[env-trinity] Low flows in Shasta River stalling chinook in pools

Mark Dowdle - TCRCD mdowdle at tcrcd.net
Mon Sep 28 10:04:52 PDT 2009


*Concerns pool over salmon*

*Eureka Times-Standard-9/26/09*

*By John Driscoll*

A heavy run of Chinook salmon into a parched Klamath River tributary 
have fishery managers watching for signs of a possible fish kill and 
working to get additional water into the river.

Since Sept. 4, at least 1,200 fall Chinook have passed through the 
Shasta River weir, with another 100 per day expected. Radio tags on some 
of the fish have shown that all of the fish are packed into pools in a 
1.5- to 2-mile section of the river, said California Department of Fish 
and Game biologist Mark Pisano.

The Shasta River has seen very low flows this year, at least partly 
because of an ongoing drought. But conservation groups have also pointed 
to regular irrigation withdrawals as depleting flows, and Fish and Game 
has worked out agreements with irrigators to cut back on the amount of 
water they use before the end of the season on Oct. 1.

”We're very near a tipping point,” Pisano said.

The concern is that if warm-water-related diseases were to break out, 
crowded conditions could spread the diseases through the fish rapidly 
and devastate a strong run of salmon. Pisano said that cool mornings 
have helped prevent the water from being unbearable for fish. He said 
that a handful of fish have died -- but not more than what is typically 
associated with natural mortality from the rigors of the migration from 
the ocean into the middle Klamath River.

California Department of Water Resources Shasta Valley Water Master Ira 
Alexander said that his hands are tied

by court adjudication over water rights in the basin, called the Shasta 
River Decree.

”We only have the authority to enforce the decree,” Alexander said.

Shasta Valley Resource Conservation District Administrator Adriane 
Garayalde said that some irrigators are scaling back their diversions, 
which is easier with new systems than old systems. She said that another 
diverter shut off last night, and the water reduction should begin to 
show in the lower river soon.

”We've been trying to do more,” Garayalde said, “but the problem is 
we're just in a really, really dry year.”

There are about 30,000 irrigated acres in the Shasta River Valley, most 
of which are planted with alfalfa and grain.

Agreements brokered by Fish and Game with irrigators to leave more water 
in the river may now be beginning to take effect, Pisano said, and the 
department will continue to seek more water. Pisano said that those 
actions should help improve conditions.

”As conditions are right now, we're at the higher end of what they can 
deal with,” said Malena Marvin with Klamath Riverkeeper, a conservation 
group monitoring the situation.

The group raised concerns about extremely low flows in the Shasta and 
Scott rivers in late summer before salmon began moving into the Klamath 
tributaries. Marvin said that it's critical to do something before a 
fish kill starts.

Marvin said that such a strong run of fish should not be squandered by 
poor water management, especially in light of the recent restrictions on 
ocean salmon fishing over the past two years.

Biologists have been on higher alert for the possibility of a fish kill 
in the Klamath River basin since 2002, when low flows and warm water 
kept a big run of salmon packed into cold-water pools. A disease 
outbreak that followed killed at least 68,000 Chinook salmon that year.#


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