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Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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I wrote the following to the Monterey Newspaper in response to their Salmon Fishermen Hurting article. I decided to put this out on the stakeholders list when I saw Glen Spain's response. I have no quarrel with the explanation of the biology (at least after the salmon hit the ocean) behind the fishing regulations, which is why I did not address that in my response. What I am getting very tired of is agriculture in the Klamath Project getting the brunt of the blame for the problems with the salmon. As yet I have received no response from the paper.

Steve Cheyne

SALMON FISHERMEN HURTING (Response) by Steve Cheyne
followed by Monterey County Weekly article

Restrictions set to heal a river in Oregon impact local waters

Sometimes I really wonder about the motivation behind articles such as this one. If people are going to make rational decisions regarding natural resource issues, they need accurate information. Sadly, accurate information is just what Ryan Masters does not quite produce in writing this article. He quotes a Tom Kanale, who also suffers from some acute misperception of the issue. That’s understandable because almost all of the newspaper articles, dealing with the Klamath River issue report the same misperceptions until, unfortunately, it seems that it is beginning to take on the veneer of truth. Mr. Kanale’s quote “ They’ve sacrificed all this salmon down here to farm potatoes and alfalfa in the Oregon High Desert”, is pretty typical of the perception being implanted into people who keep reading information sources like this. I have no quarrel with Mr. Kanale; he probably sincerely believes what he said. I happen to think he’s wrong.

Right after he quotes Mr. Kanale, Mr. Masters goes on to “explain” what happened. His assertion is the typical one. The Bureau of Reclamation diverted water from the Klamath River to farms. That is the typical refrain we see with nearly every article. Farmers get too much water from the river in critically dry water years, and as a result the salmon fisheries go to pot. The intent is clearly to paint the Bureau of Reclamation and the farmers of the Klamath Reclamation Project as villains. Yes there was a fish kill in 2002, and everybody jumped on the blame the farmer’s bandwagon before all of the fish had even stopped dying. However, some things seem never to get reported. Despite the heartbreaking number of dead fish, the run was still above average, with all hatchery quotas met. Nobody reports that the Klamath Water Users were also trying to tell everybody there was a disaster in the making. Turns out we were right. The water in the main stem Klamath River was too warm. There is no way you can take nearly 80 degree water from Upper Klamath Lake in the summer (UKL is a large hyper-eutrophic lake with naturally occurring warm water in the late summer to early fall) and run it downstream during hot summer days and somehow manage to turn it into 55 degree salmon water. The water temperatures of the Klamath River will mirror the ambient air temperature. Cooler water can’t be delivered until after the weather begins to cool off about the middle of September. Mr. Kanale’s assertion that the “water was too warm because there’s not enough flow” doesn’t hold up.

Remember the report issued by the California Fish and Game Department that blamed the Klamath Reclamation Diversion, practically before the last fish had died? That is the same report that did not stand scrutiny from the National Academy of Sciences. That is also the same report that got thrown out of court in the fish kill lawsuit that followed the 2002 event. The NAS conclusion was basically that we have a watershed wide problem. The NAS pointed out that blaming the Klamath Project was incorrect. This report surfaces in many articles of this nature. Mr. Masters just ignored it.

Unfortunately that fish kill was not the problem. The problem was whatever killed out migrating juveniles in 2003. What was the problem? Read any newspaper and you will find out that it those greedy farmers diverting all the water again. Again the same thing, the water from UKL is too warm for salmon. Crying for more and more of it will not help. Especially when the demand comes at a time when the lake water is at its warmest.

Farmers are tired of receiving all of the blame. The cold hard fact is that the Klamath Reclamation Project uses from 4-6% of the volume that the Klamath River discharges into the ocean. If agriculture in the Klamath Project were to vanish yesterday, the salmon would be worse off. What? How can that possibly be? Is this guy nuts? The fact is that the Klamath Reclamation Project stores the water it uses to irrigate during the summer months from water present in wetter winter months. Because it is the only source of additional water in the summer, I guess it is the only place non agriculture interests can go looking for water. The point is this. Why did we need to store it in the first place? The reason is that in times before the construction of the Link River Dam (behind which is stored the water everybody fights over) Link River (at the outlet of UKL) would often fall to low or no flow periods. In really dry years, it would actually dry up. When that happened, there was not any water for any use. The power generators in the river in those early times would not produce electricity from the low flows often present in the summer.

There is some degree of support for removal of the dams on the Klamath River. Well, guess what, if the Link River dam goes, so does the water that is stored behind it. With the low water we have had over the last several years, Link River would have gone dry again, just as it has done in the historical past. When that happens, there would have been NO water for maintaining river flows. Whatever flow went out of Link River Dam in the summer of these dry years is just that much more than natural conditions would have provided. When the lake level gets so low, nothing flows out. Without the stored water from the Klamath Reclamation Project, there would be NO water to argue over. It would have reached the ocean months before the need.

Agriculture realizes that we are going to have to change in the years to come. I do not write this to say “leave us alone we aren’t killing your fish”. Now, I have no doubt that more flow will help the salmon. However it has to be more flow of salmon water, clear and cold. More flows of warm UKL water will not help. I understand the fishermen. We all know what it is like to face the loss of most of your income, It is not an easy thing to deal with. What I say is simple. Don’t blame us for all of the problem. There are important aspects of the Klamath Project that go unreported. Writers should try to get at the basics before they write a half story that becomes taken for the full truth.

