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Klamath water supply: Talk of long term solutions

By TAM MOORE Oregon Staff Writer

The irrigation season is drawing to a close in the Klamath Basin, but the talking season has just begun. Stakeholders are wrestling with solutions to a variety of water supply and water quality issues in the 10-million-acre watershed shared by California and Oregon.

Some irrigators are concerned that water supply could be restricted as they near harvest of water-sensitive onion and potato crops.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D.-Calif., hosted an Aug. 30 forum in Eureka where downriver interests repeated their messages revolving around a dependable water supply for a salmon fishery that’s been in trouble for decades.

Far upstream in Klamath Falls Aug. 25, key federal officials briefed the Klamath Water Users Association on efforts to coordinate upper and lower basin management, and avoid a September crisis for irrigators.

In Washington, D.C., Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., chairman of the House Resources Committee, sent off letters to key Bush administration officials urging a change in handling Endangered Species Act status review of two sucker fish listed as in danger of extinction since 1988, and speedier consideration of increased water storage in the upper basin.

At several law offices, attorneys for the government, lower river tribes, the water users and other stakeholders are getting ready for a Sept. 20 trial in federal court at Oakland, Calif. At issue are claims by the Yurok and Hoopa Valley American Indian tribes that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation violated 1864 treaty rights when it allocated downstream flows in 2002. The trial is a side issue to a larger lawsuit challenging the NOAA Fisheries biological opinion that authorizes Klamath Project operations from 2002 through 2012.

“We heard from both sides,” Thompson told the Associated Press after the Eureka meeting. “Everybody was singing from the same sheet of music.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mike Long, an area supervisor, said the combination of habitat improvement and release of more water in the Trinity River, the Klamath’s major tributary, has improved things for fish.

Upper basin water district managers say there are critical concerns in getting through September, historically a time of low flow, this year made more difficult by a dry spring and early melt of the winter’s snowpack.

Inflows to Upper Klamath Lake, the largest project reservoir, were 48 percent of average for late August.

On the Trinity, BuRec ramped up discharge from Lewiston Reservoir to 1,650 cubic feet per second, almost four times the summer flow of 450 cfs. Ryan Broddrick, director of the California Department of Fish and Game called it an example of cooperation to avoid a repeat of the 2002 fish kill on the lower Klamath. Biologists estimate 100,000 chinook salmon are headed up the Trinity and Klamath.

BuRec turned 1,300 cfs down the main Klamath from Iron Gate Dam for 60 hours this week to augment the Trinity discharge as it reaches the lower river.

Looking ahead, Pombo’s letters wrapped up two issues raised at a July 17 field hearing in Klamath Falls. All six of the congressmen who attended the hearing signed both letters.

One urges USFWS to seek outside scientific review of its conclusions on the status of the Lost River and shortnosed sucker fish. The review will determine if ESA protection is still needed. Scientists have repeatedly testified in recent years that the long-lived suckers are in trouble, but there’s dispute over numbers needed to assure survival.

The second letter tells BuRec to get with it on a study of more Klamath water storage authorized in 2000, the year before the agency cut off water delivery to 90 percent of Klamath project farms to meet habitat needs of sucker fish and Klamath coho salmon in the face of a drought-shortened water supply.

Outside peer review is a plank of the ESA reform bill that passed the Resources Committee in July. Like many other efforts to reshape the 1974 law, the peer review notion is given little chance of clearing the House where the Republican majority is divided on ESA reform.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Tam Moore is based in Medford, Ore. His e-mail address is cappress@charter.net.





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

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