Klamath Water Users Association
Aug 9, 2002
KWUA Biologist Warns: “Increased Summer Flows Could Harm Salmon”
The recent announcement by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) that the present water year had been changed from “below-average” to “dry” for the federal Klamath Project has generated criticism from environmentalists and downstream tribal interests. In a “below average” year, August flows through Iron Gate Dam are set at about 1,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), but with the change to a “dry” year, the flows have been reduced to about 650 cfs. Biologists working for the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) conducted surveys last week between Iron Gate and Happy Camp to assess flow conditions in the river.
Meanwhile, environmentalists and tribes are pressing for more Klamath River flows to support salmon.
Project irrigators question the wisdom of releasing additional stored water downstream at this time, particularly when a recent study completed by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) found that higher flows “may work to the disadvantage of the coho population” in summer months. Water users are concerned that a repeat of the disaster that occurred in 1994 will occur. That year, despite warnings from KWUA biologists, federal agencies increased summer flows, which prematurely attracted fall-run chinook salmon to an upper area of the river where natural conditions were hostile to their health. The net result of the increased flows during late August of that year could have ultimately been detrimental to 1994 fall-run Chinook in the Klamath River.
“Dumping too much warm water in the wrong place at the wrong time and for all the wrong reasons will not gain biological benefit. In fact, it may very well
be detrimental to the fish,” said Dave Vogel, a fisheries biologist from Red Bluff.
Reclamation continues to meet its contracts to provide water to farms upstream, which have taken measures to conserve water and make up water sent downstream earlier this summer to meet tribal trust obligations. However, tribal interests are now holding up the fall-run chinook as an example of a tribal trust need that should be addressed with Klamath Project water. Spokespersons for downstream tribes contend that their fishing rights rise above the water rights of irrigators, and that irrigators should be cut back. Local water users have a different view.
“If downstream interests want more water from the Klamath Project, they are actually looking at the wildlife refuges, which have the junior water rights within the Klamath Project,” said Paul Simmons, attorney for KWUA. “What they are really arguing for is to shut off the supply to the national wildlife refuges.” KWUA believes the refuges should be protected at this time of the year, a concern shared by conservation groups (see inset, Page 2).
KWUA maintains that the current outcry for higher downstream releases simply resurrects an old approach, one that has been proven not to work. They point to the recent NAS interim report prepared for the Klamath Basin that found “factors other than dry-year flows appear to be limiting to survival and maintenance of coho.” KWUA biologists have also suggested several other physical and biological factors have an overriding influence on the overall fall-run Chinook migration and spawning success in the Klamath River.
The NAS report warned that reduction in main-stem flows below the levels that were seen between 1990-2000 could not be justified. In 1992 and 1994, flows below Iron Gate Dam dropped to near 400 cfs and below 600 cfs, respectively. Iron Gate low flows for this month are not expected to drop below 650 cfs. Klamath Irrigation District Manager Dave Solem points out that current Klamath River flows are supplemented by releases of water stored by the Klamath Project. “Without the storage provided by Project reservoirs, flows would be lower than they are now”, said Solem.
Klamath and Wisconsin Farmers Join to Assist Desperate Colorado Ranchers
Drought-stricken ranchers in Colorado received some much needed assistance in the past week from Klamath Basin farming interests and Wisconsin farmers who donated hay and services to a region where the driest conditions in years have depleted local livestock feed sources. Klamath Basin and Wisconsin farmers have donated hay, while local business interests in both states have stepped in to assist with the challenge of transporting and distributing over 2,600 tons of the needed feed. The beneficiaries of this effort are struggling with what they term as the “worst drought in recorded history”. The parched conditions have prevented local ranchers from raising hay with irrigated water.
Donnie Boyd, an implement dealer in Merrill, Oregon, was an important organizer behind the Klamath Basin effort to donate and transport the
hay to Colorado. "Farmers from throughout the West helped the Basin when our water was cut off in 2001. People here can't afford to do this, but it doesn't surprise me. It's the right thing to do."