Monterey County Weekly article

Salmon Fishermen Hurting

Restrictions set to heal a river in Oregon impact local waters

May 12, 2005


Broiled Salmon Fisher: Steve Wendt (seen here with his fishing boat) and fellow Monterey-based commercial fishermen face a tangled net of regulations.    Angelina Shamrock
Although marine biologists predicted a record number of wild salmon in Monterey Bay waters this year, restrictions may prevent commercial fishermen from catching many of them.

Biologists and fishermen admit it’s almost impossible to precisely gauge fish populations, especially so early in the season. But according to an annual salmon forecast, the Pacific Ocean should be flush with Pacific salmon. Joe Duran, a biologist with the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, says counts in the Sacramento River system, where most local salmon breed, indicated numbers as high as 1.6 million. In contrast, an ordinary season will see roughly 500,000 fish in local waters, he says.

Yet, despite the prediction for a bumper crop of wild salmon, this year commercial fishermen are restricted to just a fraction of their traditional fishing grounds. That’s because salmon stocks that originate in Oregon’s Klamath River are so low this year.

“They’re trying to lessen the impact on the Klamath stock by keeping the commercial fishermen south,” says Marc Heisdorf, a marine biologist with the Department of Fish and Game. “The further north they go, the higher the impact is on those fish.”

By limiting access to the salmon, fishery managers hope to protect the Klamath stock, which intermingles with the Sacramento River stock. Both salmon stocks traditionally coalesce north of Point Arena in Mendocino County during late spring and early summer before migrating south to Monterey Bay and points further south.

“It’s an unfortunate situation that the whole industry has to move down south,” says David Goldenberg of the California Salmon Council. “Because the Central Valley stock is so rich and abundant and they won’t be able to access them like they would without the restrictions.”

To protect the Klamath stock, commercial fishermen will be restricted to waters south of Pigeon Point in San Mateo County during May and then south of Point Sur in June. This means commercial fishing will be altogether banned in the Monterey Bay, as well as Half Moon Bay and San Francisco Bay, for the entire month of June.

From July 4 through August, the season will reopen from Point Arena south, and in September, it will be open south of Humboldt County’s Shelter Cove.

That may be too late for commercial fishermen. Many fishermen complain, and biologists concede, that a large number of the salmon will by then have already re-entered the Sacramento River—where most California salmon return to spawn.

To further complicate matters, commercial fishermen are also limited by new size restrictions. According to Steve Wendt, a fisherman who captains the Chaos, a commercial vessel out of the Monterey Harbor, fishermen can only keep salmon 27 inches or larger in May and September, and 28 inches in July and August.

As a result, commercial salmon fishermen are left feeling hamstrung and frustrated by the elaborate restrictions, especially since many feel the fishery’s current state of affairs is a result of poor resource management in Oregon.

“This is really unusual considering the circumstances,” says Tom Kanale, vice president of Santa Cruz Commercial Fishermen’s Association and a member of the Monterey Bay National Sanctuary Advisory Council. “They’ve sacrificed all this salmon down here to farm potatoes and alfalfa in the Oregon high desert.”

Here’s what happened: When the US Bureau of Reclamation diverted water from the Klamath River to farms suffering from the drought in 2002, huge numbers of salmon, as many as 33,000, were killed. As a result, the numbers of Klamath-spawning salmon in the Pacific today are dangerously low. To make sure enough Klamath River salmon survive to spawn, other Pacific salmon that mingle with the Klamath, including the Sacramento River batch, must be left alone.

Faced with the specter of dangerously low return rates, marine biologists and commercial fishermen were forced to collaborate on restrictions for the salmon season. As a result, the Pacific Fisheries Management Council voted to cut the length of the season nearly in half last month.

“It’s a shame, because the commercial fishermen have fought really hard to re-establish habitat and get numbers up,” says Kanale. “The most hideous thing is the government claims that it’s not a lack of water in the Klamath River, but that the water was too warm. Well, the water was too warm because there’s not enough flow.”

California Department of Fish and Game biologists agree that parasites proliferating in the water during low wintertime flows may have been the primary cause of death for the Klamath stock. The US Bureau of Reclamation has since diverted waters from the nearby Trinity River to compensate for irrigation demands, and biologists are optimistic that the Klamath stock can eventually rebound.

In the meantime, however, commercial fishermen fear the worst.

With the price of fuel hovering near $3 a gallon and prolonged “drive time” in search of fish due to area closures, many fishermen are choosing to forego the season altogether.

In fact, commercial salmon fishermen in Oregon and California have sought federal disaster assistance because of sharp reductions in fishing seasons they blame on the continuing water problems in the Klamath Basin.

Claiming commercial salmon trollers could lose up to $100 million from lost fishing opportunities this summer, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations called on the governors of California and Oregon to support a fisheries disaster declaration from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service.

As for recreational fishermen, the geographical limitations don’t apply, a fact which irritates commercial fishermen like Wendt.

Chuck Tracy of the Pacific Fishery Management Council says commercial fishermen caught 469,000 fish last year and sport fishermen caught 197,000. This year, those projected totals, taking into account the restrictions, are 366,000 and 242,000.

Yet despite these predictions, local recreational fishermen continue to report very average catches for a year touted as record-breaking.

“We were anticipating, salivating over a fantastic season and it just hasn’t happened,” says Todd Arcoleo of Chris’s Fishing Charter in Monterey. “There’s no telling where these fish are. There are different currents that could push them out to cooler water. We have had some El Niño-type water, but geez, we should be seeing some fish.”

Marine biologists like Joe Duran, however, say it’s way too early to declare the season a disaster.

 “It’s just far too early to get a picture of how it’s all going to play,” Duran says. “The numbers are still pretty green.”

Kanale is less optimistic.

“This is going to affect the fishery for the next couple years unless there’s some kind of miracle,” he says.




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

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