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Klamath Flows Dropped Without Endangered Species Agency Approval
Fish supporters say science is being compromised, salmon run will suffer
“Last year, the Hoopa Valley Tribe and federal scientists had to call on the Department of Interior to release more water from the Trinity River, a major tributary of the Klamath, to avoid a repeat of the 2002 fish kill. This was due to low Klamath flows,” stated Hoopa Tribal Chairman, Leonard Masten. “Now the BOR will again put politics before science by further reducing water for fish.” Masten went on to say the Klamath farmers received full water allocations last year, and drew down Upper Klamath Lake, which is critical habitat for endangered suckers. He stated that river flows have been low all year to reserve water for farmers this year.
Changing flows before obtaining approval under the Endangered Species Act is illegal and critics say it signals that BOR thinks NOAA fisheries, the agency tasked to protect endangered species, will simply rubber stamp their decision.“ NOAA’s job is to keep species from going extinct, not to protect farmers,” stated Councilwoman Hayley Hutt. “The new plan allows flows to be reduced to levels nearly as low as those that caused the Klamath fish kill. The river is being regulated as if it is in a perpetual drought, but the farmers are not.” She went on to say water was even pumped from wildlife refuges to try to refill the lake.
At the heart of the decision is a proposal by the politically savvy Klamath Project farmers to take more of the Klamath River’s water. In 2001 flows for farmers were reduced to aid endangered fish populations during a drought. This decision was soon overturned by the Bush administration despite the warnings of scientists. The next year over 60,000 salmon died in the Klamath due to low flows, devastating Native American communities and leading to years of commercial fishing disasters in the west. Recently, the government and some Klamath stakeholders proposed similar flows as part of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, a water agreement that was tied to Klamath dam removal legislation. This legislation has not moved forward.
“After the fish kill millions were invested in the Klamath and Trinity Rivers to restore salmon. These efforts made last year’s record run of salmon possible,” stated Masten. “Now the BOR proposes undoing these efforts by lowering flows. This could return us to the economic disasters and water wars of the past.