Science panel looks at Klamath
questions about apparent lack of coordination
Tam Moore Capital Press, 10/6/06
New minimum flow numbers
|In cubic feet per
second at Iron Gate Dam, below Klamath
|Sources: Hardy II final
report July 2006, Table 27; 2002-2012
Klamath Project Biological Opinion, Table
YREKA, Calif. - There's a whole new set of
Klamath River minimum flows to look at, presented
this week to a National Research Council committee
of scientists reviewing one of the central
controversies of a controversial river system.
The numbers, which are considerably less than some
current court-ordered discharges at Iron Gate Dam,
are part of a complex report by Utah State
University hydrologist Thomas Hardy done under
contract to the U.S. Department of Interior.
Management of the river is in the spotlight
because of poor returns of wild fall-run salmon,
forcing near-closure of ocean fishing along 700
miles of California and Oregon coast.
Attention began in the drought of 2001 when
federal officials canceled irrigation water to
about 1,100 farms in the Klamath Reclamation
Project to save it as habitat for three fish under
protection of the Endangered Species Act.
Controversy cranked up in September 2002, another
time of low flow, when an estimated 33,000
returning chinook salmon died in a disease
outbreak in the lower river.
The Phase I report by Hardy became a departure
point for new biological opinions issued in 2002.
The hydrologist was asked to update recommended
flows with a particular eye to water required for
improving conditions for salmon.
Hardy's final "Phase II" report was printed at the
end of July, but it hasn't seen much publicity
beyond study by government agencies and
PacifiCorp, operator of the hydroelectric dams
through which the water passes.
The NRC panel of 13 scientists and engineers met
Oct. 3 and 4 to hear from Hardy and several
consultants who helped construct his analysis of
the needs of salmon using the Klamath. The
committee is also charged with peer review of the
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation study done two years
ago that attempts to reconstruct natural flows on
the main-stem Klamath in the days before over
250,000 acres of upper basin wetland were
reclaimed for grazing and croplands and the system
of power generation stations went in place.
"Who did you recommend this to, and will it be
followed?" one science panel member asked when
Hardy finished his formal presentation.
"This went to Department of Interior. I have no
idea what the department will do with them," Hardy
In an interview, he said he intentionally avoided
suggestion to either Reclamation or the National
Marine Fisheries Service on how they should manage
the river. And, his flow chart isn't as
straightforward as the neat numbers might seem
when presented in a table on page 182 of his
That's because it represents an "average" water
year, which if recent Klamath precipitation is an
indicator, actually happens perhaps three or four
years out of 10. Reclamation, on the other hand,
divides flows up by the amount of water coming
into Upper Klamath Lake, the project's primary
reservoir. There are different flow requirements
for dry, below average, average and wet years in
Hardy said to adjust his table to different water
years, one must move up or down from the minimum
for average years.
Judge Sandra B. Armstrong, the federal judge who
earlier this year set downstream flows based on a
2002 NMFS biological opinion, ordered NMFS and
Reclamation to redo their biological requirements.
But Mike Deas, a consulting engineer who assisted
Hardy and spoke to the science committee, said the
river isn't going to improve when management is
fixed through court orders and 50-year
hydroelectric licenses. "We badly need a formal
scientific framework, a venue where the basis is
science," Deas said.
Petey Brucker, coordinator of the Salmon River
Restoration Council deep in the mountains
downstream from here, put it another way. Brucker
recounted smaller watershed restoration plan work
and the 20-year federal Klamath Act that ran out
of money last week, and he said people in the 10
million-acre Klamath Basin "haven't figured out
how to knit that together."
River stakeholders will take a stab at it Nov. 7-9
in a basinwide conference that's a mix of science
and public policy. It will be at the Holiday Inn
in Redding, Calif. The science committee promised
to return in January, for a session in Klamath
Falls, Ore., concentrating on Reclamation's
natural flow study.
Tam Moore is based in Medford, Ore. His e-mail