On March 6, the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) issued a public Environmental Assessment on the Operations Plan for the Klamath Irrigation Project. This plan is will lead to the new Klamath River Biological Opinion, or water plan. The BO controls flows in the Klamath River and may determine whether ESA listed coho salmon and Lost River suckers will survive another generation. It will definitely decide how many chinook salmon people have for harvest for Tribal members and commercial fishermen.
It could also return us to the days where 84-92 percent of the juvenile salmon died in the Klamath River and reignite the Klamath River water wars during a time when we are working to find solutions.
This plan threatens the court ordered spring flows that have kept fish diseases, and juvenile fish kills down in the Klamath River. Despite the importance of the decision to our communities, BOR is only allowing the public two weeks to comment. The BOR should be doing a thorough environmental review through an Environmental Impact Statement, along with a 90-day public comment period and public hearing. Those who depend on the Klamath salmon deserve an opportunity to shape the plan.
The Klamath Biological Opinion may sound familiar because the Bush administration’s tampering with the 2001 Klamath Project Biological Opinion led to a massive fish kill of an estimated 64,000 adult salmon in the Klamath River, and the 2013 Biological Opinion led to a juvenile fish disease rate of 84-92 percent during California’s recent drought. This fish disease C. shasta caused massive juvenile fish kills, contributing to the Klamath’s lowest recorded salmon run in 2017.
These fish kills and related low salmon runs have caused major impacts to coastal and Tribal communities due to commercial and subsistence salmon fishing closures. In 2017 Yurok Tribal members were allocated only 1 fish for every 6 Tribal members. The Karuk Tribe limited its dip net fishery for the first time in history to 200 fish, and commercial, subsistence, and recreational fishing was severely limited for others as well. Lack of salmon has also led to major health, social and economic hardships for Tribal people and coastal towns such as Eureka, Crescent City, and Brookings that rely on salmon for food, income, ceremonies, and culture. It has also disrupted the food web that relies on salmon.
The 2013 Biological Opinion was litigated by the Yurok and Hoopa Valley Tribes along with commercial fishermen and conservation groups. These lawsuits resulted in court ordered improvements in flows. The currently proposed BOR flow schedule that are the subject of this Environmental Assessment does not incorporate these court order flows nor protect Tribal trust of fishing. It would result in lower flows and higher risk of fish disease.
This plan represents a major step backwards in Klamath river management. It is time for the BOR and Trump administration to stop its war on our communities and to instead restore the Klamath Salmon and Suckers and support all the communities that rely on Klamath watershed.
Comments must be received by March 19. The comments may be sent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by hard copy to Tara Jane Campbell Miranda, Bureau of Reclamation, 6600 Washburn Way, Klamath Falls, Oregon 97603. A petition is available at https://www.change.org/p/bor-increase-klamath-river-flows-and-do-an-eis-for-water-plan or at the Save California Salmon Facebook page.
Regina Chichizola is co-director of Save California Salmon and also works as a policy analyst for the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. She has work on Klamath River water issues for over 17 years.