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California | North Coast | U.S. | Environment & Forest Defense | Health, Housing, and Public Services
Bureau of Reclamation to Lower Flows in the Klamath River
Full Deliveries to Klamath Irrigators Leaves Little Water for Endangered Salmon
Klamath, CA- Full agricultural deliveries went to the Klamath Project farmers in the arid Upper Klamath Basin this year despite fears there could be another Klamath River fish kill. These concerns were fueled by a record high run of salmon entering the Klamath during low flows. Now low lake levels resulting from full irrigation deliveries have prompted the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) to lower the Klamath River wintertime water levels below flows required for endangered Coho Salmon while the very agency charged with protecting the threatened Coho, the National Marine Fisheries Service, nods willingly in approval
“This year the Klamath BOR refused to guarantee water for the Klamath salmon, and therefore had to release additional flows from the Trinity River, the Klamath’s largest tributary, to avoid a late summer fish kill,” stated Hoopa Valley Tribal Chairman Leonard Masten. “Now, for the second year in a row, the BOR and the National Marine Fisheries Service are violating Endangered Species Act flows for Coho Salmon. If this is any indication of the Bureau’s future water planning, I do not see how the salmon can recover.”
Scientist and environmental groups are saying this situation is an indication we could be falling back into the policies of the past where farmers in the Klamath were favored above Tribes and fishermen. In 2002 these policies led to flows so low that over 60,000 adult salmon, mainly Chinook, perished in the river, devastating Tribes and coastal fishing communities. In many years since the endangered Coho also have been shorted water. The Klamath River salmon runs regulate coastal fishing in California and Oregon, and subsequent low salmon runs led to years of economic disasters. Experts say poor water policy impacts both species of salmon.
This year, as a result of good ocean conditions and restored flows, an estimated 378,000 salmon came up the Klamath River. These salmon lead to a boom for coastal fishing and tribal communities in a poor economy. This run was facing conditions similar to 2002 until federal agencies heeded the advice of Tribes, fishermen and scientists and allocated more water from the Trinity to avoid another Klamath fish kill. Many fear returning to the unscientific policies of the past could undermine the last ten years of restoration.
“In the last decade we saw the beginning of large-scale restoration on the Trinity River, the Klamath’s largest, most fish producing tributary; the movements to take down dams; court ruling favoring Tribal water rights; and a myriad of efforts to restore watersheds and the people who depend on them,” said Regina Chichizola from the Hoopa Valley Tribe. “Proposals like this could undo all of this investment.”
Chichizola went on to say there are still areas where Chinook Salmon are pooled up at Klamath tributaries because there is too little water due to agriculture deliveries.
“Salmon are the Hoopa people’s most important resource,” explained Chairman Masten. “This is the first year in recent memory that the Tribes in the Klamath, and coastal fishermen, had enough salmon. We have fought too hard to go back now.”