in a crisis state," says Peter B. McIntyre, a senior author of the new study and a professor of zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Center for Limnology.

The Nature report was authored by an international team co-led by Charles J. Vörösmarty of the City University of New York, an expert on global water resources, and McIntyre, an expert on freshwater biodiversity.

Examining the influence of numerous types of threats to water quality and aquatic life across all of the world's river systems, the study is the first to explicitly assess both human water security and biodiversity in parallel. Fresh water is widely regarded as the world's most essential natural resource, underpinning human life and economic development as well as the existence of countless organisms ranging from microscopic life to fish, amphibians, birds and terrestrial animals of all kinds.

What jumps out, say McIntyre and Vörösmarty, is that rivers in different parts of the world are subject to similar types of stresses, such things as agricultural intensification, industrial development, river habitat modification and other factors. Compounding the problem is that some of the negative influences on rivers arrive in indirect ways. Mercury pollution, for example, is a byproduct of electricity generation at coal-fired power plants and pollutes surface water via the atmosphere.

"We find a real stew of chemicals flowing through our waterways," explains Vörösmarty, noting that the study represents a state-of-the-art summary, yet was unable to account for such things as threats from mining, the growing number of pharmaceuticals found in surface water and the synergistic effects of all the stresses affecting rivers.

"And what we're doing is treating the symptoms of a larger problem," Vörösmarty explains. "We know it is far more cost effective to protect these water systems in the first place. So the current emphasis on treating the symptoms rather than the underlying causes makes little sense from a water security standpoint or a biodiversity standpoint, or for that matter an economic standpoint."

Among the startling conclusions of the study is that rivers in the developed world, including much of the United States and Western Europe, are under severe threat despite decades of attention to pollution control and investments in environmental protection. Huge investments in water technology and treatment reduce threats to humans, but mainly in developed nations, and leave biodiversity in both developed and developing countries under high levels of threat, according to the new report.

"What made our jaws drop is that some of the highest threat levels in the world are in the United States and Europe," says McIntyre, who began work on the project as a Smith Fellow at the University of Michigan. "Americans tend to think water pollution problems are pretty well under control, but we still face enormous challenges."


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See also Scientists Sound Alarm on State of the World’s Rivers





The owner of the Samoa pulp mill said it will shut down the plant for good after failing over the past year and a half to raise capital to restart it.

Freshwater Tissue Co. President Bob Simpson blamed federal regulations for making it impossible to secure loans, and expressed frustration at being unable to tap federal energy funds for an earlier-envisioned retrofit of the plant to a pulp and tissue producer.

”I am disappointed in our failure to restart the pulp mill,” Simpson said in a statement. “We exhausted all means of funding the project, with the intention of rehiring union workers.”

Members of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers Local 49 who have not found other jobs since the mill stopped operating in October 2008 now face a daunting job market and the expiration of unemployment benefits. The workforce is particularly aged, with some workers having put in more than 40 years at the mill.

”We kept holding on to hope,” said Local 49 President Nathan Zink, “but I didn't think it was going to happen as of a year ago.” 


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Building good fences could make our water cleaner, and help us to meet European standards, according to researchers working on the UK research councils' Rural Economy and Land Use Programme (Relu).

Relu scientists have created a computer model to investigate the problem of fecal pollution in UK rivers. The organisms come mainly from farm animals' feces and untreated human sewage.

As sewage treatment has improved over recent years, human sewage is less problematic, except in times of heavy rainfall, when less efficient treatment works pose a threat. But livestock, and dairy cattle in particular, continue to be a major contributor of harmful organisms. The research shows that there is a high risk of fecal pollution entering watercourses within areas with high densities of dairy cattle.

The UK has to tackle this problem, not only because of the health risks for those such as canoeists and paddlers, especially children, who are directly exposed to pollution in rivers, but also because of European legislation. At the moment, many of our watercourses do not meet the requirements of the European Water Framework Directive.

One way of reducing the numbers of fecal organisms would be to have fewer farm animals grazing in vulnerable areas near rivers. But, for some dairy farmers, a reduction in stocking densities could have serious implications for their livelihoods and there could be economic consequences for wider rural communities.

So, drawing on work from several projects across the Relu research program, the team created a computer model to investigate different approaches to tackling the problem. These included government interventions that would directly restrict stocking levels and simpler, everyday solutions, such as erecting fences to prevent livestock depositing feces directly into watercourses.

They found that simple farm-scale solutions are likely to be most effective at reducing the numbers of potentially dangerous organisms entering watercourses -- and could work out cheaper both for farmers and consumers.

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A toxic algae that forms in reservoirs, lakes and stagnant freshwater ponds was responsible for the deaths of at least 21 threatened California sea otters in the Monterey Bay area, a scientific study revealed Friday.

The discovery, reported in the scientific journal PLoS ONE, is alarming because the toxin, called microcystin, had never been linked to the death of a marine mammal and was not believed to be capable of surviving for long periods in saltwater.

"Based on what we know, this is the first documentation of a freshwater algal bloom being transmitted to upper-level marine mammals, specifically a federally listed species," said Melissa Miller, a senior wildlife veterinarian and pathologist for the California Department of Fish & Game and the study's lead author.

The three-year average population of California otters, also known as southern sea otters, declined 3.6 percent this year, the second consecutive drop after a decade of increases. The reason for the decline is a mystery, but scientists believe a variety of causes are at play, including toxic runoff.

Microcystin, which is commonly referred to as blue-green algae, can cause liver damage when ingested. All 21 sea otters that tested positive for the bacteria died from liver failure, according to the study, which was completed with the help of experts from UC Santa Cruz and a variety of state and federal agencies.

It is believed the toxins flowed to the ocean off the coast of Monterey in rivers and creeks. Sea urchins and shellfish near the outflow filtered the water and the poison accumulated in their bodies, which were, in turn, eaten by otters.

Microcystis is a naturally occurring algae. Its bright green blooms have long been found behind dams, particularly along the Klamath River, and in stagnant pools.

But researchers say the microcystin toxin appears to be multiplying in the environment to the point that it is becoming a global health concern. That's because cyanobacteria, as scientists call bacterial blooms, thrive in warm water that is rich in nutrients from lawn, city and agricultural runoff. The warmer the temperatures, the more bacteria there are

Global warming, scientists say, has increased the frequency of deadly green "super-blooms."

Microcystins have been detected in brackish water before, including in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and San Francisco Bay, scientists say. The bacteria has been linked to the death of cattle and even dogs that drank the water or swam through the green slime and then licked their fur. It is also potentially dangerous to humans.

"What's really astonishing to us is that it had not been on anyone's radar as a problem in the marine environments until now," said co-author Tim Tinker, a research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and an adjunct professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz.

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