[env-trinity] Redding.com: Editorial: Ich a symptom of larger problems

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Sun Aug 9 16:15:49 PDT 2015


Editorial: Ich a symptom of larger problems
6:00 PM, Aug 4, 2015A minuscule parasite nicknamed “Ebola of the Klamath salmon” is striking fear in the hearts of the few people tasked with eliminating the little beasts and loathing in the hearts of big scale water and power agencies for which salmon carry “public enemy” status.For the latter group, every move to divert water for salmon survival is a blow to their crops and water and power customers.Even the North State’s U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, agrees with that philosophy. The rice farmer has introduced an amendment to a federal appropriations bill that would forbid the high river flows that help protect the fish. He thinks the water needs to go to water agencies in Central and Southern California for agriculture and other uses.The Yurok Tribe has a long and fruitful history with the Klamath River’s once prolific salmon — Coho and Chinook — and the steelhead that once flourished in those bountiful waters. Times and water levels may have changed, and the salmon runs have declined, but the Yurok are a people committed preserving what’s left of the once plentiful salmon runs.That’s why they can’t — and mustn’t — forget what history has taught. The most recent disaster was in 2002 when some 35,000 Chinook perished in the fall run. Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, commonly called “ich,” was the culprit.The die-offs have continued, albeit on a smaller scale.Now that icky Ich is back again — months earlier than it arrived last year. It was found in a pool where 200 spring-run Chinook and about 800 steelhead trout are trapped near where Blue Creek flows into the Klamath, the tribe’s senior fisheries biologist, Michael Belchik reported. Since the parasite thrives in warm, low water and crowded conditions, it’s not surprising that ich is popping up early in this, our fourth year of drought. It’s hot and water is low everywhere.Not surprising, maybe, but ominous — Belchik calls the situation an early warning of a high risk for another catastrophic fish kill in the fall run, which state Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists have predicted at just under 120,000 fish.Since that 2002 debacle state and federal water managers have experimented with attempts to improve conditions for the fish — not just on the Trinity River, which feeds the lower Klamath near the coast, but on the Sacramento. They’ve tried gradually ramping up releases from the dams and low pulse flows — in hopes that the spurts will help clean out the ponds where ich thrives.So far nobody had come up with a permanent plan that would set the standards for releases and establish trigger factors for when they’re necessary.This week stakeholders are holding scoping meetings on a proposed plan that could be put into place, perhaps by next year.It’s tricky. In addition to the Yurok and Hoopa Valley tribes, many other interests are in play, including the powerful Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the Westlands Water District, both of which tend to sue when they see Sacramento River flows reduced.When water stored behind the Lewiston Dam is released into the Trinity River, that means it’s not going to Whiskeytown Lake, through power plants there and eventually into the Sacramento.That scenario pulls in all the same political power players who are pushing raising Shasta Dam by 18 ½ feet.It all comes down to two sides battling over what’s more important — fish or agriculture.In Shasta County, where the salmon are a huge tourist draw, we expect our neighbors to the south to strike a balance. If more water is needed here, where it was before humans interfered with the natural flows that helped those fish flourish, we need to provide enough to save them from perishing. Corporate farmers who planted vast orchards on arid soil took a big gamble, and the fish shouldn’t be left to settle up the tab.If some larger water releases can save the salmon, as they appear to be doing if properly administered, then we should use that technology to protect the dwindling salmon runs.What a shame it would be if they disappeared permanently.
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