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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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 On the Klamath River, pain flows downstream.  Another perspective.
Steve Cheyne responds to Oregonian editorial, pain flows downstream, 3/12/06

      We well remember what happened when the government was forced to
cut off irrigation water to the Klamath Reclamation Project in 2001.
Residents realize there are serious, substantive problems that will
require much effort and sacrifice to solve.  We realize that lots of
things "flow downhill".  You illustrate with pain.  It seems that
misinformation also flows downhill.
      You say the Klamath River is too sick and shallow, that the issue
is the Klamath is dewatered by irrigation.  The Klamath Reclamation
Project uses 4-5% of the water the river delivers to the ocean. 
Anybody can check that from data for river flows and irrigation
diversions.  Irrigation has not dewatered the river. Even in the
summer, the Klamath Project augments summer flows.
      You need to understand that when water needs are perceived to be
greatest, the only water available, in Klamath Lake, is hypereutrophic
and often as warm as 80 degrees.  If this water was not stored behind
Link River Dam, it would have long since flowed to the sea and wouldn't
be available for this argument.
      You use the 2002 fish kill one more time.  There was more water in
the Klamath in 2002 than in many other short years, which didn't see
fish kills. Those years often had good salmon production. You tout the
California Fish and Game study and ignore the National Academy of
Sciences which drew very different conclusions.
      In my opinion, cool, rainy weather before the kill started the
salmon upriver.  Nobody seems to have paid any attention to the weather
forecast that said the weather would warm up.  Olfactory signals from
warm water lured the fish to their doom. The warm Klamath flow should
have been ramped down as much as control of the river allowed.   Cooler
flows can only come from the Trinity River (remember the dead fish were
Trinity bound).  Just after the kill, the weather cooled off.  If water
demand from Klamath Lake had been reduced, for just those few days,
forcing the salmon to stay in the ocean, flow releases from the lake
(as well as warm Iron Gate Reservoir) would have been cooler and may
have actually benefited the fish.
      Warm summer and early fall water from Klamath Lake can't be turned
into cold salmon water when daily temperatures can be in the 90's.  It
can only raise river temperature, increase blue green algae, and
increase the presence of whatever disease organisms you name. Blame for
that kill is widespread. People, up and down the river, screwed up in
2002.  We all are suffering from those mistakes, not just the fisherman.
      Everyone needs to realize that if agriculture disappears tomorrow,
the gain will be 5% more water.  Remember the water gained is warm and
lethal to salmon.  That will not solve the problem.  Remove the dams
tomorrow and in low water years there will be little to no outflow from
Klamath Lake in the summer.

Steve Cheyne


On the Klamath River, pain flows downstream

It's business as usual for irrigators and dam operators, while salmon and coastal towns suffer the consequences
Friday, March 10, 2006
Oregonian Editorial

Remember when the government shut off water to farmers in the upper Klamath Basin, and everybody from the White House to The Wall Street Journal came running to the rescue?

Well, where are they now that the feds are poised to shut off the economic lifeblood of coastal towns from central Oregon on down the full length of California, because the Klamath River is too shallow and sick to sustain salmon?

When it comes to economic power, political support and public sympathy, it sure makes a difference what end of the river you call home. It seemed like every elected official in Oregon trooped down to Klamath Falls during that long, hot summer of 2001 to stick up for the family farmer. Today, with federal fisheries officials talking seriously about shutting down fishing along 700 miles of coastline, there is no similar rush to the aid of the family fisherman.

Dave Bitts, vice president of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman Associations, a California fish lobby, predicted that one closed season would knock out much of the already weakened Pacific salmon fishing fleet. This is no small economic hit to the region: Salmon trolling and its associated jobs represent $150 million in economic activity in Oregon and California.

A full closure would be a tragedy for fishing ports and families up and down the coast. But at this point, it's hard to see how a fishing shutdown can be avoided this summer. Klamath River chinook populations have plunged below the numbers needed to sustain the species. Yes, there are many other salmon from other rivers in the ocean, but there is no selective way to harvest them without killing more Klamath salmon.

The real issue here is that the Klamath River is sick, rife with disease, dewatered by irrigation and blocked by dams. No one should lay all this at the feet of upper Klamath Basin farmers, who are among a cast of thousands, including huge agribusinesses in California's central valley, that rely on water from the Klamath River and its tributaries.

Yet if you want to understand who's won and who's lost the fight for water in the Klamath, look upriver, and look back to 2002. The farmers, thanks to the intervention of the Bush administration and Congress, got their water back. Then a few months later, an estimated 70,000 salmon, some of them chinook, died in the warm, diseased waters of the Klamath.

There's been a fierce debate about the cause of the die-off. However, an investigation by the California Department of Fish and Game blamed federal policies for the low, warm water and disease outbreak. However you want to assign blame, the region sure could use the offspring from those 70,000 Klamath fish about now.

Of course, that is warm water under the bridge. But what is still alive is the question of whether the federal government is willing to balance the economic interests of upstream and downstream communities, not just on the Klamath, but everywhere fish and fishermen continue to come in last.




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