[env-trinity] Bureau of Reclamation Scraps 2019 Klamath River Water Plan

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Fri Nov 15 21:25:48 PST 2019


Jessica Cejnar / Today @ 3:45 p.m. / Environment, Tribes, Wildlife

Bureau of Reclamation Scraps 2019 Klamath River Water Plan

The Bureau of Reclamation scrapped a 2019 water plan the Yurok Tribe said was disastrous to Klamath River salmon. Photo: CDFW.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced Friday it would scrap a water plan the Yurok Tribe says led to drought conditions on the Klamath River last spring.

>From the Yurok Tribe:

Today the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) announced plans to scrap the disastrous 2019 water plan and start over.

Implementation of the 2019 water plan, which began on April 1, 2019, resulted in drought level flows on the Klamath River even as Upper Klamath Lake, which provides water to the River, was flooding. The artificially poor flow conditions contributed to an outbreak of a fatal fish disease in the Klamath River near Iron Gate Dam again during the first weeks under the 2019 plan.

Klamath River summer flows had to be sacrificed in order to save salmon from fish disease. The 2019 plan, within the first several months of its implementation, proved to be an utter failure. As a result, the Yurok Tribe and its partners Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Associations and Institute for Fisheries Resources brought a lawsuit challenging the plan.

Aside from the inadequate river flows last spring, the Yurok Tribe cited many problems with the Plan, including a lack of critical review of the hydrologic and biological analyses it was based on. The Tribe conducted a detailed review of various elements of the plan including how salmon habitat was affected by flow reductions. Our review revealed serious and systematic errors in the BOR’s analysis of fish habitat, and this discovery is what has led to the Department of Interior’s (DOI’s) decision to scrap the 2019 plan and reanalyze the effects.

“We had no other choice but to take the Bureau to court because the Klamath BiOp is killing the River.” said Joseph L. James, the Chairman of the Yurok Tribe. “The Klamath salmon stocks are currently in an extremely fragile state as the fish population is only just now starting to rebound from
previous disease outbreaks.

The Yurok people depend on the Klamath River’s salmon runs for survival and we should not have to bear the brunt of the agency’s poor decision-making. During the course of the water year, the Yurok Tribe repeatedly sought modification of the Plan to provide higher May-June flows, or barring that, at least the provision of an additional 20,000 acre feet of water for emergency disease management flows.”

Although the Yurok Tribe views this as a victory for the River, significant concerns about DOI’s proposed process to update the plan remain. The BOR indicated it intends to develop a new water
plan by April 1st.

“We are worried that the rushed process and lack of technical participation by the Yurok Tribe, and others will lead to a repeat of the mistakes that occurred in the 2019 plan.” James said. “BOR’s actions are an egregious mismanagement of critical public resources and the fishery that we as Yurok People hold sacred”

“The federal government is wisely going back to the drawing board to revamp its unlawful plan for running the river,” said Patti Goldman, Earthjustice managing attorney. “This time we hope they get it right and provide sufficient flows for Klamath River salmon.”

“Federal irrigation project water policies in the Klamath have been disastrous for the coastal salmon-dependent fishing families we represent,” commented PCFFA Northwest Regional Director Glen Spain. “The flat-out errors in the current Biological Opinion — all of them — must be fixed. Minor tweaks will not prevent widespread salmon extinctions.”

Background: When federal agencies conduct major federal actions (such as the implementation of the Klamath Project Operations Plan, they are required by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to analyze the potential impacts of that action to ESA-listed species such as Coho salmon. This analysis, known as a Biological Assessment (BA) is then reviewed by another federal agency (National Marine Fisheries Service) and a determination is made on whether the proposed action will or will not “jeopardize the continued existence” of the listed species. This analysis is called a biological opinion (BiOp).

The recently implemented Klamath Project Operations BiOp created the environmental conditions that worsened an outbreak of the lethal pathogen Ceratonova Shasta (C. Shasta) infecting an observed majority of this year’s juvenile salmon. For several days in May, the River was at or near drought minima at the same time Upper Klamath Lake was within one half of an inch of flooding. These conditions occurred at the exact same time a serious fish disease outbreak was occurring in the River with no water made available to remediate the outbreak.

In May of last year, United States District Court Judge William H. Orrick, in response to a different lawsuit filed by the Tribe, Earth Justice and PCFFA, ordered the BOR to release more water to address another disease outbreak from C. Shasta.

There is no provision for additional flows in the current BiOp to address the escalation in infection rates that took place earlier this year. The current lawsuit called for the reinstatement of the 2018 ruling, which would make more water available to prevent further damage to the Coho and Chinook salmon populations. Increased water releases during disease outbreaks reduce disease transmission to fish, speed outmigration away from infection zones, and generally improve water quality.

Up until now, high C. Shasta infection rates had mostly occurred in low flow conditions on the upper Klamath River near Iron Gate Dam. For example, during the droughts in 2014 and 2015, observed infection rates among juvenile fish reached 84 and 91 percent.

Returning in 2016 and 2017, the salmon runs impacted by the disease were some of the worst on record. To protect the few fish that entered the River, the Tribe canceled its commercial fishery for three years in a row and its subsistence fishery for the first time ever, which caused a tremendous hardship for the Yurok people.


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