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Protect Klamath Salmon: Tell Our Representatives To Release Preventative Flows!

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

In response to the lowest historical flows on record into Upper Klamath Lake, the US Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) just announced its Klamath Project 2021 Temporary Operations Plan. Although the Plan reduces diversions for irrigators, it fails to meet the biological needs for coho salmon and Chinook salmon in the Klamath River, and Lost River and shortnose suckers in Upper Klamath Lake.

“It is unfortunate that a severe drought and climate change, coupled with risky decisions made in 2020, have left us all in this impossible bind this year,” said Frankie Myers, the Yurok Tribe’s Vice Chairman. “Based on the current conditions, the Yurok Tribe is acutely concerned about the health of the entire river from the headwaters to the sea, because it is the beating heart of all the Tribes in the basin. The Klamath salmon are now on a course toward extinction in the near term.”

Currently, the Klamath River is blocked by four dams obstructing fish passage slated for removal by 2024. 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.

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. However, dams blocking the Klamath River have led to an infestation of toxic algae and warm water temperatures that cause fish disease. Additionally, water deliveries to irrigators have resulted in less water available to provide salmon runs with a release of water to flush out Ceratonova shasta, a fish killing parasite that can lead to fish die-offs.

While about 180,000 Chinook salmon off the Northern California Coast are waiting to enter the Klamath, we are seeing the lowest historical inflows on record into Upper Klamath Lake. In 2002, low flows and warm water temperatures caused by dams and diversions in the Klamath Basin, similar to conditions that are projected for this season, resulted in the largest fish kill in U.S. history, where an estimated 60,000 fall Chinook perished. Since the fish kill, the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) has released preventative pulse flows into the Klamath and Trinity Rivers when conditions existed that were similar to 2002. If temperatures become higher than the acute stress level for Chinook, 72 degrees Fahrenheit, a large-scale fish kill is likely and the Klamath could lose the entire run, which would have major environmental and economic implications.

The BOR has indicated that it will monitor conditions on the Klamath and release flows if salmon show signs of disease and start dying, which would take at least four days to reach infected salmon in the Lower Klamath. It is a widely accepted fact that once salmon are diseased and dying, an attempt to minimize losses will be too late and a large-scale fish kill in the Lower Klamath would already be well underway.

In addition to the water management plan for 2021, the BOR has committed to providing $15 million in emergency funds for irrigators in the upper basin and $3 million for Tribes. Additionally, the USDA has committed another $10 million for farmers, which totals $25 million for farmers and only $3 million for Tribes. Reclamations plan has led to an unequal distribution of funding and water resources.

This year’s Klamath salmon run needs your help! Please click this link to send a letter to David Felstul, Chief for the Division of Water Operations for the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Alex Padilla, and Congressman Jared Huffman, asking them to release preventative flows into the Klamath River to ensure that flows into the Klamath River will meet the biological requirements for salmon and other fisheries.


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