A Consequence of the California Drought: Disappearing Fish

In a year with extreme drought and record heat, many dead Chinook salmon have been found on the shores of the Butte Creek in Chico, California.

Across creeks in Northern California lay rotting carcasses of the Chinook salmon, a fish that historically would rest for weeks in these waters after completing their upstream journey. Now that temperatures have risen, water levels have dropped, and many streams have simply dried up, conditions are not hospitable for these fish. Warm and low-flow waterways have also created perfect disease conditions, causing many salmon to die.

These changes are all a result of the climate crisis, which is only expected to get worse. The California drought has reached its worst point in decades, with most counties in a state of emergency. Snowpack melt has been diminishing every year, while water reservoirs are lower than ever. Hotter temperatures have also meant warmer waters – a whole ten degrees warmer in some parts where fish have traditionally spawned. No wonder this cold-water species is struggling to stay alive.

“The salmon are basically like a canary in the coal mine,” said John McManus, who runs an advocacy group called the Golden State Salmon Association. “As go the salmon, so too go many other species.” If we don’t listen to this warning, and take action, there’s only more death to come. And eventually, it will be us.