Please save the Lake Almanor grebes
By Caroline Broderick, Lake Almanor resident
If you love Lake Almanor, no doubt you have also fallen in love with one of its summer residents: the grebes. Anyone who has heard their creaky cry or watched their walk-on-water mating dance and their newborn chicks peek out from under their mother’s feathers has been touched by these amazing birds. Did you know that we are at a crisis point with this species and that Lake Almanor may be more of a hazard than a natural habitat for this “Climate Endangered” bird?
In early summer, Western and Clark’s grebes fly over Lake Almanor and view what looks like a birding paradise. In fact, Lake Almanor, Eagle Lake, and Clear Lake comprise more than 90 percent of breeding grebes in California. Yet the reality is that Lake Almanor has become the site of a series of disastrous breeding cycles documented in 2002, 2003 and most significantly in 2010, 2016, 2018 and 2019. In 2018, for example, a count of 1,205 active nests was made in July and August. By Aug. 20, the colony had been abandoned. Only three chicks were detected on the lake in a population of 3,485 adults. I have been told but have not seen documentation that not one chick survived the 2019 breeding season.
Rumors abound as to what contributes to this tragic situation. In 2016, PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno pointed to “strong winds, smoke from fires, failure of forage fish populations, predation, disease and other disturbances.” In the summer of 2019 rafting companies were identified as possible contributors to the problem. Lindsay Wood of Plumas Audubon said that nine years of comprehensive data have shown that according to the “Grebe Conservation Project: Breeding Success Liked to Water Management at Lake Almanor” the prime suspect is clearly the lowering of the water level in the lake by PG&E.
Grebe nests are unique. They are tethered to the grass that lies underneath a minimum of 6 inches of water they require to avoid the predation of their eggs by skunks, otters, gulls and other animals. Adults will abandon their nests if this minimum is not maintained.
After a disastrous breeding season in 2016, PG&E and Plumas Audubon entered into a “tentative” agreement to limit the drawdown of water from July 1 to Aug. 31. PG&E did not adhere to that agreement, citing that their failure to comply with it was due to overriding contractual obligations to supply its hydroelectric power generators for water users downstream.
Regulating the water levels of the lake is certainly not an easy endeavor. First of all, nature exerts its own powerful influence on water levels each year. Subsequently, not only would Audubon groups and PG&E need to be involved, but the State Department of Water Resources and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife may need to be consulted as well. Cities and groups that rely on water from the Feather River would, of course, want to make sure the negotiations they have made with PG&E are upheld.
The options are clear. Either a permanent agreement needs to be reached with PG&E or the only alternative, Lindsay Wood of Plumas Audubon states, may be to discourage the grebes from nesting on Lake Almanor. Plumas Audubon is now focusing its energy on working with the State Department of Water Resources to achieve the first goal.
If you care about this issue, please write to people listed below and tell them how much the grebes mean to you and to all of us. Without our help, Lake Almanor may lose one of its most wonderful summer visitors
Michael Lynes, Policy Director, Audubon California
Sarah Rose, Vice President & Executive Director, Audubon California
Lindsay Wood, Plumas Audubon
CA Department of Fish & Wildlife, 1416 9th Street, 12th Floor, Sacramento, CA 95814:
Chuck Bonham, Director
David Bess, Chief of Enforcement
Pacific Gas & Electric Headquarters: 77 Beale Street, San Francisco, CA 94105
Andrew Vesey, CEO
Debbie Powell, VP of Power Generation
Robert Kenney, VP of Regulatory Affairs
Keith Stephens, VP, Corporate Relations and Chief Communications Officer
Ryan Martin, Senior Environmental Scientist, CA Department of Water Resources
P.O. Box 942836
Sacramento, CA 94236-0001
Paul Moreno, Marketing & Communications
Pacific Gas & Electric
350 Salem St.
Chico, CA 95928