Restoration focus needs to be habitat
Updated: Wednesday, October 22, 2003 1:24 PM PDT
Klamath Falls, Ore. - Voluntary steps to restore
habitat, including dam removal, would be a more
effective way to save Klamath Basin salmon and
suckers than taking water from farmers, a National
Research Council panel suggests.
The long-awaited report commissioned by Interior
Secretary Gale Norton, released Tuesday, builds on
earlier findings that the 2001 shut-off of
irrigation water to most of the 250,000-acre Klamath
Reclamation project to conserve water for fish was
not scientifically justified.
After the water was shut off, federal marshals
guarded irrigation headgates from farmers and
anti-government protesters trying to open them. The
confrontation made the Klamath Basin a focus of
national debate over sharing scarce water between
growing numbers of people and dwindling numbers of
The report said the greatest threat to coho salmon
comes from warm water temperatures in tributaries,
such as the Scott and Shasta rivers, not flows in
the mainstem Klamath River.
The quickest way to cool tributary water would be
buying or leasing groundwater to turn into the
streams. For a long-range solution, the report urged
restoring streamside trees and brush destroyed by
grazing, logging and road construction.
However, members of the local agricultural movement
Save Our Shasta Valleys and Towns (SOSS) argue that
millions of dollars in habitat restoration has
already taken place on both the Shasta and Scott
"By the end of this year we will have spent nearly
$12 million on fish restoration in the Scott Valley
alone," said George Thackery, an active member of
SOSS. "This includes riparian planting, fencing,
stock water protection, fish screens and much, much
more. We've been doing a whole gambit of things and
have received good reviews on both state and federal
Among the report's findings was that restoring
irrigation water to farmers in 2002, resulting in
lower Klamath River flows, was not clearly
responsible for the deaths of 33,000 chinook salmon
However, low flows and warm temperatures cause
harmful stress on salmon, the report said. If
changes to the river channel from flooding in the
winter of 1997-1998 are blocking fish passage during
low flows, future kills are possible.
Recommendations offered pluses and minuses for
farmers, Indian tribes, commercial fishermen and
environmentalists who have battled the Bush
administration over water allocations under the
demands of the Endangered Species Act.
For example, scientists suggested no more gains for
endangered suckers in Upper Klamath Lake, the
primary reservoir for the Klamath Project, can be
won by further limitations on irrigation.
But they also urged creation of a new sucker
populations in Tule Lake and Lower Klamath Lake, in
the middle of the Klamath Project, which could
require turning thousands of acres of farmland back
into marsh and lake.
The report raised the possibility of removing
Irongate Dam on the Klamath River to restore salmon
spawning in tributaries, but also urged a three-year
moratorium on hatchery releases, to see if that
would help wild fish rebound. Hatchery fish make up
the bulk of the salmon harvested by tribal,
commercial and sport fishermen. Irongate Dam is one
of a series of hydroelectric projects on the upper
Klamath River owned by PacifiCorp and up for
relicensing next year.
''We were told not to think about politics and
economic issues, but think about what species need
for recovery, and that is what we did,'' said
William Lewis, a professor of environmental science
at the University of Colorado at Boulder and
chairman of the National Research Council Committee
on Endangered and Threatened Fishes in the Klamath
Thackery argued that the economic impact to an area
should not be ignored when considering solutions.
"I'm involved in the Siskiyou Resource Conservation
District (RCD) and we review conservation methods
throughout the county. We always consider is the
economic impact," Thackery said.
The report estimated the cost of following its
recommendations for restoring suckers and salmon
would be $25 million to $35 million over five years.
The scientists praised the Bush administration's
creation of a water bank to provide more water for
fish by paying farmers not to irrigate and suggested
similar voluntary programs work better and faster
than the legal hammer of the Endangered Species Act.
Congressman Wally Herger said that he has yet to
review the study in its entirety, but it appears to
be the product of a "thoughtful and thorough review
of the issues facing the 2001 water shut-off" in the
"The report is further vindication of agriculture in
the basin, confirming what we've said all along -
that demands for additional water from our farmers
lack any scientific basis," Herger said. "It is
compelling evidence that attacks on the Klamath
Basin in Congress, in the courts and in the public
arena, have been about advancing a radical political
agenda, not about doing what's right for the
Although Herger said he was pleased with the NRC's
position, he also cautioned that the report needs to
be carefully scrutinized.
"It's important that our primary focus continues to
be preserving agriculture and the way of life in the
Klamath Basin and elsewhere in Northern California,"
Voluntary efforts fit well with the Bush
administration's approach, said Sue Ellen
Wooldridge, deputy chief of staff and counselor to
the secretary of Interior.
''We all - all the stakeholders - need to look at
this thing very carefully to see if there are things
in there we can take from it and help us to target
our resources,'' she said.
The greatest threat to endangered Lost River suckers
and shortnosed suckers in Upper Klamath Lake, the
Klamath Project's primary reservoir, is algae blooms
fed by agricultural runoff, the report said. When
the algae dies, it uses up oxygen in the water,
The panel also suggested removing Chiloquin Dam on
the Sprague River to restore sucker access to
spawning areas and experimentally injecting oxygen
into Upper Klamath Lake to give fish a refuge when
algae blooms crash.
Farmers were encouraged by the report, said Dan
Keppen, executive director of the Klamath Water
''The challenge will be to get people together to
implement these things,'' he said. ''We're sitting
down and starting to talk to the tribes, upstream
irrigators and fishermen. I think this report will
act as a catalyst and start bringing more people
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