Klamath Water Users Association 

Weekly Update

July 25, 2003



Recent Hot Weather and Algae Blooms Raise Concerns for UKL Fish Die-Off

The recent hot weather and an active algae bloom appear to be contributing to deteriorating water quality conditions in Upper Klamath Lake, raising concerns with government biologists that a fish die-off in the lake may loom on the horizon. Earlier this week, dissolved oxygen (DO) levels in the northern portion of Upper Klamath Lake dropped to near 2.0 milligrams per liter, a level that can quickly kill endangered suckers. Hot weather and concentrations of algae are also being blamed for a die off of chubs and minnows along the Klamath River this week.

UKL Water Quality Conditions

Upper Klamath Lake has a long history of fish die-offs apparently caused by decaying algae blooms. Massive concentrations of algae in the lake can influence the lake’s oxygen levels. As an algae bloom dies, it draws down oxygen levels in the water. Reclamation, US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and US Geological Survey (USGS) personnel have reported active algae conditions and deteriorating water quality conditions in certain parts of the lake, but thus far no dead suckers have been found. DO levels in Wocus Bay, for example, have dropped into the range considered lethal to suckers, but agency scientists believe that fish likely have moved into safer sanctuaries of the lake. However, agency scientists are concerned that larger numbers of dead fish may show up later in the summer if conditions worsen.

“Fish Kill” vs. “Fish Die-Off”

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation yesterday convened a "response group" consisting of state, federal and tribal biologists, and local water users.

The group discussed field response protocol and any coordination needs in responding to potential fish die-off events. All agreed at the meeting that the term “fish kill” would only be used to characterize an event where a “responsible party” was clearly identified, such as a vehicle crash spilling toxic substances into the lake. In situations where the cause of mortality is questionable, the event is termed a “die-off”.

This seemingly trivial concern regarding nomenclature is one that triggers unpleasant memories for many Upper Basin water managers. Last fall, shortly after the unfortunate deaths of 33,000 salmon on the Klamath River, the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) quickly tagged the event as a “fish kill” and pointed to the Klamath Project, located 200 miles upstream, as the culprit. Interestingly - also in 2002 - 3,000 spring-run Chinook salmon perished in Butte Creek, California. CDFG attributed the Butte Creek event to a combination of warm water and overcrowding of fish causing a disease outbreak of columnaris – similar to the disease that killed the Klamath salmon. However, CDFG suggested the Butte Creek fish deaths were a result of natural conditions and did not link the fundamental cause to water project operations in Butte Creek. Also, unlike the situation on the Klamath, CDFG referred to this unfortunate event in Butte Creek as a “die-off” not a “fish kill”.

Actions and Concerns of Local Water Users

Meanwhile, Klamath Project irrigators continue to take voluntary actions intended to help Reclamation meet “dry” year lake levels contained in the USFWS biological opinion (BO) for suckers. Current tracking of lake levels shows that the more stringent "below average" lake level conditions are being met, primarily due to voluntary reduced Project diversions taken in July. Reclamation has observed negative net inflows into UKL in recent days, while Klamath Project diversions out of UKL in the past week have ranged between 1,140 cfs and 1,250 cfs, well below the 1,350 cfs target value identified by Reclamation. The reduced diversions are a strong indication that Project irrigators’ voluntary efforts – such as increased groundwater pumping and partial curtailments - are paying off.

Local water users insist that proper water quality data be collected on a near-continuous basis to better assess what happens prior to any fish die-off. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 14 water quality data collection stations are in operation along the northern portion of Upper Klamath Lake. Temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen and conductivity are being tested for at all stations. Twelve of the fourteen stations are collecting data from sensors suspended 1 meter off the lake bottom. The two remaining stations are “profiling buoys”, which collect data from three depths.

Water users do not want to see a repeat of the unfortunate 2002 Klamath River fish die-off, where water quality samples were not taken until 7 days after the onset of the die-off. Despite that oversight, downstream advocates for higher river flows continue to assert that toxic substances could not have caused that fish die-off.

Lake Levels and Fish Mortality Not Correlated

While relatively high UKL levels have been associated with fish kills in the past, it is difficult to find any relationship between lake level management and the health of endangered suckers (see inset).

