Reclamation scraps 2019 Klamath water plan; move welcomed by Yurok Tribe

Chairman: 'We should not have to bear the brunt of the agency’s poor decision-making'

A Chinook salmon swims in the Klamath River. (The Times-Standard — File Photo)
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The following is a press release 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.” said Chairman James.

“BOR’s actions are an egregious mismanagement of critical public resources and the fishery that we as Yurok People hold sacred” stated Joseph James, Chairman of the Yurok Tribe.

“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.”

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