Court orders extra water to protect salmon
and News by Gerry O'Brien 2/9/17
A U.S. District
Court judge in San Francisco ordered federal agencies
Wednesday to take steps to protect juvenile Coho salmon
after several years of deadly disease outbreaks in the lower
Coho salmon are listed as threatened species under the
federal Endangered Species Act.
Tribe, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations,
Institute for Fisheries Resources, Klamath Riverkeeper and
the Hoopa Valley Tribe sought a court order to compel the
Bureau of Reclamation to manage river flows to protect
juvenile Coho salmon. The case was heard last week.
“Mismanagement of Klamath River flows below four major dams
led to an outbreak of disease from a parasite called C.
shasta in more than 90 percent of sampled juvenile salmon in
2015 and nearly that many in 2014,” according to a press
release from EarthJustice.org.
“These fish are
central to the cultural identity and survival of tribal
nations along the river, and commercial fishermen rely on
California’s second largest salmon producer for their
Withholding irrigation water
court documents, the defendants claim the proposed flows
will require withholding more than 100,000 acre-feet of
water from the irrigation districts that rely on water for
agriculture in the Klamath Basin.
Water Users and the Klamath Irrigation District, and others
on the project, filed as intervenors on behalf of the
federal agencies in the case.
director for the Klamath Water Users Association, said he
had not seen the order yet, but bemoaned the fact that the
issue was not resolved at the negotiating table.
“It is my
understanding that the federal parties are already
discussing how to implement the judge’s order,” White said
unfortunate is that we are currently looking at an above
average water year and discussing what a limited allocation
to family farmers and ranchers would look like,” White said.
“What a tragic ending to what once was a special and
meaningful story of collaboration and concord.”
for the Bureau’s area office in Klamath Falls said staff is
reviewing the ruling and will comment later this week.
In his 53-page
order, Judge William Orrick found that the Bureau’s
operation of the Klamath Project is causing irreparable harm
to the salmon and the Yurok Tribe and fishing families, and
that the water levels also appear favorable this year for
the mitigation flows needed to reduce that harm.
He found that,
based on the best available science, “Plaintiffs have
demonstrated that flushing flows and emergency dilution
flows would reduce C. shasta rates among Coho salmon. There
is no meaningful dispute among the parties on this point.”
pleas for delay to consider more evidence, stating, “Where
plaintiffs have shown a threat of imminent harm to Coho
salmon, waiting for perfect science is not appropriate.”
The court first
determined that the federal agencies were in violation of
the Endangered Species Act and needed to look at the entire
Klamath River plan again and to recalibrate the in-river
flows needed to prevent C. shasta infestations, the press
according to EarthJustice, then ordered three things:
First, while the agencies re-work their biological
review, the Bureau of Reclamation is to release a pulse
of river water as a “flushing flow” in the winter or
early spring to flush out the worms that harbor C.
Shasta. Such flushing flows, which used to be
commonplace in the Klamath River, have become rare over
the past 16 years, the release said;
- Second, the court
ordered the Bureau to provide “emergency dilution flows”
between April and June 15 to flush out C. shasta spores
only if C. shasta infection rates exceed 30 percent, or
such other rate as agreed by the experts;
- Third, the court
conditioned the flows by requiring the safeguards for
endangered suckers in Upper Klamath Lake will continue
to be met and directed technical experts for the parties
work together and propose the parameters of these
mitigation measures by March 9.
“In no event
shall the proposed mitigation measures interfere with
conditions necessary to protect the endangered sucker fish,”
the judge wrote.
will give the Klamath salmon a fighting chance until we can
get the lower four dams out,” said Thomas O’Rourke Sr.,
chairman of the Yurok Tribe, in a press release.
of juvenile salmon died from this disease in 2014, 2015 and
2016, and this judgment will help us to protect fish stocks
from another serious outbreak,” he said.
kindergartener knows that fish need water,” said Patti
Goldman, a managing attorney for Earthjustice who argued in
court for salmon protections. “The court’s order, especially
in a year with, to date, above-average rainfall, will mean a
real difference in the health of the river and fish.”
decision is a prime example of the swift action needed to
address declining salmon populations,” said Glen Spain of
the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.
“This is the best scientific solution for the Klamath River
that will work for juvenile Coho and in turn will benefit
generations of hardworking fishing families.”
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