Higher flows ease fears over repeat of Klamath salmon kill
GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- More water flowing down the Klamath and Trinity
Rivers in Northern California is giving an American Indian tribe and
California state biologists hope they will not see a repeat of last
year's massive salmon kill.
The Yurok Tribe, however, is moving ahead with a lawsuit against
the federal government claiming authorities violated treaty obligations
by allowing the deaths of 33,000 adult salmon in the lower Klamath
The flows down the Klamath for August and September are about 50 percent
higher than last year, said tribal biologist Dave Hillemeier. The
fall chinook run this year is predicted to be 113,000 fish, compared
to 159,000 last year.
The higher flows are required under the federal plan for restoring
threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River because the current water
year is classified as below average. Last summer's lower flows were
set because the water year was classified as dry.
To prevent a recurrence of last summer's fish kill, Interior Secretary
Gale Norton also arranged for higher flows down the Trinity River,
which flows into the Klamath above where most of the fish died. The
extra water came from flows formerly diverted through a mountain tunnel
to the Sacramento River for farms and cities.
Besides higher flows, temperatures have been cooler, the fall chinook
run is a week or two late, and the extra Trinity water is cooling
the Klamath River, making overall conditions better for fish, said
Neil Manji, a biologist for the California Department of Fish and
While some scattered dead fish have been showing up, numbers are not
above normal, Manji added. The dead fish do not show signs of the
gill rot disease known as "Ich" which accounted for most
of the deaths last year.
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Jeff McCracken said the Trinity
release was triggered by two factors: predictions of a larger-than-average
fall chinook run, and expectations that flows near the mouth of the
Klamath would drop below 3,000 cubic feet per second, reproducing
conditions during last year's fish kill.
The Bureau of Reclamation also spent $4 million this year for some
Klamath Reclamation Project farmers to forego irrigation and pump
well water into canals to provide more water for endangered suckers
in Upper Klamath Lake and threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River.
Both the lake level required for suckers and the Klamath flows are
being met, said McCracken.
The crisis over sharing water between farms and fish came to a head
in the Klamath Basin two summers ago at the start of a drought that
The reclamation bureau shut down irrigation for most of the Klamath
Reclamation Project in 2001 to reserve water for endangered suckers
in Upper Klamath Lake, the project's main reservoir, and threatened
coho salmon in the Klamath River, which flows from the lake.
After a National Academy of Sciences review found no scientific basis
for the water levels for fish set by government biologists, the bureau
restored irrigation to all the 1,400 farms on the project in the summer
At the end of September, salmon crowded into warm shallow pools at
the start of their spawning run, most of them fall chinook, became
infected with a gill rotting disease, and their bodies covered the
banks of the river. The California Department of Fish and Game put
part of the blame on low flows.
As part of a lawsuit challenging the government's coho salmon restoration
plan, the Yurok Tribe alleged that the federal government failed to
fulfill its treaty obligations to assure salmon runs were strong enough
A federal judge ruled that a separate trial was needed to settle the
question. That trial is scheduled for May, Fletcher said.