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Don't blame Klamath Project for fish die-off
January 19, 2005 Editorial Herald and News

The Klamath Reclamation Project has been the whipping boy for fish problems on the lower Klamath River for years. Yet, time after time, legal and scientific bodies say there's no foundation for the accusations.

The latest word comes from U.S. District Judge Saundra B. Armstrong in Oakland, Calif., who dismissed a case brought by the Yurok Tribe on the lower Klamath River. The tribe contended that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation should be held responsible for a die-off of an estimated 34,000 fish on the lower river in 2002.

The Yurok Tribe contended it should get the first priority for the water stored in the upper Klamath Basin - most of which is in Upper Klamath Lake - and water that was left would go to irrigators.

Armstrong dismissed the lawsuit, saying the Tribe couldn't prove that another fish die-off was likely, nor that the Tribe had the legal priority it claimed.

Since analysis of the likelihood of a future die-off depends on the experience of the past, the finding that the die-off is unlikely at the very least to be repeated implies that the Klamath Project was doubtful as a factor in the die-off of 2002. That, incidentally, was the same conclusion reached in a report from the National Academy of Sciences after it was asked to investigate both the 2001 cutoff of water to irrigators on the Klamath Project and the 2002 fish die-off.

The Klamath Project got an unjustified black eye in 2002 when the salmon died, and downstream fishermen, tribes and the California Fish and Game Department pointed upstream and blamed the Klamath Project.

But there's never been any proof that the Project was to blame. Just ask Judge Armstrong.


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