Presented by the Sierra Club Redwood Chapter Newsletter, The REDWOOD NEEDLES
Felice Pace of Klamath Forest Alliance joined last July's Klamath trip and told of some of the problems facing the river. Trip participants learned that the waters of the Klamath, like those of most western rivers, are over-allocated. Unmeasured diversions in the Upper Basin (above the dams in Oregon and Northeast CA) and in the Shasta and Scott Rivers completely dry up streams, reduce water quality, and strand thousands of young salmon and steelhead each year. Rafters responded by writing letters to the manager of the Klamath Irrigation Project (see October edition of the Needles) asking for restoration of adequate water flows.
Felice also told about a huge fish kill that had taken place about a month before due to low flows resulting in higher than normal water temperatures. We could experience first hand the raised water temperatures, although for humans the combination of 75 degree water and 90 degree air temperatures was heavenly. Not so for fish. Hikes up side streams of Ukanom and Dillon Creek gave a hint of what salmon streams should be &endash; cold and clear. The side streams help to keep the Klamath livable for fish, but they can't compensate entirely for the agricultural diversions that reduce the main-stem flow and correspondingly increase the water temperature.
John Driscoll reported in the Times Standard of Eureka (Nov. 1, 2000) "Klamath Fish Kill 'Tragic' &endash; 10 times expected number die." According to Driscoll:
"The California Department of Fish and Game has reported that several hundred thousand young salmon and steelhead trout died during a fish kill in June. The report raises the original estimates of the fish kill by at least 10 times. It says that two fish diseases related to warm water were responsible for the fishes' death. Hatchery and wild steelhead and chinook salmon were found dead by the thousands, the report states, and federally protected Coho were probably killed, too.
"At the time of the mid-June fish kill, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began reducing the amount of water it releases from Iron Gate Dam, one of several that make up the Klamath River Project. The project provides water to irrigate about 240,000 upstream acres of barley, alfalfa, potatoes and wheat. This year the bureau chose to supply 100 percent of irrigators' water needs&emdash;running opposite to Fish and game and U.S. Department of the Interior recommendations. Dead fish were noticed by Yurok Tribal fisheries specialists during hot weather, which coincided with reduced water flowing down stream by a third. The bureau ordered the reduction.
Slow water warms more quickly than fast water, the report states, but adds that it is unknown whether allowing more water would have fixed the problem (!) The fish kill came shortly after environmental and fishing groups sued the Bureau for not consulting with federal fisheries experts before framing its plan for sending water down the lower river. The Bureau is working with the National Marine Fisheries Service on a long-term plan for water flows, but this year's plan was not reviewed by federal officials.
The groups amended their complaint to include federal Endangered Species Act violations, and the case is scheduled for February. Several courts have ruled that irrigators' rights are secondary to tribal water rights and endangered species. Plaintiffs' attorney Jan Hasselman of EarthJustice Legal Defense Fund said the report serves a purpose despite the fact that it is not conclusive. "I think it helps tell the story of a government agency that was ignoring all the science and biologists that said the flows were inadequate," Hasselman said. "The fish kill was a very tragic case of 'I told you so.'"
What you can do
Please write a personal letter regarding restoration of Klamath River flows. (See October 2000 Needles for more talking points.) Send letters to:
Carl Wircus, Manager
USBR Klamath Project
6600 Washburn Way
Klamath Falls, OR, 97603
Bruce Babbitt, Secretary
US Dept. of Interior
1849 C St., NW
Washington, DC, 20240