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Leaked FWS report links fish kill to low flows
Natalie M. Henry, Greenwire reporter 10/23/03
PORTLAND, Ore. -- An early draft of a Fish and Wildlife Service report on the Klamath River fish kill of 2002 links low water releases from up river reservoirs to the deaths of more than 30,000 salmon.

The draft, obtained by the Eureka Times-Standard in Oregon, found that decreased water releases from the Klamath Irrigation Project delayed the upstream migration of chinook salmon during the late summer of 2002, leading to crowding in the river and then fatal disease.

The findings, which have not been released by FWS, appear to disagree with those of the National Academy of Sciences, which concluded in another report this week that there was not enough evidence to link the fish kill to low flows or high temperatures in the Klamath River.

FWS spokesman Mitch Snow said yesterday that agency director Steve Williams received the final draft report only a few weeks ago and is reviewing it.

The California Department of Fish and Game and the lower Klamath River American Indian tribes have both issued scientific reports citing low flows as the reason for the fish kill. Environmentalists have also maintained that low flows were a key factor causing fish mortality.

"Everyone's coming to the same conclusion, that it was low flows in the Klamath that was one of the major contributing causes of the fish kill last year," said Bob Hunter of the environmental group Waterwatch.

Environmentalists further charge the Bush administration with suppressing the draft report so as to divert blame for the fish kill from the Klamath Irrigation Project, which diverts water for farms. Environmentalists say the project leaves insufficient water for downstream anadromous fish, which include not only chinook but also steelhead trout and coho salmon, all three of which are needed to meet tribal treaty obligations. Coho are also listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

"It comes as no surprise that the Bush administration has again shown itself willing to suppress scientific findings inconvenient to its narrow political agenda in the Klamath," said Jim McCarthy of the Oregon Natural Resources Council. McCarthy said the draft report was apparently delivered to Washington last spring for vetting, where "the administration has sat on the biologists' findings ever since."

McCarthy and Hunter said the Bush administration is making a habit of suppressing information on the Klamath Basin. Last year the administration sat on a U.S. Geological Survey report showing that restoring flows in the Klamath River would bring more economic benefit than reserving most of the water for farms. That report also was leaked to the press (Greenwire <http://www.eenews.net/Greenwire/searcharchive/test_search-display.cgi?q=&file=%2FGreenwire%2Fsearcharchive%2FNewsline%2F2002%2FNov1%2F11010215.htm>, Nov. 1, 2002).

Others, however, say the draft report obtained by the Times-Standard is not the version being reviewed in Washington. Deb Crisp of the Tulelake Growers Association and Dan Keppen of the Klamath Water Users Association both said a high-ranking FWS official told them the report has undergone significant changes. "What I was told is that the final report would have significant differences [from] the draft report," Crisp said.

Recently, a government scientist made public assertions that the administration knew the amount of water being released downstream would adversely affect coho salmon but never analyzed how much affect it would have. (Greenwire <http://www.eenews.net/Greenwire/searcharchive/test_search-display.cgi?q=&file=%2FGreenwire%2Fsearcharchive%2FNewsline%2F2003%2FMar20%2F03200308.htm>, March 20).

But Keppen said environmentalists' charges of information suppression are unfounded. He noted that the Interior Department did not release the USGS report because "it was so flawed it wasn't fit to be released." Yet when it got leaked, environmentalists railed on the administration.

"This is an old tactic by the environmentalists [and] regulatory community," Keppen said of the latest report flap. "It's reprehensible, frankly, and we're going to find out who leaked this thing, and they need to be held accountable."

Details of the draft FWS report emerged just one day after the National Academy of Sciences released its own findings on how to restore native fish populations in the Klamath Basin. In that report, NAS said there was insufficient evidence to show the fish kill was caused by low flows, noting that data on the kill was limited.

One of the NAS report's authors said the academy delayed the report's release for several months in hopes of seeing FWS data on the fish kill, which could have helped the panel draw conclusions and make recommendations. But panel members never saw any data.

Meanwhile, Klamath stakeholders continue to wait for the administration to finalize a study known as Hardy Phase II, a draft that calls for higher flows on the river than what the Bureau of Reclamation currently delivers to benefit salmon.





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