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Trinity water to mean fewer dead fish?

Published August 24, 2004

If nothing else, the increased flow of Trinity River water into the Klamath River that began last weekend should tell people something. We hope it demonstrates more clearly the relationship between the temperature of water hitting the lower end of the Klamath, and fish mortality.

Two years ago, 34,000 or more fish died in the lower Klamath from a disease that's always present in the water, but runs wild under certain conditions. Included in those conditions may well be high water temperatures, low river flow and the number of fish returning.

The contention in 2002 was that more water should be taken from the Klamath Reclamation Project in the Upper Klamath Basin and sent down river. But it couldn't be shown that high-temperature water from this area would have helped the fish. What was far more certain was that farms in the Upper Klamath Basin would have been deprived of irrigation water.

The Trinity River flows into the Klamath River 43.5 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Unlike the Klamath River's warm water, the Trinity's is cold, which should be more valuable to salmon - even critically so. In 2002, most of the fish deaths were below the confluence of the Trinity and the Klamath.

Last year, more water was sent down the Trinity River and there was no fish die-off. We hope the same result comes this year, but even if so, it's too early to declare colder water is the cure-all. Other conditions may differ from 2002. One of the factors that led to the 2002 die-off, for example, was a heavy return of salmon. There was also speculation that changes in the river's channel from storms some years ago made it harder for the salmon to migrate upriver, which forced fish to congregate and become more susceptible to disease.

In short, there are likely to be a number of factors involved when fish die in large numbers. The reason the amount of water in the river gets the attention is because it's one that agencies can control.

We don't expect a definitive answer this year on the role that water temperature plays in fish die-offs. We hope, however, that if there continue to be fewer fish dying in years that colder water makes it downstream, people begin to realize that not all water is created the same.

The "H&N view" represents the opinion of the newspaper's editorial board.


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