Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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From Bend.com news sources
Posted: Friday, July 30, 2004 7:32 PM
Reference Code: PR-17094
July 30 -
Commercial fishermen and conservationists on Friday today applauded the release of the California Department of Fish and Game’s final report on the causes of the tragic 2002 fish kill on the Klamath River.
The exhaustive, peer-reviewed report’s primary conclusion — that low water flows resulting from upstream irrigation diversions were at the heart of the kill — is consistent with previous analyses conducted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Yurok Tribe.
“It’s not rocket science that fish need water,” said Glen Spain, Northwest Regional Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, which represents West Coast commercial fishermen. “This report shows what a disaster the Bush Administration’s water policies have been for salmon in the Klamath Basin, and for the commercial fishing families that depend on them. The lower basin has been plunged into permanent drought that is costing fishing dependent communities thousands of jobs and threatens closures of ports all the way to San Francisco.”
Projections for next year’s Klamath fish runs (the progeny from 2002’s few survivors) are for record lows. The west coast salmon fishery is thus facing massive economic losses in 2005 and 2006 from port closures likely resulting from both juvenile and adult Klamath fish kills during 2002, and on July 16th PCFFA asked the President for economic disaster relief for Klamath-driven losses than may ultimately total hundreds of millions of dollars.
Among the report’s key findings are:
• "The total fish-kill estimate of 34,056 fish, was conservative and DFG analyses indicate actual losses may have been more than double that number." - p. III.
• "Flow is the only controllable factor and tool available in the Klamath Basin to manage risks against future epizootics and major adult fish-kills." - p. III.
• “Increased flows...(on the Klamath River) should be implemented to improve water temperatures, increase water volume, increase water velocities, improve fish passage, provide migration cues and decrease fish densities." - p. 131.
• "USGS has revised the average September 2002 flows down to 1,987 cfs (cubic feet per second), which if accurate, represents the second lowest flow ever recorded." - p. 125.
• "The numbers of naturally produced Chinook salmon that perished in the fish-kill were estimated to be 25,473 fish or 78.3% of the total fish kill." - p. 146.
The revised estimate on how many salmon died in the tragedy is among the report’s most shocking findings. The Department of Fish and Game’s conclusion that as many as 68,000 salmon died in the fish kill would mean that roughly half of the entire 2002 Klamath River salmon run perished in a single, man-made catastrophe. An earlier, more conservative estimate had created the likelihood of severe restrictions or closures of commercial salmon harvests in 2005, as a means of safeguarding the offspring of the fish that survived. On July 16th, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations sought federal disaster assistance for commercial fishing communities facing fishing closures from Fort Bragg, CA to Coos Bay, OR.
Fishermen and conservationists expressed alarm over the Bush administration’s plan to send even less water to flow down the Klamath River this summer than was sent in 2002, despite spending millions of taxpayer dollars on a “water bank” touted as a buffer for fish. Under this year’s water management plan, the Bush administration will provide more water to Klamath Project irrigators than they have ever received under a similar “dry” year classification, while reducing flows for salmon in August and September to levels below those of 2002. The Klamath Basin’s critically important National Wildlife Refuges also suffer under the plan, and are slated to receive roughly half the water they need to sustain marshes and wetlands. (See attached chart for details on 2004 Klamath water plan)
The Department of Fish and Game’s finding that low flows were at the heart of the 2002 fish kill, and call for higher flows as a way of avoiding future kills, highlights the pressing need to reduce the runaway demand for water in the Klamath Basin. Over the course of the last century federal and state officials have promised too much water to too many different interests in this arid region. Today, even in wet years there is not enough of this scarce resource to honor all of the legitimate claims.
“They only fair and effective solution to the Klamath water crisis is to bring the demand for water in the basin back into balance with supply,” said Bob Hunter, WaterWatch’s Southern Oregon staff person. “We need President Bush to get behind a voluntary program that works with Klamath landowners to buy back water rights and retire them.”
The report comes just weeks after Representatives Greg Walden and Wally Herger held a one-sided hearing in Klamath Falls to attack the Endangered Species Act and criticize efforts to protect salmon and other threatened fish and wildlife in the Klamath Basin. During the hearing Walden blamed fish recovery efforts, rather than the devastating drought, for the water crisis of 2001. Walden recently introduced “sound science” legislation that would hamstring federal biologists charged with enforcing the Endangered Species Act to protect salmon and other threatened plants, animals, and fish.
“Two weeks ago Congressman Walden was part of a one-sided hearing to bash the Endangered Species Act and build support for his ‘sound science’ legislation,” said Steve Pedery, Endangered Species Advocate with the Oregon Natural Resources Council. “But in 2002, the kind of ‘sound science’ Walden called for killed more than 60,000 salmon in the Klamath River.”
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