By Ron Jones

FOLSOM (CBS13) – The drought is now threatening a very important part of California’s economy. The fall chinook salmon run and trout population could be affected by a decrease in water levels.

When reservoir levels drop, the water heats up, and that can be deadly for the fish. But a million-dollar project is underway to help save the fish and an important part of California’s economy.

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It’s a rush to cool the negative economic effects of our devastating drought. Construction crews are preparing to install huge water chillers at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery in Rancho Cordova. They want to cool the evaporating water flows from regional reservoirs and rivers where the fall chinook salmon are at risk.

“The water was projected to be too warm and become lethal to the trout,” said Gary Novak, manager of Nimubs Fish Hatchery.

The water is warm because it’s too shallow.

“So as the reservoir drops, there’s less of a cold-water pool lower down in the reservoir, and so the reservoir becomes warmer,” said Novak.

Hatchery officials say right now the salmon are slowly swimming upstream from the Pacific Ocean to begin their annual spawning ritual. But conditions have to be just right to lay their eggs at hatcheries, in order for a new generation of salmon to emerge.

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“They’re a cold-water species…they like the water at like, 50 degrees,” said Novak.

The feds consider the water chiller construction a good investment to help save a part of California’s fishing industry.

“It’s a $1.5 billion industry for recreational and commercial fisherman,” said Novak.

Hatchery officials also say area resorts and lakes depend on the fish to attract tourist dollars. The chillers should be fully operational by mid-November.

Commercial and recreational fishing is a $1.4 billion industry in California.

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