[env-trinity] Feds eye scaling back antiparasite Klamath dam releases
tstokely at att.net
Tue Mar 27 06:27:58 PDT 2018
Feds eye scaling back antiparasite Klamath dam releases
By Will Houston, Eureka Times-StandardPOSTED: 03/26/18, 7:49 PM PDT | UPDATED: 6 HRS AGO# COMMENTSThis Aug. 21, 2009, photo shows Iron Gate Dam spanning the Klamath River near Hornbrook.The Associated Press fileIn an attempt to meet the needs of Klamath Basin irrigators and endangered fish species in the basin in a time of drought, a federal agency is proposing to reduce the amount of dam water releases to the Klamath River that are meant to protect threatened Coho salmon from deadly parasite outbreaks like those that occurred in 2014 and 2015.The Hoopa Valley Tribe says the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s prioritizes farmers over fish and goes against a federal court order that they, the Yurok Tribe and environmental groups secured last year to protect threatened salmon. The court order requires the bureau to release a 72-hour flushing flow from Iron Gate Dam into the river to flush out worms that host the parasite. The order also requires the bureau to hold 50,000 acre-feet of water in reserve for an emergency diluting flow in case baby salmon still show signs of infection. Up to 91 percent of baby Coho and Chinook salmon in the river were found to have been infected in 2014 and 2015 by an intestinal parasite, Ceratanova shasta. Local tribes say the disease outbreak contributed to the low return of salmon to the river in 2017, which resulted in a complete closure of the commercial fishery in the region.The fish-kill preventive flows were challenged in federal court earlier this month by Klamath Basin water districts and irrigators, which argued that 2017’s rainfall and snowpack levels were sufficient enough that the dilution flows will not be needed this year. The dilution flows were not used in 2017.The bureau is urging the U.S. District Court to consider its proposal at an upcoming April 11 court hearing in San Francisco that will discuss the irrigators’ challenge.
In a statement released over the weekend, the bureau’s Mid-Pacific Deputy Regional Director Alicia Forsythe said the plan allows the agency to “protect important tribal trust resources while allowing for water supply certainty and economic stability for our agricultural communities in the Klamath Basin.”The Klamath Water Users Association is one of the challengers to the dam releases and represents about 1,200 farms and ranches in the basin. The association’s Executive Director Scott White said while he does not fully support the bureau’s proposal, he said it at least provides a date for farmers to begin receiving water during what he describes as a “devastating” and “do-or-die” water year.“We are hopeful that the judge sees this proposal favorably and allows our guys to be able to plan accordingly to start this season,” White said.AdvertisementHoopa Valley Tribe Fisheries Director Mike Orcutt said Monday the bureau’s proposal is a tactic to “prioritize the startup of irrigation and leave some uncertainty to protecting most species.”In its late Friday court filing responding to the irrigator’s arguments, the bureau proposes to release the flushing flows in mid-April, but forgo the emergency dilution flows this year. Irrigators in the basin also would be provided 252,000 acre-feet of water starting April 19 under the proposal, which the bureau said is about 65 percent of the maximum water supply of 390,000 acre-feet it can provide to irrigators in its Klamath Project area.The bureau provided several reasons why it would not be providing the dilution flows that tribes and fisheries researchers claim are critical to preventing another fish kill on the river. The bureau argues that the 2017 federal court order on the dam releases does not supercede its obligation to ensure there is enough water in the Upper Klamath Lake to protect endangered sucker fish species.“Reclamation believes this proposal provides the best solution for addressing disease concerns for coho salmon in the Klamath River while also ensuring water levels necessary to protect endangered suckers in the Upper Basin,” Forsythe said. The bureau and two other federal agencies are facing a potential Endangered Species Act lawsuit by the Klamath Tribes of Oregon, which filed a 60-day notice in federal court in February. The notice called on the agencies to take “immediate, emergency measures” to bring water levels in Upper Klamath Lake to protect endangered sucker fish species.The bureau also claims that “new information indicates limited scientific support” for the effectiveness of the emergency dilution flows to protect Coho salmon from infection — an argument also put forward by the Klamath Basin irrigators, though the federal agencies stated they disagree with several of the irrigators’ claims.
FLUSHING, DILUTION FLOWS
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific Southwest regional director Paul Souza wrote in a letter to the Bureau of Reclamation this month that there are “significant questions about the science behind the dilution flows even if more water was available in the basin.”Both the flushing flow and dilution flow plans were drafted by fisheries officials from the Yurok, Karuk and Hoopa Valley tribes, and were agreed on by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation last year as part of the federal court order.Orcutt said the flow plans were developed using the best available science including that from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Arcata office. The two flow plans were meant to work together, Orcutt said, with the flushing flows washing away the worms that host the parasites and the dilution flows being used as an emergency backup in case the parasite infection begins to spread.“It’s a tandem action,” Orcutt said. “It’s not like you do one and you don’t do the other.”The federal court order requires the bureau hold 50,000 acre feet of water in reserve for the dilution flows until June 15 or until 80 percent of the juvenile salmon migrate out of the river. Basin farmers have stated in court filings that uncertainties about summer irrigation can result in significant losses of revenue and impact business decisions.Orcutt said that the bureau’s proposal prioritizes irrigators and places the risk on salmon because it provides water to irrigators, but not emergency flows to salmon when they would need it most. “It’s not like [irrigators are] not going to get the water,” Orcutt said. “It just requires them to start later.”
The April 11 hearing will be before U.S. District Court Judge William H. Orrick, who ruled in favor of the Hoopa Valley Tribe, Yurok Tribe and environmental groups’s arguments in February 2017 that the bureau and National Marine Fisheries Service’s management of dams violated a 2013 biological opinion to protect threatened coho salmon.Orrick addressed the economic versus environmental considerations in his ruling, stating that “courts are not permitted to favor economic interests over potential harm to endangered species.”While Orcutt said he has confidence with the case going back before Orrick again, Orcutt said “the only downside is that the federal experts have changed their positions.” Orcutt said the tribe plans to file a response by Wednesday.White said the issue is not about economics, but is about the science suggesting that there “really is no need for these dilution flows.”The bureau wrote in its court filing that it also evaluated the option of releasing a smaller dilution flow, but that the questions about these flows effectiveness still existed. Including a smaller dilution flow would also cause a complete irrigation shutoff in the Klamath Project until as late as June 15, according to the bureau. To implement its plan, the bureau says it will use 11,000 acre-feet of water drawn from the upper and lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge and another 10,500 acre-feet of water from the Copco reservoir owned by the Oregon-based hydroelectric power company PacifiCorp. The bureau says it would repay these voluntary water contributions by fall or winter, but does specify how in its filing.Three environmental groups — Audubon Society of Portland, Oregon Wild and WaterWatch of Oregon — condemned the use of wildlife refuge water on Monday, saying it “sets the stage for yet another catastrophic bird kill” in order to provide public water for agribusiness.“The water and taxpayer funding for these refuges belongs to the public, not private agribusiness interests. We simply want our senators to do their job and reign in this renegade agency before it causes even more harm to Oregon’s natural heritage, economy, and taxpayers,” WaterWatch of Oregon Southern Oregon Program Manager Jim McCarthy said in a Monday statement.Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.
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