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Fish listing affects (Klamath) Basin irrigators

by Elon Glucklich, Herald and News 6/16/11

The listing of fish species like the Lost River and shortnose suckers under the Endangered Act puts Klamath Basin irrigators at the mercy of federal regulators in years of water shortages, water advocates say.

The Endangered Species Act requirements for coho salmon in the Klamath River, and for suckers in Upper Klamath Lake, create a catch-22 situation for irrigators who depend on lake water, according to Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association.

Coho salmon were listed as an endangered species in the mid-1990s, due in part to a large-scale reduction in their populations on the Klamath River.

Demands on water

That listing led to a National Marine Fisheries Service biological opinion mandating river flows sometimes high enough to lower water levels in Upper Klamath Lake.

But protections for sucker in Upper Klamath Lake call for maintaining higher lake levels.

As a result, irrigators “get caught in the middle — the ESA really trumps everything,” Addington said.

It’s not as big a problem in years when there appears be plenty of water, he said, adding the impact of river and lake level modifications in years where resources are scarce can ruin an entire growing season for area farmers.

“That’s the storm that hit in 2001, and partly again last year,” Addington said.


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