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Water tour brings stakeholders together

Klamath River Basin issues span cultures, states, livelihoods

By Jacqui Krizo For the Capital Press 9/28/07

Farmers, fishermen, ranchers, Indian tribes, miners and loggers share the Klamath River, and their livelihoods depend on it.

In late September, an alliance of Oregon coastal commercial fishermen, Klamath Basin irrigators, Yurok and Karuk tribes, along with representatives, elected officials and other guests toured the Klamath River Basin.

“We’re solution based,” said fisherman Paul Merz from Charleston. “We want solutions that don’t favor one user over another. Klamath River controls our fishing. Our heritage is going away.”

The two-day weekend tour included Iron Gate Dam, Scott Valley conservation projects, a Klamath Basin organic “walking wetland” and Tulelake Refuge. Some presentations preceded the tour.

Oregon State University scientist Sarah Bjork described diseases that are partly responsible for declining numbers of Klamath River fall Chinook salmon.

Bjork said the large concentration of salmon near dam reservoirs and tributaries needs to be thinned out, and fish carcasses should be removed. She said water surges, trucking, cold-water storage or other methods should be used to reduce or eliminate the problem.

Yurok Troy Fletcher and Karuk Ron Reed said dam removal would bring back more fish. Reed said he only caught 200 last year. Fletcher said the Yuroks caught 6,000, but they use a different type of net and a larger area.

Craig Tucker, Klamath Campaign coordinator for the Karuk Tribe, said he asked Klamath Water Users Association executive director Greg Addington: “We want dams out; what do you want that we can get the dams out?”

Tucker said he previously worked with the environmental group Friends of the River, a California group advocating dam removal, wetlands restoration and wilderness designations. He said dam removal is necessary to restore the fishery.

Addington said that in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission settlement negotiations, the farmers are asking for three things: a power rate reflecting the value of Klamath Basin water for power, a reliable supply of irrigation water and safe harbor from regulations when new endangered species are introduced.

The tour bus first went by Iron Gate dam and communities near the reservoirs.

Gary Black, from Scott Valley, shows the Klamath River tour guests a fish screen on Patterson Creek. This is one of many conservation accomplishments in the watershed to sustain fish, farms and communities.
Gary Black, with the Siskiyou Resource Conservation District, showed the visitors a fish screen on Patterson Creek in Scott Valley. During the past 15 years the district installed stock watering systems, moisture sensors and water delivery systems that increase flows; completed 17,490 feet of stream channel enhancement projects; fenced 95 percent of private streamside properties; planted 200 acres of trees; completed surveys and studies; installed 62 fish screens; and replaced dams with weirs.

Day one ended with the Karuks cooking salmon over a fire for their new “brothers.”

The tour proceeded to Lower Klamath where Bob Flowers’ family settled in the 1800s. He showed where Lower Klamath fields are 11 feet lower than the Keno reef, where water flowed from Klamath River into Lower Klamath Lake before the reclamation project was built. Water seldom flowed into the river from the basin — uphill — unless it was an extremely wet season. He said the flawed biological opinions demand more water from irrigators than ever was or
will be physically possible to attain.

Mike Noonan showed the guests his organic “walking wetland” project. His field is flooded most of a year, and then farmed for two to three years. This kills weeds and provides a ton of duck food per acre, the farm yield increases, and waterfowl droppings fertilize the field. Tulelake Refuge manager Ron Cole said working with private agricultural interests helps him meet his refuge conservation goals.

At a lunch stop, salmon fisherman Rick Shepherd from Crescent City said millions of dollars have been lost in coastal communities because of Klamath River mismanagement.

He said there were no season closures from May 1 through Sept. 30 before 1985. “In 2006 there was zero season, and in
2007 there was a three-day season, 30 fish per day. It was another undeclared disaster.” Last year the season was closed because of a projected shortage of  2,000 fish. He said during fall salmon returns, an estimated 300 sea lions linger at the mouth of the Klamath. If 300 eat one fish per day August through Oct. 14, that’s 22,000 fish, he estimated.

Commercial salmon fisherman Rick Goche from Coquille said coastal fishing seasons are based on early forecasts of how many fish might come into the Klamath based in part on adult return counts four years previous. He said National Marine Fishery Service admits the model it includes fish counts in is only 50 percent right 50 percent of the time. “They need to start counting all the fish, not what someone determines are wild fish and someone determines are hatchery fish.”

A new DNA testing program revealed only 5 percent of the limited ocean catch in 2006 was from the Klamath River.

“We need immediate remedies as well as long-term solutions,” said Goche.

One of the organizers, Dick Carleton, said, “The event was a great success. We had a chance to visit and learn some of the issues facing each of the communities.”

Freelance writer Jacqui Krizo is based in Tulelake, Calif. E-mail: krizohr@cot.net.

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