The Colorado ranchers are appreciative of the Klamath effort. "Most of us in this business have known hard times, so when we hear of someone having trouble it's just natural to want to help," said Charlie Nicol, a lifelong Colorado resident. "Being on this end, all I can say is I commend them Klamath boys.”
CWA Concerned About Waterfowl Impacts
The California Waterfowl Association (CWA) and other conservation groups are concerned that reducing refuge supplies at this point will have a significant negative impact on migratory waterfowl populations and other wildlife.
"Cutting back water deliveries to the Klamath National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) Complex at this critical point in the year will have a devastating impact on waterfowl and the more than 400 other species of wildlife which depend upon Klamath wetlands," said Bill Gaines, Director of Government Affairs for CWA. "The Upper Klamath Basin is the most important waterfowl staging area in North America. In a matter of days, and over the course of the next several weeks, 20 million or more ducks, geese and swans will descend upon Upper Klamath Basin wetlands to feed and rest up for the remainder of their migration south to their wintering grounds. With three-quarters of our historical Basin wetlands no longer available, and the lion's share of remaining habitat provided on the Klamath NWR Complex, adequate water deliveries to the managed wetlands on the Klamath NWR Complex are integral to the health of our continental waterfowl populations.”
“Reducing refuge water deliveries at this critical time of year, simply to address the needs of a single fish species, would be a highly irresponsible resource decision."
NMFS Asks for Comments on New Hatchery Listing Policy
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is in the process of drafting a new policy for how it considers hatchery fish when making Endangered Species Act (ESA) decisions in this region. This policy is part of NMFS’ response to a U.S. District Court ruling, which said the agency made an improper distinction under the ESA in how it treated hatchery fish in its listing determinations. The new policy is intended to ensure, in accordance with the Court’s ruling, that hatchery populations are considered in making ESA listing decisions. The policy will address artificial propagation only in the context of ESA status reviews and listing determinations for Pacific salmon and steelhead. NOAA Fisheries will separately issue guidelines for the design and implementation of artificial propagation programs for the purpose of supporting tribal treaty fisheries, recreational and commercial fisheries, species reintroduction and restoration efforts, and species conservation efforts.
To assist in the development of this new policy, NOAA Fisheries is now sharing a “working draft” with key partners – including tribal and state natural resource agencies in the region, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Department of Justice.
The draft policy is only being distributed to fellow agencies at this time, and NMFS will consider only their comments during this early policy-building process. Following agency review and revision of this working draft, the policy will be formally proposed and traverse a public review process, including further opportunity for tribal, state, and federal agency input.
Water Users Meet with Interior Official
Local water users met Tuesday in Klamath Falls with Bill Bettenberg, the Director of the Office of Policy Analysis for the U.S. Department of Interior. Bettenberg has been assigned by Interior Deputy Chief of Staff Sue Ellen Wooldridge to coordinate the department’s position in the ongoing Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relicensing project for PacifiCorp’s dams on the Klamath River. His other primary charge is to represent Interior in negotiations with the Klamath Tribes over land and water issues. Bettenberg intends to coordinate the Interior agencies – including the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the National Parks Service – to “speak with one voice” in the FERC discussions.
Walden Fundraiser Planned
A re-election benefit reception and dinner for U.S. Representative Greg Walden will be held on August 23rd at Reames Golf and Country Club in Klamath Falls. A hosted wine and hors d’oeuvres reception is planned for 6:00 p.m., followed by a sit-down dinner beginning at 7:00 p.m. The reception will cost $50.00 per person, while the dinner (including the wine reception) cost is $150 per person.
Because seating is limited, reservations are required. Interested persons are requested to RSVP by Friday, August 16th by calling toll-free at 888-774-4734 or by e-mail to: email@example.com.
CALENDAR OF EVENTS
Thursday, August 15, 2002 – KWUA Executive Committee Meeting. 6:30 p.m. KWUA Office. 2455 Patterson Street, Suite 3, Klamath Falls.
Thursday, August 22, 2002 – Regional Water Quality Control Board Meeting. 9:00 a.m. Eureka City Council Chambers. 531 K Street, Eureka, California.
Klamath Water Users
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