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Science panel looks at Klamath minimum flows
Interchange raises 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 Reclamation Project
Month Hardy II 2006
court order
October 1395 1300
November 1500 1300
December 1260 1300
January 1130 1300
February 1415 1300
March 1275 2750
April 1325 2850
May 1175 3025
June 1025 1500
July 805 1000
August 880 1000
September 970 1000
Sources: Hardy II final report July 2006, Table 27; 2002-2012 Klamath Project Biological Opinion, Table 9

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 said.

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 report.

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 actual practice.

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 address is tmoore@capitalpress.com.


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