By John Driscoll, staff writer
More water should be released down the Klamath River to help salmon while studies are honed to provide for better management, recommends an arm of the National Academy of Sciences.
While the academy’s National Research Council was in some ways critical of the study calling for higher flows in the river, it nonetheless would be better for fish than the existing operations, the report said.
Still, the study the council reviewed to make that recommendation is severely hampered by a lack of precise information, having relied on monthly averages. Because of that, the study by Thomas Hardy of Utah State University can’t be used to develop specific flow schedules.
“In short, planners operate on a monthly basis, but fish live on a daily basis,” the report reads.
The other study commissioned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation attempted to calculate how much water flowed down the Klamath before dams and agricultural projects were built. The research council also found that study severely compromised, since it didn’t take into account the effects of groundwater on flows and the former connection of Lower Klamath Lake to the river, among other factors.
In 2001, federal fish and wildlife agencies demanded that reclamation crimp water to farms in the upper Klamath basin to provide enough water for threatened salmon in the river, and endangered suckers in Upper Klamath Lake, unleashing a torrent of controversy.
Reclamation asked the research council to review the 2001 decisions of the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The interim report found the agencies weren’t justified in the curtailment of water to help fish, but also that reclamation had no scientific backing for its project operations.
The next year, full water deliveries were made, and 68,000 salmon died in a hot, shallow river, enraging coastal tribes and fishermen. The research council in its final report in 2004 said there was no conclusive evidence that withholding water from fish caused the massive die-off. That ran contrary to Fish and Wildlife’s report on the fish kill that pointed at low flows for the disaster.
Reclamation spokesman Jeff McCracken said that research council’s most recent report would be used as a tool to understand parts of the entire system. But it’s unlikely to spark near-term changes, he said.
“Based on what we have now, we don’t intend to make any changes in our project operations,” McCracken said.
The bureau is under an order from the U.S. District Court in Oakland, which imposed higher flows to be allowed downstream for salmon.
The latest research council report calls for significant changes to both flow studies if they are to be used to inform managers. A more systematic and comprehensive analysis of the scientific and management needs should be done to reveal the most urgent needs, the report reads.
National Marine Fisheries Service spokesman Jim Milbury said the agency has no comment on the report, because it has not yet reviewed it.
Glen Spain with the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations said that the research council’s report is likely to play a major role in the fish and wildlife agencies’ next suite of requirements on reclamation’s project. The report strengthens the Hardy study, which has already been through peer reviews, he said.
“It really gives it a nod as the best available science,” Spain said.
Exactly what weight the research council report may hold in the long term is difficult to say. Other major movements on the Klamath include settlement talks between tribes, fishermen, irrigators and environmental groups aimed at resolving some of the basin’s thorniest issues, including coming up with a proposal to remove some or all of Pacificorp’s hydropower dams.