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Fish screened from canal danger

Fish trying to swim through the headgates of the A Canal have been in for a wild ride.

Any fish longer than 1.2 inches that finds itself swimming into the canal encounters a fine-mesh screen keeping it from going into the main diversion canal for the Klamath Reclamation Project.

 Fish are then shunted into a bypass pipe that lead them through a pump, an observation room and then back through another pipe into Upper Klamath Lake near the Link River bridge.

So how's the fish screen working now that it's been in place for two irrigation seasons?

"There really hasn't been too much that has gone wrong this year," said Dave Solem, manager of the Klamath Irrigation District, which operates the fish screen.

He said some minor adjustments have been needed, most involving some electronic equipment that got wet. Other than that, the screen is working as planned.

Replacing the old headgates that were epicenter of protests during the 2001 water crisis, the new concrete and metal marvel features high-tech, self-cleaning fish screens whose goal is to keep endangered sucker fish from getting trapped in the Project's canals.

The $16-million dollar project, built between October 2002 and April 2003, has drawn attention from engineers, other irrigation districts, college students and others, Solem said. Many have come to Klamath Falls for a tour.

"We show it off a lot," Solem said.

Many have trumpeted the new headgates as a move toward restoration of the suckers, but much is left to do, officials said.

"It allowed the project to continue, but we've still got a lot of work to do in the biological restoration of the fish and their habitat," said Rich Piaskowski, a fisheries biologist for the Bureau of Reclamation.

Once a week, Bureau scientists go to the observation room and capture some suckers as they go through the bypass. They record species, health and other information.

Data from this season's sampling hasn't been compiled yet.

"We haven't gotten through the field season, so none of it has been summarized," Piaskowski said.

One way officials can gauge the effectiveness of the fish screen is to search for suckers remaining in the canal system after the end of irrigation season.

For the past several years, biologists have seined canals to capture suckers and release them in Upper Klamath Lake.

Before the fish screen was installed, the number of trapped suckers recovered varied greatly, as few as several hundred to as high as 10,000, Piaskowski said.

Last year, a about 2,000 were recovered, but most of those were older suckers that had found places where water stayed year round, he said. This year, he said he expects even fewer suckers to be salvaged, and it could be the last year of the operation.

Like those in the agricultural community, many environmental groups cheered the improved headgates.

"We certainly know by screening (the A Canal) we have stopped one area where there was a lot of annual loss and that is a good thing," said Bob Hunter, an attorney for WaterWatch, a Portland-based conservation group.

But he said it is only one of many things that need to be done.

"We corrected one of the big hot spots, but we still haven't taken significant steps forward for fish downstream or for wildlife in the refuges," Hunter said.




Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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