Klamath Water Users Association 

Dan Keppen response to
Oregonian article

August 3, 2003


August 3, 2003

Mr. Joe Rojas-Burke

The Oregonian
1320 S.W. Broadway
Portland, Oregon 97201

Dear Mr. Rojas-Burke:

Your article ("More endangered Klamath suckers are dying", August 3, 2003) accurately explains that Klamath Project operations cannot be linked to recent deaths of about 20 sucker fish in Upper Klamath Lake. However, it’s headline blares to the world – without any supporting sources – "insufficient wetlands and agriculture-fouled waters appear to be the cause".

I have been working closely with fisheries experts from the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife over the past ten days, closely monitoring the progress of suckers in water bodies throughout the Basin. The recent Oregonian article is the first reference I’ve seen that attempts to link the recent fish deaths to any man-made activity.

A high pressure system that hovered over the Klamath Basin for the latter portion of July sent local temperatures soaring, with four record highs set and one tied for the month of July. Warm water temperatures and adverse algae conditions resulting from these conditions appear to be responsible for most of the fish deaths.

Although the Klamath Project does not contribute runoff to Upper Klamath Lake, the article’s assumed relationship between other "farm fertilizer and cattle waste" sources and "worsening" blooms of algae this year simply has not been established. Also, while the article’s headline claims "insufficient wetlands" appear to be the cause for the fish deaths, nowhere in the article is this charge substantiated.

While the article’s headline claims "insufficient wetlands" appear to be the cause for the fish deaths, nowhere in the article is this charge substantiated. Instead, a reference that the upper basin once contained 350,000 acres of wetlands and floodplains, but now "less than 75,000 acres of wetlands remain" appears to be sufficient justification. According to the USFWS, the six national wildlife refuges in the upper Basin –which cover over 175,000 acres – include over 79,000 acres of marsh and nearly 28,000 acres of open water areas. These totals do not include over 20,000 acres of farmland that have been converted to wetlands on private ground in the past ten years, nor does it include the wetland and riparian restoration work that The Nature Conservancy has undertaken on the 30,000-acre Sycan Marsh in the past 20 years.

Further, wetlands do not necessarily equate to sucker health. While newly created wetlands may have merit and deserve further attention, no assessment has been made to ascertain how the increased wetlands habitats around Upper Klamath Lake may affect the populations of exotic species, such as yellow perch and fathead minnows, who compete with and prey on developing suckers. Recently converted wetlands projects along Upper Klamath Lake have been restored for potential fish and bird habitat, a much different purpose than water quality enhancement. To date, there has apparently been no attempt to reduce nutrient inflow into the lake by the use of specifically constructed nutrient removal wetlands.

Finally, the article suggests that "such conditions" contributed to the mass die-off of 33,000 salmon last year in the Klamath River, located 200 miles downstream of the Klamath Project, near the mouth of a 10.5 million acre watershed. Last year, within days of the die-off, The Oregonian’s editorial board immediately opined that this unfortunate event was "an unintended but inevitable consequence of a policy choice to put the needs of upriver farmers ahead of fish and lower river fishing communities". Others were not so quick to assign blame. In a recent court decision in Oakland, based on the conflicting evidence presented by the parties regarding the cause of the fish die-off, Judge Saundra Armstrong found that a "triable issue of fact" exists as to whether Reclamation breached its duty to the Yurok Tribes through its operation of the Klamath Project. Accordingly, the Court denied the Tribes’ motions for summary judgment on this matter.

It is difficult enough to try to pinpoint the stressors to Klamath River fish given the hordes of agency and stakeholder scientists who are tracking these issues. The last thing we need is a respected Oregon newspaper assigning blame before the facts are in.


Dan Keppen
Executive Director
Klamath Water Users Association
Klamath Falls, Oregon







Klamath Water Users Association
2455 Patterson Street, Suite 3
Klamath Falls, Oregon 97603
(541)-883-6100 FAX (541)-883-8893 kwua@cdsnet.net

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