Two days of talking fish: Klamath Fisheries Task Force hears agency reports

(Note: What a masterful use of language deception is used herein! Please read with care, knowing that your senses are being appealed to, rather than your intellect.)

February 22, 2003

By Christine Walters

For the Eureka Times-Standard

930 Sixth Street

Eureka, CA 95501

1-800-564-5630 or 1-707-441-0500

http://www.times-standard.com

To submit a Letter to the Editor: editor@times-standard.com

Harbor, Oregon - The Klamath River Basin Fisheries Task Force met in Bookings/Harbor for two days this week to hear reports from various agencies and groups regarding findings on the Klamath fish kill and possible land purchases for additional water storage, as well as updates on fishery restoration efforts.

MaryEllen Mueller of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's California/Nevada office, said her agency is refocusing its efforts around the revitalization of the fisheries program. According to a December 2002 agency report, the vision of the Service's Fisheries Program includes "working with partners to restore and maintain fish and other aquatic resources at self-sustaining levels."

"Success is best achieved through partnerships," Mueller said, inviting comment from all concerned as the agency is now developing regional plans. She said the President's management agenda is "very results driven. If we jump through the hoops the right way, we receive budget increases, and, in fact, we have."

Mike Orcutt reported for the Trinity Management Council that the Trinity Reclamation Project is now staffed and running in Weaverville. He said next Monday a federal court will present a 159-page decision-supporting opinion regarding Trinity water levels based on a dry-year view of this year. The Hoopa tribe has requested a stay on the decision and will appeal the case, Orcutt said.

Results from the California Department of Fish and Game's investigation into the 2002 fish kill were presented by Sarah Brock.

"The Trinity River was impacted greatly by the fish die-off," she said.

Although more fish died in the Klamath River, a greater percentage of the run died in the Trinity River. David Hillemeier of the Yurok tribe's Fisheries Department said that different species of salmon run at different times. The timing of the fish kill affected a Trinity species greatly, he said.

Overall, the Klamath run of 159,000 was 34 percent larger than the average since 1978, Brock said, and 31,500 or 19 percent, died.

George Guillen of the Fish and Wildlife Service reported on mainstem surveys conducted September 20, 24 and 27 on four reaches of the lower Klamath. He said "white spot disease was found to be a primary factor in the immediate mortality of the fish."

Indications of collumnaris, gill erosion and open sores were also reported. The most reliable estimate of total fish killed, including those in Coon Creek, Blue Creek and the Trinity River as well as the Klamath on September 24, was 34,039, Guillen said. This figure includes 32,553 Chinook salmon, 329 Coho salmon and 628 steelhead trout, as well as others. "All the dead fish were large fish," he said. "Our underwater video showed huge schools of small shad unaffected."

Guillen was hesitant to define determining factors such as water temperatures or levels, saying a report should be out within two weeks. "We're double checking our data," he said.

Hillemeier said he was prepared to be less conservative, and that "every parameter, including temperature, was normal. The flow over Iron Gate Dam was the only different parameter."

"That is basically the flow from the upper basin," Task Force Member and Del Norte County Supervisor Chuck Blackburn said. "There are a lot of feeder streams below the Iron Gate. If the Trinity River had two to three hundred more cubic feet per second, we'd never have had this fish kill. Ninety percent of the Trinity is going to Westlands Water District and San Joaquin."

Neil Manji of Fish and Game reported that flows were actually lower than what was read during the fish kill. "U.S. Geological Survey reports show the level went from 21 to 19 since September 2002," he said. The figures should be available in an annual report due out in a couple of months.

Rich McIntyre of the American Land Conservancy and Klamath Upper Basin Working Group spoke on the proposed purchase of the Barnes Ranch for water storage in the Upper Klamath Lake area. "It's the best opportunity for new storage in the basin," he said.

An increase of 53,000 acre feet of water would result from the purchase, McIntyre said, at a cost of $3.42 per acre foot over 50 years. He contrasted that price with the "water bank paying $185 to $195 to farmers for idling 2.5 acre feet of water."

McIntyre asked for more local support of the project, saying "the powers that be are not hearing the level of support required." In support of the Barnes Ranch purchase, Task Force Chair John Engbring said "It's part of the kidney of the upper lake that functions to clean the water." Dave Sabo from the Bureau of Reclamation said, "We've looked at the Barnes property for some time. It's a no-brainer. There's no question it would be of value for storage."

The task force considered the idea overnight Wednesday and discussed it further Thursday, deciding unanimously to write a general letter of support for the purchase. "It's a conditional approval, the very first step," Blackburn said. "We didn't have all the information we wanted on it. We want to look at all the ramifications of the project."

McIntyre also discussed the American Land Conservancy's Swan Valley project, which could "provide 30,000 acre feet of new, non-Klamath Project water for downstream delivery." He closed with a "marsh filtering project that will reduce loading in the lower Klamath 50 percent," to be presented at the next task force meeting June 18 and 19 in Eureka.

Representing the U.S. Department of the Interior at the Harbor session was a deputy chief of staff, Sue Ellen Woodridge. She gave a progress report on the federal working group that has been examining the issues. She told the assemblage that solutions need to be arrived at locally, and not handed down by the federal government.

http://www.times-standard.com/Stories/0,1413,127%257E2896%257E1197507,00.html