-- environment -- Klamath basin overhaul is urged in
Klamath basin overhaul is urged in report
The proposal for helping fish includes the removal
of up to three dams.
By Stuart Leavenworth -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 a.m. PDT Wednesday, October 22, 2003
The National Research Council called for a
watershed-wide set of fixes Tuesday to help
threatened salmon and other fish in the Klamath
basin, an embattled expanse of farms, forests and
depleted salmon streams on the California-Oregon
In a 334-page report, a scientific panel recommended
the removal of up to three dams, restoration of
wetlands and other measures to restore fish and
prevent conflicts like one that exploded in 2001.
The fight pitted farmers against environmentalists
and Indian tribes and flashed a national spotlight
on how the Bush administration handles water
Until now, much of the debate has revolved around
the Klamath Project -- a federal irrigation project,
mostly in Oregon, that diverts water for the farming
of alfalfa and other crops. Tuesday's report also
targeted logging practices and water diversions
elsewhere in the watershed, including tributaries
that flow out of Northern California.
In particular, the council called for studies on
removing Iron Gate Dam and Dwinnell Dam in Siskiyou
County to improve passage of coho salmon, a
threatened species. If implemented, the latter
recommendation would drain Lake Shastina -- a
reservoir surrounded by hundreds of homes.
Jamie Lea, general manager of the Lake Shastina
Property Owners Association, called the
recommendation a "real shocker" late Tuesday.
Removal of the dam would scare away home buyers
around the 4,000-lot development, hurting developers
and property owners, he said.
But Peter Moyle, a fisheries biologist from
University of California, Davis, who helped write
the report, said Dwinnell Dam and other structures
hurt fish passage and prevent cool water from
flowing to spawning areas downstream. At the very
least, he said, agencies should study the costs and
benefits of removing the dam.
The Klamath basin generated national headlines in
2001 when federal agencies cut water to farmers to
help fish during a prolonged drought. The cutback
became a rallying point for opponents of the
Endangered Species Act, who organized protests to
publicize their cause.
In a vindication for farmers, the report found
insufficient data to support a 2001 decision by
federal agencies to keep water levels high in Upper
Klamath Lake to help native sucker fish that had
dwindled during the mid-1990s.
Federal biologists had assumed that high water
levels would reduce acidity in the lake and reduce
fish-killing algae, but the research council said
there was no "causal connection" to support that
On the other hand, the research council credited
federal biologists for using the best information
they had available at the time and rejected claims
they were using "junk science," as some members of
The scientific panel also took a Solomon-like
approach to another contentious issue -- how much
water should flow from the Klamath Project
downstream. The National Marine Fisheries Service
had concluded that extra flows would help threatened
coho salmon, which spawn mostly in the tributaries
of the Klamath. The council cast doubt on this
finding, but said the extra water could be helpful
to other species, such as chinook salmon, that
aren't yet listed as threatened.
Farm leaders in Klamath Falls said they were
generally pleased Tuesday.
"This reaffirms our position that focusing solely on
the Klamath Project -- which tends to be the focus
of environmental groups -- isn't going to solve this
huge problem," said Dan Keppen, executive director
of the Klamath Water Users Association.
Environmentalists, however, note that the council
calls for more cold water to be released downstream
during key times of the year -- which could require
Klamath farmers to do more in conserving water.
"This more or less verifies things that people in
the lower river have said for years," said Glen
Spain, a lawyer for the Pacific Coast Federation of
Fishermen's Associations. "We need to get more water
to help fish and get away from single-species
To the disappointment of some environmentalists, the
research council sidestepped the question of what
killed more than 30,000 salmon in the lower Klamath
River last summer. Biologists for the California
Department of Fish and Game blamed low flows from
the Klamath Project, but the report noted that river
flows or water temperatures alone could explain the
The research council made several other findings
sure to spark debate:
* Fish hatcheries on the Klamath and Trinity rivers
are displacing wild salmon with hatched ones,
possibly hurting the entire population. The report
recommends a six-to eight-year closure of one of the
* "High levels of erosion" from U.S. Forest Service
logging activities are hurting fish spawning in the
* Grazing, agriculture, groundwater pumping and
other activities are warming water and reducing
flows in the Shasta and Scott rivers, two other key
tributaries for salmon in California.
The National Research Council is an arm of the
prestigious National Academy of Sciences, and its
recommendations often set the agenda for Congress
and regulatory agencies.
In a statement on Tuesday, Interior Secretary Gale
Norton said her department was reviewing the report
but agreed that a "broader approach" was needed.
Scientists spent 20 months on the report -- a long
time, given all the environmental problems facing
other parts of the West, said one member of the
"But all the issues -- environment, property rights,
agriculture, tribal obligations -- collide in the
Klamath," said Jeff Mount, a UC Davis water
scientist. "That is why it gets this attention."
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