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 Study Says Irrigation Did Not Kill Salmon (washingtonpost.com)

Study Says Irrigation Did Not Kill Salmon

Associated Press
Wednesday, October 22, 2003; Page A11

GRANTS PASS, Ore., Oct. 21 -- Voluntary steps to restore habitat, including removing dams, might be more effective in saving Klamath Basin fish than taking water from farmers, a federal report released Tuesday says.  

The report also says that funneling irrigation water to farmers in 2002 -- which decreased Klamath River flows -- was not clearly responsible for the deaths of thousands of salmon later that year.

In 2001, Klamath Basin farmers pried open irrigation gates and formed a bucket brigade to dump water into irrigation ditches after the government cut off water to benefit salmon and other fish.

Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton's subsequent decision to divert water from the Klamath River to 1,400 farms was criticized by environmentalists and tribal leaders, who said it was the reason 33,000 salmon died last September.

The report commissioned by Norton raised the possibility of removing Irongate Dam on the Klamath to restore salmon spawning in tributaries, but also urged a three-year moratorium on hatchery releases, to see if that would help wild fish rebound.

Hatchery fish make up the bulk of salmon harvested by tribal, commercial and sport fishermen. Irongate Dam is one of a series of hydroelectric projects on the upper Klamath.

Scientists also found that the greatest threat to coho salmon comes from warm water in tributaries, such as the Scott and Shasta rivers, not flows in the main Klamath.

"We were told not to think about politics and economic issues, but think about what species need for recovery, and that is what we did," said William M. Lewis Jr., chairman of the National Research Council panel that issued the report.

The report estimated the cost of following its recommendations would be $25 million to $35 million over five years.

On Monday, the federal government and a northern California Indian tribe rejected a deal that would have ended a three-year legal fight over restoring water to the Trinity River, which flows into the Klamath.

2003 The Washington Post Company

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