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 Times-Standard Online - Local News

Study recommends massive effort to restore Klamath

By John Driscoll The Times-Standard

National Research Council report suggests major restoration work to save salmon; goes easy on irrigators

Threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River can't be helped by focusing on an upstream federal irrigation project alone, and removal of dams and other means of restoring their populations should be considered.

That's the main thrust of a voluminous National Research Council report released Tuesday, which recommends some $25 million to $30 million be spent to improve conditions for coho in the river and endangered suckers in Upper Klamath Lake. Protection for the fish was the flash point of a bitter controversy over use of water for the irrigation project, which was mostly cut off in the summer of 2001. 

The report also found that low flows and temperature couldn't conclusively be blamed for last summer's massive fish kill, which wiped out nearly a quarter of a large run of chinook salmon. That appears in contrast to a draft U.S. Fish and Wildlife report obtained by the Times-Standard that suggests low flows led to the conditions that caused the fish kill.

The long-awaited research council report follows a draft released in 2002, which found that Fish and Wildlife and the National Marine Fisheries Service weren't justified in recommending the shut-off of water to farms. The council also found the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation didn't provide any scientific backing for its plan to operate the project, which serves about 220,000 acres.

Yurok Tribe Executive Director Troy Fletcher said the tribe is still digesting the lengthy report.

"We're not prepared to make any comment until we can review the report in its entirety," Fletcher said.

The research council report, commissioned by the U.S. Interior Department, recommends removing Dwindell Dam on the Shasta River and looking into removing Iron Gate Dam, the lowermost on the Klamath that blocks access to spawning areas for coho.

The report also backs restoration of the Trinity River, a federal effort being blocked by Central Valley irrigation giant Westlands Water District and some water and power users.

Planting trees for shade, removing old logging roads and other measures are recommended to provide shade and stem sedimentation of the river.

Peter Moyle, a professor of fish, wildlife and conservation biology at the University of California at Davis and one of 12 scientists who wrote the report, said getting all parties in the Klamath Basin together to determine priorities for restoration would be an ideal arrangement.

While a watershed-wide approach is clearly necessary, Moyle said some measures can be taken sooner than others, including changing the way the Klamath Project is operated to some degree.

"There are certainly changes in operations that will benefit fish more," he said.

Irrigators in the Upper Klamath Basin who rely on the federal project hailed the report, saying it may act as a catalyst for change on a large-scale level.

Dan Keppen of the Klamath Water Users Association said that the basin stakeholders need to start working on solutions together.

"If we wait and allow the government to come up with something it will divide us," Keppen said.

One of the key recommendations in the report was to put in place the congressionally backed restoration of the Trinity River, the Klamath's main tributary. Blocked by litigation from Westlands Water District and others, the case is now before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Hoopa Valley Tribe just rejected a settlement proposal by Westlands, saying no science backed up the proposal.

Humboldt County 1st District Supervisor Jimmy Smith said he had not read the research council report yet, but supported the recommendation about the Trinity's restoration.

"I think it is absolutely consistent with everything else the science has indicated over the past two decades," Smith said.

Rep. Mike Thompson, who has drafted legislation to spur efforts to restore the Klamath, said proactive efforts need to be taken to improve habitat, increase flows and return cooler water to the system.

The Napa Democrat's bill, HR 1760, would allocate $200 million to landowners and tribes who participate in water conservation projects; merge upper and lower basin working groups; implement the Trinity River restoration and require Reclamation to report quarterly to Congress on the progress of conservation projects.

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