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Trinity River flows will increase starting August 13
“As you can imagine, a massive fish kill would be devastating for the salmon, and for the businesses that the recreational and commercial fishery support," wrote Congressmen Jared Huffman, Mike Thompson, and George Miller in a recent letter to the Secretary of Interior. "It would also be disastrous for the tribes who call the region home. Finally, it could severely undermine the prospects of long-term solutions in the Klamath Basin.”
Photo of Klamath River fish kill courtesy of Yurok Tribe.
Trinity River flows will increase starting August 13
by Dan Bacher
Fishermen and river recreational users can expect to see higher and colder flows on the Trinity and lower Klamath Rivers next week when the Bureau of Reclamation releases additional water from Trinity Reservoir to avert a potential fish kill.
The release will supplement flows in the Lower Klamath River in 2013 to help protect an expected large returning run of adult Chinook salmon from a disease outbreak and mortality, announced Pete Lucero, Reclamation spokesman.
The third largest run of fall Chinook salmon on record is expected to ascend the river and its tributaries this year - and representatives of Indian Tribes, fishing groups and environmental organizations are trying to prevent a fish kill like the one of September 2002 from taking place this season.
The Hoopa Valley Tribe Tribe responded that the release is "too little, too late,” while the Karuk Tribe praised the decision.
The target date for augmented flows in the Lower Klamath River is August 15. "Because of the two day travel time between Lewiston Dam and the Lower Klamath, the releases from Lewiston Dam will begin in the early morning hours of August 13 and end in the last week of September," Lucero explained.
Lucero said flows in the Lower Klamath River will be targeted at 2,800 cubic feet per second during this period and Lewiston Dam releases will be adjusted accordingly.
Current river flow forecasts indicate that Lewiston Dam releases will increase from the current rate of 450 cubic feet per second on August 13 and will vary between about 1,000 and 1,200 cubic feet per second, prior to dropping to 450 cubic feet per second in late September.
Between August 26 and August 27, a pulse flow release from Lewiston Dam could be as high as 2,600 cubic feet per second.
"The rate of increasing releases could be as high as 250 cubic feet per second every two hours, and the rate of flow reductions could be as high as 100 cubic feet per second every four hours. The public is urged to take all necessary precautions on or near the river while flows are high," Lucero stated.
An Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact were prepared in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, and are available online at http://www.usbr.gov/mp/nepa/nepa_projdetails.cfm?Project_ID=14366.
The Hoopa Valley Tribe warned that the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) plan to supplement Klamath River flows to avoid a fish kill may not be sufficient.
“We need more water and we need it sooner,” said Hoopa Fisheries Director Michael Orcutt.
Orcutt said the Klamath River is expecting a large fall run of salmon, yet the river is extremely low and warm. These conditions are similar to those in 2002 when an epidemic killed over 60,000 adult salmon in the Klamath River.
“At every level the Bureau of Reclamation officials have acknowledged that crisis in Klamath basin fisheries has become the new normal,” stated Chairwoman Danielle Vigil-Masten in a letter to the Department of Interior. “The urgency with which we request your intervention cannot be overstated. The crisis affecting our fishery implicates irrigation and hydropower generation in southern Oregon and the complex and controversial Bay Delta Conservation Plan process in California.“
Vigil-Masten also asked the Secretary for a long-promised permanent plan for operation of both the Central Valley Project and Klamath Irrigation project because both affect Klamath flows.
Last summer the Bureau made flow releases from Trinity River dams and no fish kill occurred. "This year a drought throughout California and Oregon, poor water storage due to a decision in 2012 to overdraft Upper Klamath Lake, and the Bureau’s decision not to use Klamath Irrigation Project water for the fishery have created dangerous conditions for a second successive year," according to the Tribe.
The Law of the Trinity River, including the Record of Decision of 2000, requires the Secretary of the Interior to give first priority to Klamath basin fish and second priority to water and power users in the rest of California, the Tribe stated. Since May, however, water and power contractors including the Westlands Water District have twice threatened suit to cut off water for the fishery.
"Strengthening the Secretary’s hand against the Central Valley water and power contractors is Humboldt County’s contract priority to a permanent annual allocation of 50,000 acre feet of Trinity Division water. Humboldt County and downstream users have a vested property right to use that allocation for the fishery," the Tribe said.
“This is a real positive thing,” said Craig Tucker, spokesman for the Karuk Tribe, responding to Reclamation's announcement. “The Bureau is reacting proactively to prevent another fish kill and we would go even further. The fact we have to enact emergency fish kill measures provides even more arguments for implementing the Klamath settlement agreements.”
