Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.


Water quality, supply key to Klamath solutions

By TAM MOORE Oregon Staff Writer


William Lewis, chairman of a National Research Council committee that found gaps in the scientific foundation of Klamath Basin irrigation water management, fears Upper Klamath Lake water quality can’t be fixed.

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — The Lost River and shortnosed suckers are tough, long-lived fish native to the Upper Klamath Basin. They’ve been on hard times at least since the 1980s.

Sacred to American Indian tribes, once so numerous they supported a commercial “mullet” fishery, the two sucker fish ended up on the Endangered Species List in 1988. Last week after four days of talk about suckers, it appears the ancient fish are far from recovery even as some debate how to measure sucker recovery.

In 2004, sucker numbers remain below historic levels. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service defends itself against a lawsuit seeking to delist suckers, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation anticipates difficulties holding its largest reservoir — Upper Klamath Lake — at levels required in a 2002 USFWS biological opinion that’s supposed to cover 10 years of operations.

Participants in last week’s Upper Klamath Basin Science Workshop heard that suckers are key to the operation of the BuRec Klamath Project serving 1,400 farms and ranches. They also heard an expert in chemical behavior of lakes declare that poor water quality is key to sucker survival, and there may not be a short-term way to improve that water quality.

“By changing the land use (around the lake) we may have created a change in the water that is causing us problems. If that is so, it will be very hard to change,” said William Lewis, the University of Colorado limnologist who was chairman of the National Research Council team that spent nearly two years reviewing science behind the 2001 sucker biological opinion that in a drought year was part of the reason for a much-publicized cutoff of water to 1,100 Klamath Project farms.

Lewis repeated committee suggestions for research needs in the upper basin as part of a keynote speech early in the conference. He suggested that because it may be so difficult to alter land use around the 90,000-acre Upper Klamath Lake if saving suckers remains a national priority, USFWS should look to boosting fish populations in other parts of the basin where conditions are more favorable.

The poor water quality can be directly connected with emergence of bluegreen algae as dominant aquatic vegetation 30 or 40 years ago, Lewis said. Algae blooms, apparently fueled by warm summers and liquid phosphorus brought into Upper Klamath Lake by tributary streams, takes oxygen from the water. That creates temporary lethal conditions for adult sucker fish living in the lake.

Lewis also counseled agency managers to tread easy on wetland restoration projects around the lake until they know how those actions impact water quality. Tens of thousands of acres of former wetlands around the lake were reclaimed for farming and livestock pasture, most of the work accomplished between 1920 and 1960.

BuRec Area Manager Dave Sabo, a biologist by training, said it’s clear that manipulation of Klamath irrigation project deliveries “won’t improve the water quality or recover the sucker fish.” In an interview, he said BuRec intends to hold talks with USFWS to modify mandated lake levels, but despite controversy stirred up by the NRC report, neither agency wants to scrap the concept.

BuRec, under court order, is renegotiating the Klamath Project’s other biological opinion. It sets minimum downstream water releases in the main Klamath River to provide habitat for coho salmon, also under Endangered Species Act protection.

“We’re well along on that,” Sabo said last week.

Chip Dale, who manages fresh water fisheries for Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said he supports getting more water into Upper Klamath Lake, but not until the algae question is resolved.

“Getting more water, if it is of poor quality, may not help the fish,” said Dale.

Tam Moore is based in Medford, Ore. His e-mail address is cappress@charter.net.

NOTE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, any copyrighted
material  herein is distributed without profit or payment to those who have
expressed  a  prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit
research and  educational purposes only. For more information go to:





Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

Copyright © klamathbasincrisis.org, 2004, All Rights Reserved