Humboldt County officials and the Hoopa Valley Tribe are saying a fish kill on the Klamath is possible this year if the government doesn't release more water from the Trinity River.

The Hoopa Valley Tribal Council sent a letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior and the governor's office last week asking for action from the Bureau of Reclamation to establish the county's right to no less than 50,000 acre-feet of the Trinity's water.

In 2002, federal officials overrode the recommendations of their own scientists and decided to divert more water to farmers and residents of Southern California, which led to an unprecedented fish kill in the Klamath River.

Although tribal and county governments have been asking for the right for years, this year's abundance of returning chinook salmon and what the tribe says are historically low water levels may bolster the discussion.

”The combination of low water leaves and high fish populations could produce conditions similar to those that led to the devastating fish kill in the Lower Klamath River that occurred in October 2002. We urge you to take immediate action to prevent that kind of outcome in the fall of 2012,” the tribe's letter said.

Brian Person, the area manager for the Bureau of Reclamation's Northern California Area Office, acknowledged that this year has been a subpar year for rainfall, but it's still too soon to tell if a fish kill will happen.

”The hydrology has been abysmal, but we still have some precipitation months left,” he said Friday. “A large part of what drives this system and drives the run-off is snow melt.”

Humboldt County 5th District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg said the county is working on its own letter urging action while continuing to monitor the weather. The board expects to review a draft in a couple of weeks, he said.

”There's a huge, huge rush of fish this year with not a lot of rain so far and not a lot of snow pack,” Sundberg said. “We want to make sure the Bureau of Reclamation will release water.”

According to the Hoopa Valley Tribe's letter, fisheries scientists developed criteria for the release of water from the Trinity, including a forecasted fish run in excess of the historic average run of 110,000 adult fall chinook salmon from 1981 to 2003.

”The 2012 forecast is three times that threshold,” the letter said, adding that the release criteria refined in 2010 need to be revised again for this year.

Person said the criteria's revision is ongoing. He said the key criteria are a low flow rate below the Iron Gate Dam on the Klamath River, the estimated salmon run size and diseases predictors.

Scientists are estimating that this year will bring nearly 1.6 million returning adult salmon, which means about 300,000 chinook salmon could be in the fall run, according to a preseason report from the Pacific Fishery Management Council released last month. The council meets in Sacramento today to discuss the numbers.

Salmon fishermen and Humboldt Bay Harbor Recreation and Conservation District Commissioner Aaron Newman said local fishing representatives are in Sacramento to urge the council to consider the large numbers while deciding on season limits.

”The whole situation is just so strange,” he said. “Usually, we're having a situation where we're having not enough fish, and here we are with this crazy, crazy number.”

Newman said there should be some measures in place to ensure that there is enough water for the volume of fish this year.

Humboldt County 1st District Supervisor Jimmy Smith said the county has been waiting on the bureau to make a decision for a long time, and this year's run may be the best example of why it needs to happen.

”It's good to be prepared, to have water set aside, just in case they have an emergency,” he said.


Contact Donna Tam at 441-0532 or