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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Klamath Water Users Association board member Bob Gasser, in the straw hat, tells commercial fishermen about the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Klamath Project. Upper Klamath Lake is in the background. - Steve Kadel For the Capital Press
‘Fishery resource disaster’ declared
While coastal commercial fishermen toured the upper Klamath Basin last week, U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez declared a 700-mile-long “fishery disaster area” from Point Sur (south of Monterrey Bay, Calif.) to Cape Falcon (north of Tillamook Bay, Ore.).

Commercial ocean fishing is restricted to a few days this summer to protect the natural fall chinook salmon who are swimming their way to the Klamath River for spawning. Biologists now estimate that about 25,000 natural spawners, far short of the 35,000 cap set by the Klamath Fisheries Task Force, are in this year’s run.

Gutierrez’s proclamation blames the low salmon returns on droughty conditions between 2001 and 2005 in the 10 million-acre basin shared by Oregon and California. Biologists who track the fish argue that many factors are involved in the crash of natural fall chinook on the Klamath. Several other Pacific Coast chinook runs have been strong in recent years.

The declaration opens the doors for federal loans to fishermen. Several members of Congress are also seeking direct cash payments for fishermen idled by the closure.

Steve Kandra, a Merrill, Ore., farmer and president of Klamath Water Users Association, called the commerce declaration “a critical first step” in helping fishermen.

—Tam Moore

Coastal fishermen, farmers expand alliance

Irrigators lead tour of Klamath project
By TAM MOORE Capital Press Staff Writer and STEVE KADEL Freelance Writer

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — Coastal Oregon commercial fishermen are working with Klamath Project irrigators to find answers to problems facing both industries, and an exchange visit here last week was underwritten by the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Fishermen are hurt this summer by the severely curtailed salmon season due to expected low wild fall chinook runs. Farmers hold their breath each summer, hoping irrigation water won’t be shut off as it was in 2001, when a drought-shortened supply was reserved for federally protected fish habitat.

Eight fishermen and their wives toured the project July 5 and 6 to discuss those and other issues. Among the biggest obstacles, they agreed, are 2002 federal biological opinions mandating Klamath River flows and Upper Klamath Lake levels.

“We’re like you guys,” Klamath Water Users Association board member Bob Gasser told fishermen. “We’re frustrated by management decisions made about flow levels years in advance. We’re beyond frustrated.”

Barry Nelson, a salmon fisherman from Winchester Bay, Ore., said, “Fishermen have next to no say about how water is used. We’re the canary in the mine, and you guys (farmers) are the miners.”

Nelson blamed sea lion predation at the Klamath River mouth for dwindling coho salmon runs. But because sea lions are protected by the federal Marine Mammals Act, no action can be taken against them, he said.

State Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, noted that Native American tribes do have capability of harvesting sea lions. He didn’t suggest they do so, nor that farmers or fishermen ask them to, but he raised the issue for consideration.

Rich Gouche, a fisherman from Coquille, said a coalition of farmers and fishermen — and maybe the tribes — would carry more clout than each industry fighting federal mandates alone.

“I’m trying to find places where we can support (irrigators) and it benefits us, too,” Gouche said.

Farmers took the role of myth-busters during much of the two-day event. Merrill farmer Dick Carleton, who played a big part in bringing commercial fishermen to the upper basin, said “misinformation” has come from media and other sources.

One of the incorrect stereotypes, Carleton said, is farmers being portrayed “as having a great big pool of cool, clean water that fishermen need.”

In fact, irrigators pointed out, water in Upper Klamath Lake is warm and loaded with naturally occurring phosphorus from the eruption of Mount Mazama. Once diverted for irrigation, water courses south through canals to Tule Lake, where it is pumped uphill to the Klamath River.

The water is cooler and cleaner when it joins the river than when it leaves Upper Klamath Lake, several irrigators said.

Newport fisherman Bob Kemp said his industry suffers from stereotypes, too.

“Fishermen are perceived as over-harvesting,” he said, adding that doing so would be counter to the industry’s interest.

The coalition of industries has already won some high-profile attention. Costs for the fishermen’s visit was paid for by the Oregon Department of Agriculture, whose director Katie Coba supports the dialogue.

A return trip by farmers to the coast is being planned. Getting together with fishermen “helps me understand what they need,” Carleton said. Still, he said, there’s a long way to go in providing stable water supplies for irrigators.

“What frustrates me is that we’re nowhere closer to a solution than we were 25 years ago,” Carleton said.





Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM  Pacific

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