Water Users Investigate Klamath River Flows: Biologist Warns "Increased Summer Flows Could Harm Salmon" - Concern over Waterfowl Impacts also Expressed by Conservation Group

Contact: Dan Keppen
August 7, 2002                 

Klamath, Oregon - 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

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.

The California Waterfowl Association (CWA) and other conservation groups are
concerned that reducing refuge supplies at this point will have a significant
negative impact on migratory waterfowl populations and other wildlife. 

"Cutting back water deliveries to the Klamath National Wildlife Refuge (NWR)
Complex at this critical point in the year will have a devastating impact on
waterfowl and the more than 400 other species of wildlife which depend upon
Klamath wetlands," said Bill Gaines, Director of Government Affairs for CWA.

According to CWA, the Upper Klamath Basin is the most important waterfowl
staging area in North America.  "In a matter of days, and over the course of
the next several weeks, 20 million or more ducks, geese and swans will
descend upon Upper Klamath Basin wetlands to feed and rest up for the
remainder of their migration south to their wintering grounds", said Gaines.
"Adequate water deliveries to the managed wetlands on the Klamath NWR Complex
are integral to the health of our continental waterfowl populations. Reducing
refuge water deliveries at this critical time of year, simply to address the
needs of a single fish species, would be a highly irresponsible resource

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. (See

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. He adds "Unlike other
interests, irrigation water users have never demanded all the water in the

"This is yet another example of the recent myopic focus placed on the Klamath
Project alone to solve the complex problems of a 10-million acre watershed",
said Dan Keppen, KWUA Executive Director. "We understand the importance the
downstream tribes place on harvesting fall-run Chinook salmon. All interests
in the Basin should be cooperatively developing meaningful restoration
actions to improve fishery conditions so that tribal harvest goals are not
short-changed. Unfortunately, increasing flows at this time of the year has
not been proven to be beneficial to fall-run on the Klamath." #

Additional Information:

· Factors Affecting Salmon in the Klamath River
· Summary of "Preliminary Assessment of Increased Klamath River Flows for
Salmon During the Late Summer and Fall of 1994"
· Excerpt from "Scientific Evaluation of Biological Opinions on Endangered
and Threatened Fishes in the Klamath River Basin". Interim Report from the
Committee on Endangered and Threatened Fishes in the Klamath River Basin
(Natural Research Council, National Academy of Sciences)

Factors Affecting Salmon in the Klamath River

In the past few years, we have reviewed thousands of pages of documents to
determine if the best available scientific data and information suggest that
the recent historical flow regime in the mainstem Klamath River has been a
significant factor affecting Klamath River fishery resources.  These
documents included scientific peer-reviewed literature, state and federal
agency documents and reports, and investigations encompassing many decades of
research on the Klamath River.  This extensive review clearly revealed that
numerous factors other than the recent historical mainstem flow regime at
Iron Gate Dam have affected Klamath River fishery resources.  

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have described the most important
eight factors as "most frequently referred to with regard to recent
population declines" of anadromous fish in the Klamath River.  Those factors
are: 1) Over fishing; 2) Logging; 3) Trinity River transbasin diversion; 4)
Irrigation diversions in lower Klamath tributaries; 5) 1964 flood; 6)
1976-1977 drought; 7) Sea lion predation; and 8) Brown trout predation. 

None of the documents reviewed provided any supporting scientific information
or data suggesting that the recent historical mainstem flow regime at Iron
Gate Dam is a significant factor adversely affecting fishery resources.  To
the contrary, all of the available information provides compelling evidence
that other factors are far more important in affecting fish populations than
the recent historical Iron Gate Dam flow regime.

For example, the multi-million dollar, multi-agency Long-Range Plan  for
restoring Klamath River anadromous fish addresses the issue of Iron Gate Dam
releases and potential effects on salmonids in a passive manner. This is
highly instructive because, despite all the efforts and research accomplished
to date on the Klamath River, no entity has developed any scientific data to
support the premise that specific Iron Gate releases over the past several
decades has been a significant factor limiting Klamath River salmonids.

