Time to Take Action
Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.

 University of California, Davis
October 21, 2003


Editor's note: High-resolution color photographs are available of
Peter Moyle, Jeffrey Mount, coho salmon and scenes in the Klamath
Basin. Contact Sylvia Wright, below.

Instead of focusing primarily on how water levels and flows affect
endangered and threatened fish in Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath
River, federal agencies charged with protecting the fish should pay
 greater attention to other causes of harm, says a new report from the
 National Academies' National Research Council.

The report comes today from a committee asked by the Bush
administration to assess the Klamath Basin situation after federal
agencies cut off irrigation water to farmers in 2001 in an attempt to
save the endangered fish during a drought. In the ensuing battles,
the basin became a national flashpoint for controversy over the
Endangered Species Act.

 The 12-person committee of science, law and economics experts
 includes two faculty members from the University of California,
 Davis. They are Peter Moyle, an authority on Pacific Coast native
 fishes, and Jeffrey Mount, an authority on river management and

 "We found that the prevailing scientific sentiment in the basin --
'More water is better for fish' -- was the wrong approach," Mount
 said. "Instead, what matters to the survival of these fish, and to
 the many others at risk in the basin, is where the water is, when
 it's there, what its quality is, and what the habitats are like."

 "The scientists in the basin have collected lots of great information
 but there has been a tendency to use the data to demonstrate that
 more water was needed for the endangered fish, rather than looking
at alternative explanations," added Moyle.

The research council's Committee on Threatened and Endangered Fishes
 of the Klamath Basin devoted 18 months of volunteer time to extensive
review and re-analysis of decades worth of data about the ecosystems
 of this 12,000-square-mile watershed. The diverse ecosystems include
 high elevation desert lakes like Upper Klamath Lake in Southern
 Oregon, and rugged snowmelt-fed tributary streams like the Shasta and
 Trinity rivers, in California.

 The committee considered studies and reports from biologists with the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries
 Service, which are the two federal agencies charged with preserving
 the fish listed under the Endangered Species Act; from the U.S.
 Bureau of Reclamation, which is the federal agency managing the
Klamath Project; and from other federal, Oregon and California
 agencies, consulting biologists and academic scientists.

 They considered the fishes' life-cycle needs and populations; basin
 water quality; and the basin's many concurrent uses, which include
farming, grazing, timber harvest, hydroelectric production and

In the final report, the committee indicated that some adjustments
 (such as increased summer flows down the river) were needed to the
operation of the Klamath Project, which delivers irrigation water to
220,000 acres of farmland, but not adjustments as severe as those
 originally proposed by the fisheries agencies. However, the committee
 identified even more strongly the need for other kinds of initiatives
 to protect the fish, such as habitat improvement, cooler summer water
 temperatures in tributaries, removal of dams that block fish
 migration, and changes in the management of hatcheries.

 In 2001, both federal fisheries agencies issued "biological opinions"
 under the Endangered Species Act, in effect ordering the Bureau of
 Reclamation to maintain higher water levels to protect endangered
 shortnose suckers and Lost River suckers and higher flows to protect
 threatened coho salmon.

In its interim report, released in February 2002, the Research
 Council committee found no substantial scientific support for the
 fisheries agencies' requirements, or for lower minimum water levels
 that the bureau had proposed. In this final report from the
 committee, it reiterated those conclusions.

The committee's report covers an array of problems, such as excessive
 growth of algae and depleted oxygen levels in Upper Klamath Lake,
 dams that block spawning migrations, competition from hatchery fish,
 excessive sediment in streams, loss of stream bank vegetation, and
 high water temperatures in the summer.

 It also emphasizes the need for a multi-species, or ecosystem,
approach to management because there are many other fishes in the
basin that are declining and are either on the road to being listed
or are species that are important in tribal fisheries.

 "Our main conclusion is that you can't fix Upper Klamath Lake,
 although there are some good things that can be done to the Klamath
 River," said Moyle. "The main solutions lie in the tributaries, and
 the Shasta River is our favorite. It is fixable in a way that others

 "It once flowed all summer, crystal-clear cold water, and had huge
 runs of coho salmon, Chinook salmon and steelhead trout. If you
 reduced its use for irrigated pasture and alfalfa fields, that would
lower its temperature. If you removed Dwinnell Dam, you'd increase
 access to spawning and young-fish habitat. That sort of system
approach is what's needed in the Klamath Basin."

 "For too long, Klamath managers have relied on fixing their problems
 by turning only one knob -- the knob of raising and lowering water
 levels in Upper Klamath Lake and in the river. They need to take new
 approaches that support multiple populations of fish and healthy
ecosystems throughout the watershed," said Mount.

Other specific actions the committee recommended included:

 * Healthy sucker populations in lakes such as Clear Lake and Gerber
 Lake should be preserved and protected.  Water should be restored to
Tule Lake and Lower Klamath Lake to support suckers there.

 * The Chiloquin Dam on the Sprague River should be removed.
Approximately 12 feet tall, it blocks as much as 90 percent of the
spawning habitat for suckers above Upper Klamath Lake.

* All other diversions that capture suckers from tributaries or lakes
should be either removed, screened or remodeled to reduce fish

 * To help coho salmon, cool water should be procured in tributaries
 -- by purchasing, leasing or trading for groundwater -- and woody
 vegetation should be restored to provide shade.

 * Large dams, such as Iron Gate Dam and Dwinnell Dam, should be
evaluated for removal in order to provide access to cool tributary
 spawning grounds.

* The two current fish-hatchery operations should be re-evaluated.
 "We saw no reasonable evidence that the hatcheries are contributing
to the recovery of wild salmon in the system," said Moyle. "Hatchery
fish are bigger than wild fish. When millions are released into the
Klamath River, the hatchery fish can either compete with or prey on
the smaller wild fish, especially in the few good places where there
is cold water in summer." He suggests that one hatchery be closed for
a three-year period -- the typical life span of a coho salmon -- and
 the results be studied.

* The two fisheries agencies should use their authority to modify
 forestry and road-construction activities on federal lands that are
causing damage to fish habitat.

 * The agencies should expand their efforts to reduce "takings," or
 harm, of coho on private land.

* Recovery teams for suckers and salmon should be established, guided
by master plans and reviewed by outside experts every three years.
 The recovery-team scientists should frequently publish their key
findings in peer-reviewed journals.

 The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the
 National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.
 It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides advice to the federal
government on science and technology under a congressional charter.

 The University of California is one of the world's foremost research and
teaching institutions, and UC Davis is the University of
 California's flagship campus for environmental studies. UC Davis is a
global leader in environmental studies relating to endangered species
 management; water and air pollution; water and land use; agricultural
 practices; invasive plants and animals; climate change; resource
 economics; information technology; and human society and culture. One
 in six of UC Davis' 1,500 faculty members specializes in an
 environment-related subject.

Copies of the committee's final report, "Endangered and Threatened
Fishes in the Klamath River Basin: Causes of Decline and Strategies
for Recovery," will be available to the public early next year from
 the National Academies Press. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication
copy from the National Research Council news office, (202) 334-2138;

 Additional information:
National Research Council news release, Oct. 21, 2003
 Committee final report, October 2003 (when available)
National Research Council news release, Feb. 6, 2002
 Committee interim report, February 2002

 Media contact(s):
* Sylvia Wright, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-7704; tonight at
 home, (530) 758-3123; swright@ucdavis.edu
Additional contact(s):
 * Peter Moyle, Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology, (530)
 752-6355, pbmoyle@ucdavis.edu
 * Jeffrey Mount, Geology, (530) 752-7092, mount@geology.ucdavis.edu

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