Tribes call on bureau to release fish-kill prevention flows this week

Tribes call on bureau to release fish-kill prevention flows this week
By Will Houston
Eureka Times-Standard

August 17, 2015

2002 Klamath River fish kill.

2002 Klamath River fish kill.

With ceremonial dam release flows expected to reach the Trinity River waters near Hoopa this evening, federal and tribal officials are still working out the details and timeline on another set of dam releases proposed to protect salmonids on the lower Klamath River from deadly infections caused by warm, low-flowing waters.

Hoopa Valley Tribe Fisheries Director Mike Orcutt said he and other fisheries officials met with members of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific Region at the end of last week to discuss concerns and alternatives to a dam release plan released by the bureau in late July.

“The document has not been definitive in terms of a starting date,” Orcutt said about the flow proposal on Monday. “We would hope that it starts as soon as the boat dance flows wrap up and begin to go down.”

Orcutt said the tribes are calling for the supplemental flows to begin as soon as Wednesday.

Bureau Deputy Public Affairs Officer Louis Moore said that as the bureau continues through the plan’s environmental assessment process and consultations, more details on the timeline and flow allocations will be released.

“It may very well be the current number may not be the numbers they come up with in the end,” Moore said. “They’re working with the tribes and others to figure out what the volume should be.”

The bureau’s proposed plan currently includes a month-long release of 32,000 acre-feet of Trinity River water from Lewiston Dam to prevent a possible fish kill on the lower Klamath River this summer caused by the low-flowing conditions, which weaken fish immune systems. The bureau proposal also includes an emergency release provision in which lower Klamath River flows would be doubled should the initial 32,000 acre-feet not be enough to stave off deadly fish pathogens such as the parasite known as “ich” or the gill disease called columnaris. Both pathogens have already been found in fish surveys on lower Klamath River tributaries.

The Hoopa Valley Tribe with backing from the Yurok Tribe believe that the bureau’s proposed releases fall short of what is needed to protect the fish from pathogen outbreaks, and originally recommended that the bureau use just under 64,000 acre-feet for preventative releases. But due to increased flows from Iron Gate dam on the Klamath River and increases in cloud coverage that help cool river waters, Orcutt said that they have revised their dam release recommendation to be about 52,500 acre-feet. The tribe’s recommendation includes a pulse flow method in which larger quantities of dam water are released and segmented by periods of low flows. This method literally washes away the pathogens preying upon the salmonids — the only known method to prevent an outbreak of ich, according to the bureau.

For now, fish on the Trinity River and lower Klamath will get a temporary reprieve from the warm water conditions after the bureau increased the flow of the Trinity River from 450 cubic feet per second to 2,650 cubic feet per second. The gradual flow increase began on Sunday as part of the Hoopa Valley Tribe’s biannual boat dance ceremony. The flows peaked on Monday morning and are expected to reach Hoopa by this evening, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Once the bureau publishes its final plan for the fish-kill preventative releases, Orcutt said irrigators and water districts in the bureau’s Central Valley Project will likely file a temporary restraining order against the releases as had occurred in years past.

“If (the bureau) take(s) their action on Wednesday, the Central Valley water users are likely going to file a lawsuit,” he said. “If that happens, I think we need to be defending a sound, scientific, technical approach.”