The 1994 Study: "Preliminary Assessment of Increased Klamath River Flows for
Salmon During the Late Summer and Fall of 1994"

An investigation was conducted during late summer and early fall of 1994 to
assess the effects of increased flows on fall-run Chinook salmon in the
mainstem Klamath River downstream of Iron Gate Dam. The U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation increased river flows in late August 1994 in response to demands
by Lower Klamath River Indian Tribes. Because of the anticipated significant
adverse impact to limited water supplies in the upper Klamath River basin and
the concern for potential adverse impacts to salmon as a result of the
decision to increase mainstem river flows, an investigation was initiated by
KWUA and completed by Vogel Environmental Services in November 1994.

Results of the investigation demonstrated that the anticipated benefits to
salmon resulting from increased flows from Iron Gate Dam in late August were
not realized. The net result of the increased flows during late August could
have been "ultimately detrimental to 1994 fall-run Chinook in the Klamath

The study found:

· "There was no evidence of appreciably improved water temperatures for
salmon resulting from increased, sustained Iron Gate flows in late August and
early September."

· The increase in flows was found to have "no temperature-related benefit"
was "detrimental" to the 1994 fall Chinook salmon run.

· Initial increased reservoir releases appear to have slightly increased
water temperatures in the Iron Gate Dam releases.

· Despite the substantial flow increase in late August, there were no
portions of the upper river reaches where optimal temperatures for salmon
existed during September.

Importantly, the study concluded "if increased flows from Iron Gate Dam
during late August and early September resulted in attracting more salmon up
the river at that time, more fish were probably exposed to unfavorable
thermal conditions for maturing salmon than if the flows had been increased
later in the season." The study determined that, despite the substantial flow
increase in late August, there were no portions of the upper river reaches
where optimal temperatures for salmon existed during September. The study
suggested that if flow increases were found to be necessary to benefit salmon
during the fall, those increases should have occurred during late September
or October, after normal seasonal declines in air temperatures cooled river

Excerpts from May 2002 "Scientific Evaluation of Biological Opinions on
Endangered and Threatened Fishes in the Klamath River Basin"

Interim Report from the Natural Research CouncilCommittee on Endangered and
Threatened Fishes in the Klamath River Basin

· "Water temperature is a major concern for the welfare of the Klamath Basin
coho salmon. Summer temperatures appear to be especially critical."

· "Summer temperatures in the Klamath River are suboptimal or even lethal to
juveniles. High temperatures are the result of reduced flow in the main stem
and in tributaries as a result of diversions, warming of water in lakes prior
to its flow in the main stem, and loss of shading."

· "Modeling has shown that higher releases of water to the main stem can
reduce water temperatures slightly, provided that manipulation of flow itself
does not raise the base temperature. It is unlikely, however, that the small
degree of cooling that could be accomplished in this way would affect
survival of coho salmon because temperatures could continue to be

· "While the provision of additional flow seems intuitively to be a prudent
measure for expanding habitat, the total habitat expansion that is possible
given the limited amount of water that is available in dry years is not
demonstrably of much importance to maintenance of the population."

· "Factors other than dry-year low flows appear to be limiting to survival
and maintenance of coho."

· "Higher flows may work to the disadvantage of the coho population from July
through September if the source of augmentation for flow is warmer than the
water to which it is added….the addition of larger amounts of water from the
sequence of reservoirs above Iron Gate Dam may be disadvantageous to the

· "Increased flows also could have a detrimental effect on the availability
of thermal refugia. Thermal refugia created by groundwater seepage and small
tributary flows may be most accessible and extensive at low flows. Increase
in flows may reduce the size of these refugia by causing more effective
mixing of the small amounts of locally derived cool water with much larger
amounts of warm water from points upstream."

· "The available information provides little support for benefits presumed to
occur through the increase of flows beyond those of the last decade."

The Klamath Water Users Association is a nonprofit corporation that has
represented Klamath Irrigation Project irrigators since 1953. KWUA members
include rural irrigation districts and other public agencies, as well as
private irrigation companies operating on both sides of the California-Oregon


In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml]


Back to Current Edition Citizen Review Archive LINKS Search This Site