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New biological opinion

By DD BIXBY, Herald and News 4/8/08
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week released the first of two federal biological opinions that will affect how water is released in the Klamath Project.
   B a s e d o n t he U. S . Bureau of Reclamation’s proposed operation of the lake, the agency found that Project operations “were not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of endangered suckers.”
   That opinion is a big de a l, s a id B OR A r e a Ma nager Pablo A r royave, because it’s the first “non-jeopardy” opinion in almost 20 years concerning two species of suckers in the Upper Klamath Lake. They were first listed on the Endangered Species List in 1988. The first biological opinion was released in 1989.
   Irrigators are still waiting to see what a second opinion, from the National Marine Fisheries Services, will do.
   Most recent opinion
   The Fish and Wildlife opinion is the most recent since the “jeopardy” opinion in 2002 was released. This opinion will be effective until 2018.
   Phil Detrich, USFWS Klamath issues coordinator, said many factors went into the agency’s decision, including the restoration and conservation actions in the Klamath Project, as well as the BOR’s new proposed action.
   Jon Hicks, BOR planning division chief, said the new action accounts for “more real-time hydrological conditions,” looking at lake levels and tributary inflow twice a month instead of looking to an inflow forecast and making a full-year call on lake elevation.
   “We’re able to provide reasonable lake elevations through this process and we’re able to mirror more of a natural hydrolog y change,” Hicks said.
   Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, said the new opinion is a step in the right direction, acknowledging all the restoration and conservation activities so far, but his group is still waiting for the second opinion from the National Marine Fisheries Services concerning the coho salmon below the lake.
   Wit hout t he s e c ond opinion, which approves flow levels below the Iron Gate Dam, the BOR is in a limbo situation and has had to mix and match the old 2002 Marine Fisheries opinion with the new Fish and Wildlife opinion to make an interim operation plan for the Klamath Project.
   ‘Flexible approach’
   “Our basic feeling from what we’ve gleaned of this so far is that it seems to take a more f lexible approach than past biological opinions,” Addington said.
   But, Addington said, water users still have concerns that in critically dry years it could still be a “train wreck.”
   Jerry Pyle, manager of the Tulelake Irrigation District, echoed Addington’s concern, adding that until April comes to a close the new opinion doesn’t mean anything. The Tulelake district is worried that lake levels won’t be met because of the slow snow melt and KID opening its gates.
   Lake level
   The April 30 lake level requirement under the BOR’s new interim plan is 4142.2. As of April 5, the U.S. Geological Service reported the lake at 4142.33.
   Hicks said because of the slow melt off, he’s not sure what the current levels mean for irrigators.
   “We know there’s a lot of snow, we just need a few warm days to melt it,” he said.
   T he date for release of the Marine Fisheries opinion is unknown, adding another element of uncertainty.

H&N photo by Todd E. Swenson
Dave Solem, Klamath Irrigation District manager, was on site as the A Canal gates were opened.

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