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Klamath water report questioned by many

 August 6, 2004

SISKIYOU COUNTY - A state report released Friday cites a Klamath River flow study that was thrown out by a federal judge and dismissed by the National Academy of Sciences last year.

An independent fisheries biologist and farmers are questioning the inclusion of the flow study.

The report, issued by the California Department of Fish and Game, concludes that river flows are "the only factor and tool available in the Klamath Basin" to prevent the combination of conditions that led to the deaths of an estimated 34,000 salmon in the lower Klamath River in September 2002.

The 183-page DFG report compares the river flows in 2002 to those recommended by Dr. Thomas Hardy in a study released in draft form in 2001. In fact, the draft Hardy Phase II Flow study is cited numerous times.


That study was tossed out by federal Judge Saundra Armstrong in a lawsuit brought against the Bureau of Reclamation as a result of the fish die off. Armstrong agreed with defense attorneys that the Hardy report could not be considered evidence since it was clearly a draft report.

Armstrong also cited testimony offered by fisheries biologist Dave Vogel that the report was seriously flawed in several ways, including grouping Chinook and coho salmon habitats together, river surveys that broke from established scientific protocol by choosing points for their ease of access, and choosing a span of time - 1905 through 1915 - that records show the upper Basin experienced abnormally high precipitation and the Lost River slough had been diked by farmers in an attempt to keep Tule Lake from flooding the town of Malin.

For those reasons and others, the National Review Council, called by the National Academy of Sciences in 2002 to assess the science behind the cutback of water to the Klamath Project in 2001, dismissed the Hardy report as unsubstantiated.

Vogel, who spent 14 years with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before opening a private firm in Red Bluff 13 years ago, said the use of the Hardy study by DFG was "surprising."

"They are getting their flows from Hardy. Right up front that shows problems with their report," Vogel said. "It is clear this report is a conclusion-driven document."

"I don't think we relied on Hardy," said Steve Turek, a senior environmental scientist in DFG's regional headquarters in Redding. "We used information in it, but the reason we used it is right now it is the best information we have at this point."

Vogel's problems with DFG's report don't end with the reliance on Hardy.

Vogel, who happened to be conducting his own temperature study in the river below Iron Gate Dam when the fish began dying, found that DFG's preliminary report on the fish die-off misread the Terwer temperature gauge at river mile six by four days.

That led DFG to conclude that water temperature was not a factor in the fish die off yet, when correctly read, Terwer showed a rise in temperature in the river less than 24 hours before fish began dying.

In DFG's final report, Vogel notes they "avoid" that problem by ignoring the Terwer gauge.

"They are highly selective in what information they use," Vogel said. "They use gauges above and below Terwer, distorting the analysis and then without supporting data they move from speculation to conclusion."

Because the Klamath River is typically warm in September the DFG report states that, although water temperature was "stressful" for salmon, it also could be eased by increasing the flows over Iron Gate Dam.

Yet the report says that the flows would have to be higher than 1,900 cfs to have any significant effect on water temperatures.

In fact, Turek said the flows needed to be higher than that.

"Flows should not drop below 2,200 cfs," Turek said. "Of course, that could be a combination of Trinity and Klamath water."

Dan Keppen, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association said he hoped the release of the report wouldn't damage ongoing work to find solutions in the Basin.

"We remain hopeful we can address these issues on a watershed-wide basis," Keppen said. "We need to find out if the field biologists are on the same page with Sacramento."




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