GRANTS PASS, Ore.
-- A new plan for balancing scarce water
in the Klamath Basin between fish and
farms won't harm salmon or other fish
protected by the Endangered Species Act,
federal scientists said Monday.
NOAA Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service issued what is called a
biological opinion for operations on the
Klamath Project, a federal irrigation
project straddling the Oregon-California
border. It covers the effects of the
irrigation project's operations on
shortnosed suckers and Lost River
suckers in Upper Klamath Lake and other
reservoirs, as well as coho salmon,
green sturgeon and eulachon in the
The evaluation represents a
"landmark" level of coordination between
the federal agencies, as well as
integration of the needs of the
different fish species, with an eye
toward trying to keep the irrigation
project supplied with water, said Laurie
Sada, field supervisor for the Klamath
office of Fish and Wildlife.
Water levels in lakes for suckers and
releases down the Klamath River for
salmon are tied to natural events, such
as rain and snowmelt. That allows for
storing more water in the winter, and
provides that winter flows will not be
static, said Irma Lagomarsino,
supervisor for the NOAA fisheries
northern California office.
general, it's a huge departure from the
past water management system," she said.
"It is one that provides more certainty
in terms of water for the (farmers). It
provides a block of water for the river.
And it provides lake levels to help
protect endangered suckers."
The Bureau of Reclamation said this
new plan gives them far more flexibility
than they had in 2001, when they had to
shut off irrigation to farms to maintain
water for fish.
"In the past, volume and distribution
of water for coho salmon, the Klamath
Project and suckers were not
coordinated," said Jason Phillips,
Klamath Area manager for the Bureau of
Reclamation. "We factored into our
analysis when the coho are needing water
and when farmers are likely to take
water and when suckers need habitat."
Phillips said low snowpack in the
mountains and little rain this spring
left them with less water than in 2010,
when they had to start irrigation late
due to lack of water. But the new plan,
implemented before it gained formal
approval, allowed them to start water
deliveries on time in the spring.
Irrigators said they were unhappy
there was not enough water this year but
happy the new plan is in place to deal
with the shortage.
"It gives us an ability, in the
future, to manage a block of water and
know what our supply is at the beginning
of a season," Greg Addington, director
of the Klamath Water Users Association,
which represents project farmers, said
in an email. "Up until now, we have
never had that luxury. We like the
coordinated approach, which is unique."
The Hoopa Valley Tribe is not
satisfied. Spokeswoman Regina Chichizola
said the agencies failed to use the best
available science, and the plan gives
more water to farmers at the expense of