[env-trinity] Eureka Times-Standard 5/7/10
bwl3 at comcast.net
Mon May 10 11:59:25 PDT 2010
Klamath Basin plan splits up meager water; flows to the river expected to
protect migrating salmon
By John Driscoll
Federal officials are giving Klamath River salmon a buffer against
potentially deadly low flows this year as part of an operations plan to
manage irrigation and protected species in the Upper Klamath Basin.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced its plan Thursday, which will mean
thousands of acres of farmland on the California-Oregon border will go
fallow and wildlife refuges will get no water from the Klamath Irrigation
Project. New guidelines from the National Marine Fisheries Service call for
flows from lowermost Iron Gate Dam about 25 percent higher this September
than they were in 2002, when 68,000 salmon died in a hot, shallow lower
"The system's not that resilient right now," said NMFS Arcata Area Office
Supervisor Irma Lagomarcino. "We need a bit of a buffer right now."
Irrigation in the upper basin is scheduled to begin mid-May, and when it
does, the 200,000 project will get only about one-third its average supply.
"It won't be enough to go around the project," said Klamath Water Users
Association outreach and program coordinator Belinda Stewart.
Groundwater pumping and land fallowing programs may aid some farms in the
The Klamath Falls, Ore., area has seen only scattered rainfall since
January, with precipitation being well below normal for January, February
and March. In April, while the Eureka area saw nearly 5 inches above the
normal 2.9 inches, Klamath Falls got just 1.4 inches, which is actually more
"They don't get a lot of rain this time of year," said National Weather
Service data acquisition program manager Chuck Glaser.
Reclamation must balance water to its irrigation project to water for
threatened salmon in the Klamath River below Iron Gate, and keep Upper
Klamath Lake full enough to protect endangered suckers.
In 2001, federal agencies required that irrigation water be severely cut
back to protect salmon and suckers, prompting major protests in the upper
basin. The next year, Washington changed its policy and provided water to
farms. But a good-size run of salmon in the lower river met low, warm water
on their upstream migration and died by the thousands.
Flows from Iron Gate in September 2002, when the bulk of the run was moving
upriver, were 760 cubic feet per second. This year, Reclamation's plan calls
for 1,000 cfs during that period.
Part of the cutbacks to irrigators this year can be traced to a draw down of
Upper Klamath Lake in the winter, which left less to work with in the
spring. Stewart said that project farmers, and salmon, would be better off
if a wide-ranging agreement signed in February along with another to remove
four dams on the river had been in place. Federal agencies, farmers and
biologists could have chosen to hold back water based on weather conditions
beginning early in the winter, leaving more to manage, she said. Stewart
said in that case farmers may have gotten twice the amount they will this
The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement's implementing legislation is
currently being drawn up.
Glen Spain with the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, a
supporter of the agreements, also agreed that the Klamath basin would be in
a better position under the pacts. That includes providing water to refuges
even in the driest years, he said.
Spain said that the current federal guidelines to protect salmon and suckers
are far better than those of 2002, when the fish kill occurred. Those were
challenged by the association and others and have since been thrown out by a
For this year, Spain said that the agencies have done their best to address
"They're making the best of a bad deal," Spain said.
Byron Leydecker, JcT
Chair, Friends of Trinity River
PO Box 2327
Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327
415 383 4810 land/fax (call first to fax)
415 519 4810 mobile
<mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net
<mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org
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