Klamath River may be an option to improve salmon conditions

Klamath River may be an option to improve salmon conditions

by Devan Schwartz
Herald & News

August 14, 2013

With uncertainty shrouding the Trinity River, additional focus turns to the mainstem Klamath River — the other water source usable to help prevent a fish kill.

PacifiCorp owns and operates four Klamath River hydroelectric dams. The company maintains river and reservoir levels in compliance with the Bureau of Reclamation and the mandates of a joint biological opinion completed by two federal agencies.

In a public comment on proposed Trinity releases, PacifiCorp’s Klamath Project Manager Tim Hemstreet wrote that additional water from Iron Gate dam, located 190 miles from the coast, could improve conditions for spawning salmon.

Hemstreet wrote that 272,000 chinook salmon, the forecasted run, could benefit from additional Klamath River water in lieu of Trinity releases.

“We don’t think at all that we’re the answer to this problem,” said PacifiCorp spokesman Bob Gravely. “But if we can contribute something, that’s what we’re trying to do. It’s up to (Reclamation) to weigh all the obligations and commitments they have.”

Gravely said PacifiCorp would like to front-load discussions about further Klamath River releases. “We’d like to have that discussion now, rather than at the last minute.”

Reclamation spokesman Pete Lucero said there isn’t much flexibility in a low water year in the Klamath Basin.

“We have determined that there’s not any additional water in the Klamath system to deliver additional flows to the Klamath River,” he said. “The only other source is the Trinity at this point.”

Weighing options

Irma Lagomarsino, Northern California office supervisor for National Marine Fisheries Service, said the federal agencies are likely to convene a technical team to think more about the options.

Lagomarsino echoed the fact that “just about every drop of water has been accounted for in this system already. There’s no surplus water; there just isn’t.”

Greg Addington, executive director of Klamath Water Users Association, said the Bureau of Reclamation can’t reduce allocations to the Klamath Project.

“We’ve got a block of water which we’ve mostly used,” Addington said. “And even if there was water, it might be the worst thing they could do because the temperature could be lethal for the salmon. Just go stick a thermometer in the reservoirs.”

Conservationists argue that such inflexibility indicates a dry Basin with too many demands for not enough water.

Waterwatch of Oregon’s Southern Oregon program director Jim McCarthy said, “This is not a way to run a Basin. You cannot continue to rely on this emergency water from the Trinity.

“It just shows again that there’s not enough water to serve all legitimate needs in the Klamath Basin and we need to have a serious demand reduction program. We cannot have a situation where every three or five years we have a healthy run of salmon and people go run around looking for water.”

McCarthy added that whatever water the national wildlife refuges would receive may instead go into the Klamath River to support threatened coho salmon.

The parties will convene at the federal district court in Fresno Aug. 21, with additional days blocked off for Aug. 22 and 23.