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Klamath Water Users Association Weekly Newsletters regarding 2002 fish die-off

compiled 6/27/07

8/9/02 KWUA Biologist Warns: “Increased Summer Flows Could Harm Salmon”
followed by
Salmon Runs Surging Into Northern California Rivers –Including Klamath 9/20/02
KWUA Responds to Interior’s Flow Decision 9/27/02
*  Klamath Project Under Attack: A Recap of the 2002 Klamath River Fish Die-Off 10/4/02
*  National Research Council On the fish die-off: 8/3/04
KBC Fish die-off page

KWUA biologist warns: "Increased summer flows could harm salmon"
The recent announcement by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) that the present water year had been changed from “below-average” to “dry” for the federal Klamath Project has generated criticism from environmentalists and downstream tribal interests. In a “below average” year, August flows through Iron Gate Dam are set at about 1,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), but with the change to a “dry” year, the flows have been reduced to about 650 cfs. Biologists working for the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) conducted surveys last week between Iron Gate and Happy Camp to assess flow conditions in the river.

Meanwhile, environmentalists and tribes are pressing for more Klamath River flows to support salmon.

Project irrigators question the wisdom of releasing additional stored water downstream at this time, particularly when a recent study completed by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) found that higher flows “may work to the disadvantage of the coho population” in summer months. Water users are concerned that a repeat of the disaster that occurred in 1994 will occur. That year, despite warnings from KWUA biologists, federal agencies increased summer flows, which prematurely attracted fall-run chinook salmon to an upper area of the river where natural conditions were hostile to their health. The net result of the increased flows during late August of that year could have ultimately been detrimental to 1994 fall-run Chinook in the Klamath River.

“Dumping too much warm water in the wrong place at the wrong time and for all the wrong reasons will not gain biological benefit. In fact, it may very well
be detrimental to the fish,” said Dave Vogel, a fisheries biologist from Red Bluff.

Reclamation continues to meet its contracts to provide water to farms upstream, which have taken measures to conserve water and make up water sent downstream earlier this summer to meet tribal trust obligations. However, tribal interests are now holding up the fall-run chinook as an example of a tribal trust need that should be addressed with Klamath Project water. Spokespersons for downstream tribes contend that their fishing rights rise above the water rights of irrigators, and that irrigators should be cut back. Local water users have a different view.

“If downstream interests want more water from the Klamath Project, they are actually looking at the wildlife refuges, which have the junior water rights within the Klamath Project,” said Paul Simmons, attorney for KWUA. “What they are really arguing for is to shut off the supply to the national wildlife refuges.” KWUA believes the refuges should be protected at this time of the year, a concern shared by conservation groups (see inset, Page 2).

KWUA maintains that the current outcry for higher downstream releases simply resurrects an old approach, one that has been proven not to work. They point to the recent NAS interim report prepared for the Klamath Basin that found “factors other than dry-year flows appear to be limiting to survival and maintenance of coho.” KWUA biologists have also suggested several other physical and biological factors have an overriding influence on the overall fall-run Chinook migration and spawning success in the Klamath River.

The NAS report warned that reduction in main-stem flows below the levels that were seen between 1990-2000 could not be justified. In 1992 and 1994, flows below Iron Gate Dam dropped to near 400 cfs and below 600 cfs, respectively. Iron Gate low flows for this month are not expected to drop below 650 cfs. Klamath Irrigation District Manager Dave Solem points out that current Klamath River flows are supplemented by releases of water stored by the Klamath Project. “Without the storage provided by Project reservoirs, flows would be lower than they are now”, said Solem.

Salmon Runs Surging Into Northern California Rivers –Including Klamath 9/20/02
Surging fall-run Chinook salmon runs on the Klamath River and other Northern California rivers suggest that unprecedented numbers of fish are returning to spawn in upstream areas this year. The Sacramento River and its tributaries have attracted so many salmon that fishing regulations have been relaxed to allow anglers to catch more fish. On the Klamath and Trinity Rivers, there are so many fish that state biologists predict anglers will complete the season without triggering quota-induced closures.
''Data predictions predict no quota closures anywhere in the Klamath Basin,'' said Neil Manji, a senior fishery biologist.
The California Fish and Game Commission earlier this year set a quota on the sport take of Klamath-Trinity adult, fall-run salmon of 20,500 fish, the second-highest limit since quotas were introduced more than 20 years ago.
''The lower 20 miles of the Klamath River is stacked with salmon, the most I've ever seen," said guide Dave Mierkey, from Stockton, California. "It is routine to hook and release more than 30 fish during a morning session.''


 KWUA Responds to Interior’s Flow Decision 9/27/02

KWUA today issued a formal statement on Interior’s decision to increase Klamath River flows. Key points are summarized below:

 Increasing mainstem flows at this time of year (late September or October) could be a justifiable management action to benefit salmon. However, KWUA still believes increased flows earlier in the summer may actually harm fish.

 The water that will be used for this purpose is available because farmers undertook innovative and effective measures to conserve water this summer. The proposal would also not be possible without Klamath Project reservoirs.

 We appreciate the public statements issued by federal and state officials – include NMFS and California Department of Fish and Game representatives – who have clarified that the cause for the fish die-off is uncertain and has not yet been tracked down.

 The current crisis provides a glaring example of why an effective long-term management plan – backed by common sense and sound science – is needed for the Klamath River.


* Klamath Project Under Attack: A Recap of the 2002 Klamath River Fish Die-Off 10/4/02

"The water volume at the mouth of the Klamath River at the time of the fish kill ranged from approximately 2,200 to 2,400 cubic feet per second,” he said in a memo to the federal Klamath River Basin Working Group. “By comparison, in 3 of the past 11 years, average daily flows during September at the mouth of the Klamath River were lower than 2002."

Of note, Williams stated that he will request that the National Research Council Committee on Endangered and Threatened Species in the Klamath River Basin review the scientific basis for these fish mortalities prior to completing its review and publishing its final report.

It was also pointed out during the press conference that NMFS is estimating that 132,000 fall-run Chinook will return to the Klamath system this year. At least 20,000 dead fish have been accounted for so far. Reclamation has pointed out in the past week that this year’s return is expected to be the fifth largest in history on the Klamath.


National Research Council On the fish die-off: 8/3/04


“....no obvious explanation of the fish kill based on unique flow or temperature conditions is possible” (p. 8)


“It is unclear what the effect of specific amounts of additional flow drawn from controllable upstream sources (Trinity and Iron Gate Reservoir) would have been. Flows from the Trinity River could be most effective in lowering temperature.” (p. 8).


During the teleconference held by the National Academy and Interior last October, Dr. William Lewis, Chair of the NRC Committee on Endangered and Threatened Fishes in the Klamath River Basin, said the following to reporters regarding the fish die-off and the CDFG draft report:


Lewis: "A simple explanation based on a unique low flow or high temperature is not possible."


A reporter from USA Today observed: "CDFG says the Klamath Project killed the fish. Is NAS saying they are incorrect?"


Lewis: "There must be some other dimension to this, other than flow or temperature. The CDFG findings are skeptical. The cause of the fish kill is unproven at the moment."


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