Tucker emphasized, “This is a pretty bold move by the Bureau and they probably will get sued by Westlands.”
“It's the right thing for the Bureau of Reclamation and Interior Department to do,” said Tom Stokely of the California Water Impact Network. “Nobody wants a repeat of the 2002 fish kill. I will be surprised if a federal judge makes a decision to halt the flows and be held responsible for the death of tens of thousands of adult salmon.”
He added, “The impacts to the Klamath-Trinity salmon are real this year. The impacts to the Sacramento River and Central Valley Project are speculative and will occur next year only if Trinity Lake doesn't fill this winter.”
The Yurok Tribe also supports the Trinity River flow increase. The Tribe's Fisheries Department said it currently has a three part plan to stop a potential fish kill: 1) support additional water flows to break up the disease life cycle; 2) maintain vigilance with regard to river conditions and fish health; and 3) have response plans and resources in place in the event that there is a fish kill event.
Northern and Central Valley Congressmen are divided over the release of water, with three Representatives supporting the release and four Congressman opposing it.
Congressmen Jared Huffman, Mike Thompson, and George Miller recently joined the call for the supplemental water releases and for Humboldt County’s water rights to be honored.
“As you can imagine, a massive fish kill would be devastating for the salmon, and for the businesses that the recreational and commercial fishery support," they wrote in a letter to the Secretary of Interior. "It would also be disastrous for the tribes who call the region home. Finally, it could severely undermine the prospects of long-term solutions in the Klamath Basin.”
They added, “This lack of clarity takes on greater urgency when you consider the planning process for the bay Delta Conservation Plan." The three Representatives have stepped up to counter calls by members from Central Valley congressional districts to divert water to corporate agribusiness.
In contrast, on August 2, Representatives Doug LaMalfa, John Garamendi, Jeff Denham and Jim Costa sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell opposing the release of water because of the impacts they said it could have on Sacramento River listed fish species and water supplies for growers. (http://blogs.redding.com/bross/TrinityLetter.pdf)
The asked for a "full analysis weighing the benefits of augmenting the lower Klamath River flows for an abundant, non-listed species against the potential impacts to listed species in the Sacramento and restoring water supply reductions to the Central Valley Project contractors?"
More than 6,000 people in the last two weeks have urged the Bureau of Reclamation to release water to avoid a fish kill. "The fate of the salmon now rests with Interior Secretary Jewell and time is running out for her to act," the Hoopa Valley Tribe concluded.
The releases take place as the Brown administration is fast-tracking the $54.1. Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels under the Sacramento River San Joaquin River Delta. The plan not only will hasten the extinction of Sacramento River Chinook salmon and steelhead, but threatens the salmon and steelhead runs on the Trinity River, the only out of basin water supply for the Central Valley Project.
Klamath River fish health update
The Yurok Tribal Fisheries Program issued the following fish health update on July 30:
“At our invitation, USFWS fish health experts visited the Yurok Reservation to collect fish in the field and examine them closely for any signs of ‘Ich’which is the disease that caused the catastrophic 2002 fish kill event. We caught approximately 10 juvenile Chinook salmon each from Blue Creek confluence, ‘Blue Hole’ (groundwater sourced pool adjacent to Blue Creek confluence) and Blake's riffle which is approximately 10 miles downstream. There were thousands of fish at each location, so a very tiny sample was looked at, but large enough to draw conclusions.
The fish were submitted to the experts who looked at the overall condition of the fish and prepared microscope slides of their gills. The fish themselves were sent to the fish disease laboratory in Red Bluff where further microscope work will be conducted and the gill imprint slides examined for ich.
However, the overall condition of the fish was excellent, according to the experts, and at this time there is no indication that an "Ich" epidemic is brewing. Furthermore, river temperatures have abated considerably due to cooler air temperatures, high cloud cover, and smoke from nearby wildfires. Full laboratory results will be available shortly.
We will maintain our three part plan, which is to 1) support additional water flows to break up the disease life cycle, 2) maintain vigilance with regard to river conditions and fish health, and 3) have response plans and resources in place in the event that there is a fish kill event.
Our sincere thanks go out to the CA/NV Fish Health Center for traveling to the Yurok Reservation on short notice, and to the Trinity River Division (Tim Hayden) who provided a boat and an operator.
In the near future we will resume our adult fish health monitoring which is designed to provide an early warning should disease problems develop with returning fall-run Chinook salmon.”