The National Research Council Questions Lake Level / Sucker Health Relationship

The following observations are pulled directly from the National Research Council Klamath Committee’s 2002 scientific evaluation of biological opinions on endangered and threatened fishes in the Klamath River Basin:

 “A substantial data-collection and analytical effort by multiple agencies, tribes, and other parties has not shown a clear connection between water level in Upper Klamath Lake and conditions that are adverse to the welfare of the suckers. Incidents of adult mortality (fish kills), for example, have not been associated with years of low water level.”

 “Overall, the presumed causal connections between lake levels and recruitment of the sucker populations in Upper Klamath Lake do not have strong scientific support at present.”

 “Despite a monitoring record of substantial length, there is no clear evidence of a connection between the lake levels and the welfare of the two sucker species in Upper Klamath Lake.”

In fact, there are scientists who contend that higher lake levels (like those proposed in the current U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion) may be detrimental to the health of UKL sucker fish. Ken Rykbost, superintendent of the Oregon State University Klamath Experiment Station has developed charts that provide clear empirical data supporting this claim. Those charts show, for example, that in 1992 and 1994, years of severe drought where no fish die-offs were observed, lake levels were already below 4139.0 at this time (mid-July). The end-of-year lake elevations in both cases dropped below 4138.0. UKL levels this year are being managed according to the same end-of-month conditions that occurred in 1991, a dry year with no fish die-off. Should large scale fish mortality occur this year - another dry year - it would provide further evidence that factors other than lake elevations are likely responsible for the die-off.

According to Dr. Alex Horne, professor of ecological engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, for shallow lakes such as UKL, the direct evidence from both recent and long-term studies in UKL show that deeper water often increases incidences of low DO, high ammonia and phosphate.

“The evidence from the lake shows that deeper water is often more dangerous to fish health and results in worse water quality events,” said Horne. “Thus, the lake can be safely managed holding less water. More water can be made available for agriculture and other users while still not harming the fish in the lake.”

Horne believes the effect of wind and especially convective lake mixing should be considered in a balanced discussion of the water quality benefits and drawbacks of various water depths for adult sucker survival. He also believes the USFWS BO should focus on restoring the endangered suckers to health quickly through proven methods like artificial oxygenation, a concept proposed in KWUA’s 2001 sucker recovery plan.

Panner Opinion Overturned

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday overturned a 2001water rights appeal lodged by the Klamath Tribes with U.S. District Judge Owen Panner in 2001. The Ninth Circuit dismissed the appeal and remanded the case to the Oregon District Court with an instruction to enter an order staying all federal proceedings pending completion of the Oregon adjudication process.

The State of Oregon, the United States, the Klamath Tribes, and many irrigation interests have spent the past twenty-five years trying to determine rights to water in Oregon's Klamath Basin. The federal courts were the first forum for this effort, determining the scope of the federal water rights in 1979. Federal judges affirmed the legal rights at issue and approved leaving the quantification of water amounts to state proceedings.

For the past decade, Oregon has proceeded with a comprehensive administrative adjudication of the competing claims to water in the Klamath Basin.

The United States and the Klamath Tribes returned to federal court in 2001 asking the district court to clarify the scope of the federal water rights involved and to assess the propriety of the water rights standard recently announced in a preliminary administrative assessment issued in adjudication. Things changed with Monday’s decision.

“Because the federal dispute presented here is not ripe for our determination, we dismiss the appeal and remand this case to the district court for it to enter an order vacating its judgment and staying federal proceedings until the completion of the Oregon Adjudication” wrote Circuit Judge Richard Tallman for the Court of Appeals.

Armenian / Georgian Water Officials Meet with KWUA, UC & OSU Reps

Five high-level water officials from Armenia and Georgia met with extension agents from the University of California and Oregon State University at the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) office in Klamath Falls on Tuesday. The visitors were in the Basin earlier this week to learn more about disputes in the Klamath River watershed. The delegation also met with tribal interests and the Klamath Bucket Brigade during their tour of the Basin. The World Affairs Council of Oregon arranged the tour.

The visitors were met at the KWUA office by Harry Carlson (superintendent of the University of California Intermountain Research and Extension Center); Ron Hathaway (Agricultural Agent, OSU Extension); Ken Rykbost (superintendent of the Oregon State University Klamath Experiment Station); Rodney Todd (Klamath County Extension Agent for OSU); and Dan Keppen (KWUA Executive Director). With the assistance of two interpreters, the parties engaged in discussion of pre- and post-Klamath Project hydrology, the Klamath Project operations plan, and water rights issues. The group was also interested in the history, purpose and priorities of KWUA, and Mr. Alex Tsukilashvili, Chairman of the Association “Caucasus Meridian”, specifically asked for copies of the association’s corporate bylaws.

