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.

By Marcia Armstrong, Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors
Fish declines and dam removal

Fish Declines - Defining the Real Problems: There has been a lot of regional press concerning the decision to severely reduce or eliminate commercial fishing along a 700 mile stretch of California and southern Oregon coastline. The action is being taken because, for the second year in a row, the returns of naturally spawned fall Chinook salmon in the Klamath River failed to meet a minimum number set by federal law. The Klamath Chinook mix with other runs up and down the coast, including the Sacramento. What happens in the Klamath affects many coastal communities.
Last year, the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors supported federal relief money for  fishermen impacted by prior harvest limits. We know what impacts loss of access to natural resources can have on the families and communities of those who make their living on the land and water.
Most of the articles I have read spread angry misinformation about the probable causes of the fall Chinook’s decline. Most are targeted by an agenda promoted by environmentalists and tribes to shut down irrigation, to remove dams, and to eliminate logging, mining and people from the Klamath River corridor. Our lifestyles and the way we provide food for our families in Siskiyou County are unfairly villanized as morally inferior, so that it becomes acceptable to assault us over and over through waves of press and agency action. It is all about perception and not fact.
No one seems to mention other factors that are cumulatively affecting fish: (1)  The Pacific Ocean is becoming warmer and is absorbing more carbon dioxide, making the water more acidic. This is dissolving the shells of plankton – a food fish eat. http://ushydro.ucsd.edu/ (2) The Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO,) or El Nino, cyclically affects the upwelling of plankton to the surface. (Chinook have also been affected in the Columbia.) and (3) Hundreds of protected sea lions hammer the Klamath estuary.  
As I have previously mentioned, the research being done by Scott Foott of the CA-NV Fish Health Center, reveals that in 2005, 50% of Chinook juveniles sampled were infected with the parasite C-Shasta and 91% infected with the parasite Parvacapsula. 38% of the fish sampled were dually infected. The infection is generally lethal. The infection rate has been increasing over the sampling period since 1995. These are the same infections that caused the “fish die-off” of adult salmon near the mouth of the Klamath in 2002. 
Foott has indicated that increased flows in May did not appear to affect the rate of infection in juvenile fish. It was actually the increase of water temperature to 18 degrees centigrade, accompanied by a reduction in flows that finally seemed to cause a decrease in infection in juveniles during the month of June. In addition, the National Research Council (NRC) in its final 2003 report on the adult die off found “...no obvious explanation of the fish kill based on unique flow or temperature conditions is possible” and “It is unclear what the effect of specific amounts of additional flow drawn from controllable upstream sources (Trinity and Iron Gate Reservoir) would have been. Flows from the Trinity River could be most effective in lowering temperature.” (p. 8). The adult fish died of disease. They did not die of “low flows.”
Siskiyou County believes that it would be rash to rush into removal of the Klamath River dams. There is no compelling data or studies to demonstrate that dam removal is the best answer to assist in the recovery of fish. There is actually information from PacifiCorp that indicates that water quality would actually be decreased by dam removal. The County is very concerned about the impact that release of potentially chemical-ladened sediment might have on fish.
The removal of dams at the Iron Gate/Copco complex would affect more than 1,600 property owners. This is a fact rarely mentioned in the press. The impacts on whitewater rafting and other businesses must be assessed. Siskiyou County currently receives roughly $750,000 a year in taxes from the hydropower facilities, as well as tax revenues from the properties. The impact of dam removal to the County and local residents would be substantial. All impacts of dam removal should be clearly stated and there should be guarantees that anyone impacted should be made whole. 
Siskiyou County believes that alternatives to dam removal have not received the attention they deserve – fish ladders, trucking and other means of bypassing the dams. Right now, there is insufficient information to know that there is even a race of fish that could enter the temperature-plagued system and migrate up above the dams to successfully spawn. The Karuk have dreams of the return of the spring Chinook run, but it has been 100 years since the river was dammed and this won’t help the commercial fishermen. The environmentalists have a well known agenda to remove all dams. The County feels alternatives to dam removal should be tested on a pilot basis, until it is shown that dam removal and the elimination of low-cost renewable energy sources is the best answer.  
The rush to point fingers at each other over the past 20 years has obviously not achieved recovery of the fish. Our suction dredge mining practices are halted, our Forests no longer are logged, the Klamath irrigators are having their stored irrigation water taken and farming and ranching in the Scott and Shasta is under continuous pressure from so many regulations, it may collapse from the burden. It is time that we took a balanced and truthful look at what is causing fish declines and stop the angry rhetoric and ulterior agendas.       




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

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