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Oregon Salmon Commission Tours the Klamath Project

by Jacqui Krizo, Klamath Courier Reporter

KLAMATH BASIN – The Oregon Coastal Salmon fishermen don’t believe the environmentalists who claim irrigating fields in Klamath Basin destroyed this year’s coastal fisheries.   
Last week fishermen, including several members of the Oregon Salmon Commission, met with Klamath Basin irrigators to tour the Klamath Project.

Members of the commission are fishermen or processors appointed by Oregon Department of Agriculture.

This was the latest in a series of meetings with farmers and fishermen who are major stakeholders in Klamath Basin water issues. Dick Carleton worked hard developing relationships with coastal fishermen, promoting dialogue and organizing this event.

Farmers and fishermen thank the Oregon Department of Agriculture for sponsoring the tour.

With direction from the Klamath Fisheries Management Council, NOAA Fisheries substantially curtailed this year’s commercial salmon fishing season on 700 miles of Pacific Coast.
The Council projected a short run of fall chinook salmon in the Klamath River, chinook that did not spawn in a hatchery. There is no genetic difference between hatchery-spawned fish and natural-spawned fish. Similarly, there is no genetic difference between back-seat conceived and bedroom-conceived babies. Even though other tributaries and rivers may have record runs of salmon this year, the reduced season is based only on their guess on the Klamath natural-spawned fall-run Chinook.

Environmentalists, tribes and left-wing politicians blame the Klamath Project for the fishing season being decreased, and are advocating dam removal and downsizing agriculture to fix the river.

Farmers presented a video to the fishermen explaining the Klamath Project plumbing with its dams, reservoirs, lakes and canals. Some of the guests were Senator Doug Whitsett, John Snider from Congressman Greg Walden’s office, Dr Harry Carlton from U.C. Davis Extension Office, Dr. Ken Rykbost, retired OSU Extension Office supervisor.
Whitsett said, "Much like the Klamath Basin irrigators endured in 2001, the coastal salmon fishers are experiencing a perfect regulatory storm not caused by their actions and beyond their control. The combination of prolonged salmon hatchery mismanagement, a specious definition of 'natural' salmon that defies a federal court order, sea lion predation at the mouth of the Klamath River and C. Shasta parasitism in the mainstem Klamath River has resulted in the financially devastating closure of 700 miles of the coastal salmon fishery. Like the Klamath irrigators, the Coastal fishers have met the enemy and it is their own government. These independent businessmen donated heavily in 2001 to help the irrigators in their time of financial disaster. We must do no less for them in their time of need."

Rykbost explained Klamath River hydrology and pointed out the flaws in Dr. Tom Hardy’s studies. These studies were used to form the biological opinion that controls irrigation water allocations and river flow requirements.

“Hardy Flow Regimes requested for summer months could not be met in a significant number of years even if the Klamath Project received no diversions from Upper Klamath Lake or Klamath River,” according to Rykbost’s power point presentation. It may be viewed at www.klamathbasincrisis.org/science/04watershedken032304.ppt    

Hardy’s studies are flawed and the National Research Council found them to be dysfunctional regarding Klamath River fish needs, however the Bureau of Indian Affairs has hired Dr. Hardy again to create a Hardy 3 report to control Klamath River flows.

Fishermen tour the Klamath Project

Tours included Upper Klamath Lake, Dick Carleton’s well, Anderson Rose Dam, D Plant, Sheepy Ridge overlooking Tulelake and Lower Klamath, and Straits Drain.

Tulelake Irrigation District Manager Earl Donosky led the group through D Plant, which pumps 80,000 acre feet of water through a 6,000’ by 10’ tunnel through Sheepy Ridge.  He explained that when Reclamation turned Tule Lake into farmland, they needed to get rid of excess water so they built the tunnel to send water from the farms to Lower Klamath Refuge and on into the Klamath River for Pacific Power to generate electricity. The irrigators pay the entire expense of this pumping station which costs $40,000 per year to operate.  If Pacific Power raises power bills to tariff rate, the cost will be one million dollars per year.

The group viewed Tule Lake and Lower Klamath farmland and refuges from Sheepy Ridge. Steve Kandra and Bob Gasser from Klamath Water Users Association described the Reclamation process, pointing out the large area of the former shallow Tule Lake. They explained Project benefits and efficiency. The historic lake evaporated more water than is currently used by the Klamath Project.

The latest successful farming process is “walking wetlands,” a cooperative venture with Fish and Wildlife Service and farmers where they rotate farmland and wetlands on the refuges every three years. This benefits farms and wildlife.

Farms supply more than 50 percent of the feed for waterfowl in the Klamath Basin Pacific Flyway.

Bob Flowers showed the group Straits Drain, where all the water that goes through the D Plant tunnel and doesn’t evaporate from Lower Klamath Refuge is returned to Klamath River.

Flowers explained the history of lake levels before the Klamath Project was built. He said with the current biological opinion, Klamath water levels and river flows are kept artificially higher than historic levels, and excessive warm water will kill fish. Water from springs near Boyle Dam previously cooled the river. Currently warm shallow Lower Klamath Refuge water is being sent down the river.

Fishermen tell their stories

The fishermen were amazed at the complex irrigation system and one stated that he felt the designers must have been geniuses to create such an efficient, beneficial project.
Fisherman Tommie Hockema is not able to fish at all this year. Being allowed only four days at a time to fish, he said it takes one or two days to locate the fish. He is forced to travel to distant towns to put his boat in the water and pay rent, ice and expenses, and the weather is usually bad one or two of those days. He said that one day of fishing that’s left does not cover his expenses.

He does not think the Klamath salmon solution is dam removal, “I don’t see any evidence that if we take out the dams, it will help anything. Don’t take dams out.”

Hockema said fishermen have put out salmon hatching boxes at their own expense since 1898, but now Fish and Wildlife limits them on how many fish they can hatch. 

The fishermen were amazed how different and positive the Klamath Project is compared to green media myths.  

Klamath Water Users Executive Director Greg Addington said, “This was a great opportunity for us to share information, show them the Klamath Project and dispel some common myths.  They were a great audience and asked good questions.  It is pretty clear to me that farmers and fisherman have more in common than not. There were commitments from both sides to continue the dialogue and to search out common ground where we can help one another.”





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

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