Tuesday, October 21, 2003

For Immediate Release

Walden: NRC Report Confirms 2001 Klamath Water Shut-off Was Not Scientifically Justified; Outlines Roadmap for Recovery of Sucker Fish & Coho Salmon, Klamath Basin Agriculture

National Research Council (NRC) finds that Upper Klamath Lake levels have no bearing on sucker fish mortality; report refutes blame to Klamath Project for 2002 fish kill

WASHINGTON, DC – The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) today released its final report, entitled "Endangered and Threatened Fishes in the Klamath River Basin," which was commissioned following the 2001 water shut-off to Klamath Project irrigators. U.S. Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR) responded to the release of the report by saying that it confirmed the February 2002 interim findings of the NAS that the shut-off of irrigation water was made without scientific justification.

The report states, "In allowing professional judgment to override site-specific evidence in some cases during 2001…the agencies accepted a high risk of error in proposing actions that the available evidence indicated to be of doubtful utility. The committee, as explained in its interim report, found some proposed actions as given in the 2001 biological opinions to lack substantial scientific support."

"This report by one of the most prestigious academic panels in the world lays to rest the false notion that the water shut-off in 2001 was scientifically justified," said Walden. "The NAS found that there was no direct link between water levels in Upper Klamath Lake and the mortality rate of shortnose and Lost River sucker fish.

The report states, "There is no evidence of a causal connection between water level and water quality or fish mortality over the broad operating range in the 199Os, the period for which the most complete data are available for Upper Klamath Lake. Neither mass mortality of fish nor extremes of poor water quality shows any detectable relationship to water level. Thus, despite theoretical speculations, there is no basis in evidence for optimism that manipulation of water levels has the potential to moderate mass mortality of suckers in Upper Klamath Lake."

Walden continued, "The report also reinforces the fact that Klamath Project irrigators should not bear the sole responsibility for the recovery of endangered species in the Klamath Basin. Furthermore, the panel concluded that there is insufficient evidence to assign responsibility for the September 2002 fish die-off of Chinook salmon, which many prematurely blamed on the diversion of water to support Klamath Basin irrigators."

The reports states, "It is unclear what the effect of specific amounts of additional flow drawn from controllable upstream sources (waters from reservoirs on the Trinity River or Iron Gate Reservoir) would have been."

In order to improve the spawning habitat for endangered shortnose and Lost River sucker fish, the NAS report recommends removing Chiloquin Dam on the Sprague River, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates blocks 95 percent of the sucker habitat. Walden introduced legislation in 2001 to authorize a study of fish passage issues at Chiloquin Dam, which was signed into law by President Bush in 2002. The working group created by Walden’s legislation concluded in July 2003 that removing Chiloquin Dam represents the best means of restoring the spawning habitat of the sucker fish. Walden is now leading the effort in Congress to secure federal funds and authority to implement the group’s findings.

The report states, "Recovery actions of the highest priority based on current knowledge of endangered suckers [include]: Removal of Chiloquin Dam to increase the extend of spawning habitat in the upper Sprague River and expand the duration over which the larvae enter Upper Klamath Lake."

Additionally, Walden led the effort to secure $50 million in conservation funds under USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) in 2002, which is providing direct cost-share payments to Klamath farmers to implement water conservation programs. To date, over $7 million has been expended on the ground in the Klamath Basin to implement these programs. Walden has also supported the Bureau of Reclamation’s efforts to fund the screening of the Klamath A-Canal, which the NAS expressly advocates in the report released today.

"This independent, peer-reviewed report provides a sound, scientifically supported roadmap for restoring sucker and coho salmon populations, many of which are already being successfully implemented in the Klamath Basin today," said Walden. "It correctly calls for a recovery plan for the coho salmon, as well as an updated recovery plan for the sucker fish, both of which are needed to finally establish what steps must be taken to restore these species populations. Perhaps most importantly from my perspective, it gives us hope that we will be able to take the needed steps to ensure the long-term sustainability and success of agriculture in the Klamath Basin."

TO VIEW AN EXECUTIVE SUMMARY OF THE NRC REPORT, CLICK ON THE FOLLOWING LINK: www.walden.house.gov/issues/klamath/nasreport.html.

Congressman Walden represents the Second Congressional District of Oregon, which includes the 20 counties of central, southern and eastern Oregon. He is a Deputy Whip and member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Committee on Resources.