Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
By Amber Jamieson
Click here to take action now: Right now, an estimated 60,000 fall Chinook salmon are in the ocean off the Northern California Coast waiting to enter the Klamath. The conditions they will be met with as they begin their journey to reproduce are currently equivalent to a death sentence. In 2002, low flows and warm water temperatures caused by dams and diversions in the Klamath Basin resulted in the largest fish kill in U.S. history, when an estimated 60,000 fall Chinook perished. Since the fish kill, the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) has released a preventative pulse flow into the Trinity River from Lewiston Dam when conditions existed that were similar to 2002. Currently, Klamath River flow is lower than it was in 2002 and temperatures are consistently higher than the acute stress level for Chinook, 72 degrees Fahrenheit. If this trend continues, a large-scale fish kill is likely and the Klamath could lose the entire run, which would have huge implications, environmentally and economically, costing taxpayers millions in relief and mitigation costs.
Last week, the BOR announced that it would not release the preventative flows needed to avert a fish kill. Instead, they will wait until salmon show signs of disease and start dying, and would only release an “emergency flow” that would take at least four days to reach infected salmon in the Lower Klamath. It is widely accepted fact that once salmon are diseased and dying to the extent that the emergency flow criteria is met, an attempt to minimize losses will be too late and a large-scale fish kill in the Lower Klamath would already be well underway.
The water is available, but according to the BOR saving the lives of 60,000 spawning salmon is not a priority. Of the 2,900 cubic feet per second (cfs) flowing through the Trinity system from Clair Engle Lake, only 490 cfs are being released into the Trinity River downstream of Lewiston Dam, roughly 17%. The BOR is sending the rest of the available water, roughly 2400 cfs or 83% to the Central Valley Project to meet the demands of large-scale agriculture like the Westland’s Water district, and to meet recovery requirements for the endangered Delta Smelt that are facing extinction due to large ag interests including Westlands diverting water in the Smelt’s native habitat—the Sacramento and San Joaquin Deltas.
The Klamath River is home to the third largest salmon run on the West Coast and is thought to have the highest potential for complete salmon recovery in the United States. Currently, the Klamath River is blocked by six dams. Efforts are underway to remove the four largest dams that obstruct fish passage through historic agreements between tribes, environmental groups, fishing groups, government agencies and the company that owns the dams, PacifiCorp. The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and Klamath Basin Hydro-Settlement Agreement have been combined and introduced in Congress as the Klamath Basin Community and Economic Recovery Act. While these worthy efforts are underway and the prospect of a restored Klamath Basin is becoming a reality, it is critical that the remaining salmon and steelhead runs are protected until the dams come out, which is expected to happen around 2020.
Klamath salmon need your help! We need to convince the Bureau of Reclamation, the Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, and President Obama to release preventative flows into the Trinity River to save the fall salmon run from river conditions that are even more severe than those that caused the country’s largest fish kill in 2002. Please click the link below to send a letter to decision-makers, asking them to reduce flows to irrigators and increase flows into the Trinity River from Lewiston Dam, and into the Klamath River from Link River Dam.