The Klamath Basin hosts were impressed with the credentials of the visitors from Armenia and Georgia:

 Mr. Mamikon Gasparyan – Head of Reclamation Department for the Armenian Ministry of Agriculture.

 Mr. Arshavir Hayrapetyan – Chief Specialist, Reclamation Department, Armenian Ministry of Agriculture.

 Mr. Gurgen Yeghiazaryan – Head, Small Farm Water Management Research Center, Armenian Agricultural Academy.

 Mr. Ivane Tsiklauri – Specialist, Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Protection, Georgia.

 Mr. Alex Tsukilashvili – Chairman of the Association, “Caucasus Meridian”, Chairman, Kvareli Regional Council, Georgia.

The World Affairs Council of Oregon coordinated the visit. Each year, 4,500 foreign visitors identified by United States Embassies as the future leaders in their countries, participate in U.S. Department of State-sponsored study tours to the United States. The visitors, representing over 100 countries and a wide range of professional interests, meet Americans of different ages and backgrounds, and learn about the traditions and ideas which characterize the United States and make it unique.

Each visitor spends approximately 30 days in the country and visits 4-5 different states.

Nearly five hundred visitors come to Oregon each year through this program.

The World Affairs Council of Oregon arranges personalized itineraries for each visitor including professional meetings, sightseeing tours and home hospitality. This person-to-person program is intended to build international friendships and promote international understanding.

Annual Field Day Planned for July 31

The University of California Intermountain Research and Extension Center will host its Annual Field Day next Thursday from 8:00 a.m. to noon in Tulelake. Stops included in this year’s tour include:

 Growing Small Potatoes on Purpose
 Potato Variety Response to Fertilizer
 Potato Variety Evaluation
 Soil Applied Fungicide Techniques for White Rot Control in Onions
 Potato Variety Response to Irrigation
 Soil Moisture Monitoring
 Improving Irrigation Efficiency
 Deficit Irrigation in Alfalfa
 Cereal and Alfalfa Variety Evaluations
 Alfalfa Cutting Schedules Revisited

A barbeque lunch will be served following the field tour. For more information on the tour, please call Harry Carlson at 530-557-5117.


Sunday, July 27, 2003 – Retirement Party for Jim Bryant, USBR. 4:00 – 8:00 p.m., Wiard Park, Klamath Falls, Oregon.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003 – KWUA Administrative Committee Meeting. 3:00 p.m., KWUA Office, 2455 Patterson Street, Suite 3, Klamath Falls, Oregon

Thursday, July 31, 2003 – Friday, August 1, 2003 – KWUA / Klamath Fisheries Coalition Dinner / Klamath Project Tour. Merrill & Klamath Project area, Oregon and California.

Thursday, July 31, 2003 – University of California Intermountain Research & Extension Center Annual Field Day. 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. UCIREC, Tulelake, California.

Monday, August 4, 2003 – Klamath Hydro Relicensing Water Quality Group. 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Miner’s Inn, Yreka, California.

Tuesday, August 5, 2003 – Klamath Hydro Relicensing Aquatics Work Group. 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Miner’s Inn, Yreka, California.

Tuesday, August 5, 2003 – Klamath Hydro Relicensing Recreation Work Group. 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Miner’s Inn, Yreka, California.

Wednesday, August 6, 2003 – Klamath Hydro Relicensing Cultural Resources Work Group. 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Miner’s Inn, Yreka, California.

Wednesday, August 6, 2003 – Klamath Hydro Relicensing Aquatics / Fish Passage Work Group. 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Miner’s Inn, Yreka, California.

Thursday, August 7, 2003 – Klamath Hydro Relicensing Terrestrial Work Group. 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Miner’s Inn, Yreka, California.

Thursday, August 7, 2003 – Klamath Hydro Relicensing Socioeconomics Work Group. 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Miner’s Inn, Yreka, California.

Friday, August 8, 2003 - Klamath Hydro Relicensing Plenary Group. 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Miner’s Inn, Yreka, California.


Klamath Water Users Association
2455 Patterson Street, Suite 3
Klamath Falls, Oregon 97603
(541)-883-6100 FAX (541)-883-8893 kwua@cdsnet.net

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