Klamath Basin water plan won’t harm protected fish, federal scientists say

Klamath Basin water plan won’t harm protected fish, federal scientists say

by The Associated Press

June 3, 2013

GRANTS PASS — A new plan for balancing scarce water in the Klamath Basin between fish and farms won’t harm salmon or other fish protected by the Endangered Species Act, federal scientists said Monday.

The NOAA Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued what is called a biological opinion for operations on the Klamath Project, a federal irrigation project straddling the Oregon-California border. It covers the effects of the irrigation project’s operations on shortnose suckers and Lost River suckers in Upper Klamath Lake and other reservoirs, as well as coho salmon, green sturgeon and eulachon in the Klamath River.

The evaluation represents a “landmark” level of coordination between the federal agencies, as well as integration of the needs of the different fish species, with an eye toward trying to keep the irrigation project supplied with water, said Laurie Sada, field supervisor for the Klamath office of Fish and Wildlife.

Water levels in lakes for suckers and releases down the Klamath River for salmon are tied to natural events, such as rain and snowmelt. That allows for storing more water in the winter, and provides that winter flows will not be static, said Irma Lagomarsino, supervisor for the NOAA fisheries northern California office.

“In general, it’s a huge departure from the past water management system,” she said. “It is one that provides more certainty in terms of water for the (farmers). It provides a block of water for the river. And it provides lake levels to help protect endangered suckers.”

The Bureau of Reclamation said this new plan gives them far more flexibility than they had in 2001, when they had to shut off irrigation to farms to maintain water for fish.

“In the past, volume and distribution of water for coho salmon, the Klamath Project and suckers were not coordinated,” said Jason Phillips, Klamath Area manager for the Bureau of Reclamation. “We factored into our analysis when the coho are needing water and when farmers are likely to take water and when suckers need habitat.”

Phillips said low snowpack in the mountains and little rain this spring left them with less water than in 2010, when they had to start irrigation late due to lack of water. But the new plan, implemented before it gained formal approval, allowed them to start water deliveries on time in the spring.

The Hoopa Valley Tribe is not satisfied. Spokeswoman Regina Chichizola said the agencies failed to use the best available science, and the plan gives more water to farmers at the expense of salmon.