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Environment, Energy and Transportation

Interim Klamath Plan Means More Water For Fish

Upper_Klamath_National_Wildlife_Refuge.JPG
Edward J. O'Neill/National Fish and Wildlife Service

There’ll be more water for fish in the Klamath River -- for the next few years, at least. Federal water managers have come to an agreement with the Yurok Tribe and a group representing commercial fishermen. 

Last year, low water flows in the Klamath River led to a disease outbreak and a subsequent fish die-off.

The Yurok and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations sued the Bureau of Reclamation. They said the Bureau’s plan to manage the federal Klamath irrigation project was leading to deadly river conditions for protected fish.

Amy Cordalis, general counsel for the Yurok Tribe, notes the tribe has declared fisheries disasters for the past three seasons.

"The returning salmon runs every year are getting smaller and smaller," she says. "And that’s having lasting impacts, not only on our tribal community, but also on ocean fisheries.”

The Bureau acknowledged its plan was based on flawed data and agreed to an interim plan that sends more water downriver from Upper Klamath Lake, while it develops a new long-term plan based on better science.

Glen Spain, with the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, says that means less chance of the disease outbreaks that have led to fish kills in recent years.

"For us, that means less likelihood of major river and ocean fishery closures, because the fewer fish survive, the more we’re restricted," he says.

Meanwhile, Klamath irrigators say they’re relieved the agreement leaves more water for farms and ranches than the lawsuit initially asked for.     

“The plaintiffs had asked for an injunction that could have reduced irrigation water by 50,000 acre-feet in this already-bad year,” Klamath Irrigation District and Klamath Water Users Association Board member Jerry Enman said in an emailed statement.  “Fortunately, that worst-case scenario was avoided.”     

Paul Simmons, the irrigator group's executive director, said the Bureau of Reclamation had signed an agreement with KWUA and other water districts in the Klamath Project to allow "greater participation" in the process going forward.

“That hasn’t occurred recently because they had to act so fast," he said. "We can’t change the past but we can do much better in the future.”