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


New biological opinion will change. New requirements aren’t clear, feasible

By SARA HOTTMAN, Herald and News 1/27/11


     The federal agencies that balance water deliveries from Upper Klamath Lake must redo the newest biological opinion for Klamath River because some of its requirements aren’t feasible.

   Biological opinions for the water bodies are intended to protect endangered fish habitats, and also dictate how much water — if any — irrigators on the Klamath Reclamation Project get during the growing season.

   The Klamath River biological opinion seeks to preserve coho   salmon habitats.

   Since Mar h , when the National Marine Fisheries Service approved the opinion, water models showed the river f low requirements are neither clear nor feasible, said Jason Phillips, area manager for the Bureau of Reclamation.

   Basically, Phillips said, the agencies have to redo the opinion.

   “March 1 is the critical date, and it’s unclear where flows are going to be right now,” he said. “But March 1, that’s when the shift to higher, much higher, flows occurs.”   Jim Simondet, Klamath branch supervisor for the National Marine Fisheries Service, acknowledged federal agencies “have had some early discussions,” and “federal agencies are in close coordination,” but wouldn’t say whether the agency’s biological opinion needed revision.  

   Contradictory opinions

   A key component of the biological opinion is fall and winter flow variability, Simondet said

   Officials preface explanations of the flow requirements by saying they’re   very complicated, but essentially, the changes in river flow from Sept. 1 to March 1 are meant to imitate natural changes in flow to redistribute juvenile salmon.

   The winter requirements vary from 1,000 to around 2,000 cubic feet per second at a time when there’s typically moisture.

   Beginning in the spring, the opinion calls for more variance at higher flows, from around 2,000 to 4,000 cfs.

   “It appears not to be feasible given the other requirements to keep the   lake higher,” Phillips said.

   U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enforces a biological opinion that, until 2018, requires certain lake levels to protect shortnose and Lost River sucker. But the water flow levels mandated by the National Marine Fisheries Service demand additional increased flows down the Klamath River.

   Together, the biological opinions contradict each other: If more water flows down the river, it will drain the lake, violating the sucker biological opinion, and vice versa.  

  H&N file photo

The newest biological opinion for flows from Upper Klamath Lake into the Klamath River will have to be redone.

How a biological opinion affects operations
     A biological opinion is supposed to tell the Bureau of Reclamation how to operate. The opinion has clear guidelines for operations in a dry year like 2010.

   But this year is different, said Jason Phillips, area manager for the Bureau of Reclamation.

   “We’re going into the spring with decent lake levels,” he said.

   When it’s wet, the BOR can release more water   from the lake for increased flows in the river. But if the spring is dry and doesn’t replenish the lake, the lake is drained early in the water season. That in turn restricts water deliveries to irrigators, refuges, and other stakeholders that suffered because of limited deliveries in 2010.

   “Any water distributed downriver has the potential to affect water in the upper Basin,” said Jim Simondet, Klamath branch supervisor for the National Marine Fisheries Service. “ We’re working closely with water users, including   downstream tribes and federal and state agencies and PacifiCorp to ensure our biological opinion is being met, as well as looking for flexibility within the system.”

   Simondet said this biological opinion is more flexible than the earlier version, citing an example this winter when the BOR asked to suspend f lows downriver because of natural flow conditions. The National Marine Fisheries Service agreed.

   “ That's a shining example of how agencies worked with disparate parties,” Simondet said. “The increase in Upper Klamath Lake storage results in increased flows in springtime for salmon and increased availability for other needs, like suckerfish and irrigators.”

   Phillips said he’s glad to hear National Marine Fisheries Service touting the opinion’s flexibility.

   Meanwhile, “We’re analyzing things as fast as we can,” he said. “We need to operate in such a way that doesn’t prematurely drain the lake.”



Home Contact


              Page Updated: Wednesday February 02, 2011 04:10 AM  Pacific

             Copyright © klamathbasincrisis.org, 2010, All Rights Reserved