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River flows will be cut


Published May 11, 2004


Dwindling streamflows in the Klamath Basin will force the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to curtail flows in the Klamath River this summer, agency officials said.

A downward revision of the streamflow forecast for this spring and summer shifted the water year designation for the Klamath River from "below-average" to "dry," officials said.

The result will be sharply lower flows in the stretch of the river below Iron Gate Dam in Siskiyou County.

"This is reality. It isn't a pleasant reality, but it is reality though," said Dave Sabo, manager of the Bureau's Klamath Reclamation Project.

A spokesman for a commercial fishing organization said the move could set up conditions like those that occurred in 2002 when thousands of salmon died in the lower Klamath River.

Under an operations plan adopted by the Bureau last month, a switch from "below average" to "dry" would prompt a reduction in flows at Iron Gate from the current 1,021 cubic feet per second to 676 cfs.

But the scale of the reduction will be subject to negotiation between the federal government and Indian tribes in the lower Klamath Basin, which hold treaty fishing rights.

Irma Lagomarsino, supervisor of the National Marine Fisheries Service field office in Arcata, Calif., said officials from her office and the Bureau of Reclamation planned to meet with representatives of the Hoopa Valley, Yurok and Karuk tribes.

"We are in another difficult situation with inflow not being what it was supposed to be," she said.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service last month estimated spring and summer inflow to Upper Klamath Lake at 366,000 acre-feet, squarely in the middle of the Bureau of Reclamation's range for a "below-average" water year designation.

But last week the agency issued a revised estimate of 284,600 acre-feet, slightly below the Bureau of Reclamation's upper range for a "dry" year.

Cool and wet weather that moved into the region this week won't likely change the forecast, Bureau officials said.

The Bureau's plan to reduce flows could jeopardize salmon, said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.

"We are moving into the same kind of situation that led to the fish kill in 2002," he said. "We will have to watch it very closely and hope for the best."

In fall 2002, about 34,000 salmon, mostly chinook, died on the lower Klamath River.

Spain said there is too much demand for too little water in the Basin, and that there needs to be a reduction of the Project to balance things out.

The change in water year types will also be a cause of concern for Project irrigators, Sabo said.

"Anytime that you tell people that it looks good, and then you have to change your tune and say it doesn't look good, they are going to be concerned," he said.

Conservation is going to be important to get through this year, he added.

The Bureau of Reclamation uses a separate water year designation for Upper Klamath Lake, but the lake's "below-average" designation won't change because the agency is experimenting with a different management strategy this year.

The strategy tailors lake level requirements to changing inflow conditions, and was developed after a more rigid structure nearly caused a temporary shutdown of the Klamath Project last year.

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