Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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"Our abundant and varied (Klamath) fisheries appear to contradict the need for massive aquatic restoration projects"
The Klamath Falls Herald and news published an extensive article on trout fishing in the Upper Klamath Basin in its August 4th Sunday edition. The article presented quite a contrast to the paper’s previous litany of articles regarding threatened and endangered fish species in our watershed.
It seems that every week, we hear and read another recital, of how the foul and polluted waters of Upper Klamath Lake, and its tributaries, are destroying native fish populations. They allege that development created by European man is the cause. A constant outpouring of articles reiterate the critical need to restore the rivers to pre-development conditions as a prerequisite to saving the native fish.
The newspaper’s Sunday article belied those allegations.
One knowledgeable fisherman, who is a lifelong resident of Klamath County, was quoted as saying: “The Upper Basin is one of the premier fishing locations in the entire world, especially the country, in terms of fish, size of fish, and wildness of fish as opposed to hatchery.” He went on to point out that he believes “the people of the Klamath Basin have a shallow appreciation for just how unique, and how special this is, compared to other places in the country.” The fisherman appears to concentrate his activities on the Williamson, Sprague and Wood rivers, each a tributary to Upper Klamath Lake.
Another lifelong fisherman, who said that when he retired he moved to Klamath County to access our fishing opportunities, was quoted as saying: “The Lake is great for bait fishing and trolling. Klamath Lake has some of the biggest trout in the world.” He went on to explain that in the Klamath Basin, hitting any one of many lakes, rivers and streams can easily land a fish more than two feet long. He pointed out that in many other parts of the nation, people pay as much as three to four hundred dollars a day, to fish for trout “half that size”.
Trout, perch, bass, crappie and other fish species thrive in our waters because the waters are rich in nutrients. Each species appears to have acclimated to the eutrophic water conditions. Each species is able to sustain a thriving population by seeking seasonal refuge in appropriate water.
The native Red Band Trout is unique to the Upper Klamath Basin. Fishermen travel from all over the world, for the opportunity to hook one of these monster trout.
The species has sustained its abundant reproduction well enough to minimize the need for hatchery production even though it has been heavily fished for decades. Its rate of growth is phenomenal among fish species because it has acclimated to the nutrient-rich waters that have provided its habitat for millennia. The Red Band also seeks seasonal refuge in the cooler deeper portions of the Lake, in the straights and in the rivers tributary to the Lake.
Our abundant and varied fisheries appear to contradict the need for massive aquatic restoration projects. Some of the many questions that beg answers are:
The noted explorer John C. Fremont visited the Upper Klamath Basin with his guide Kit Carson in 1843 and again in 1846. He discussed the eutrophic and often foul smelling waters of Upper Klamath Lake in his journal in some detail on both occasions.
The Applegate brothers explored and developed the Oregon Applegate Trail in 1845. They purposely avoided Upper Klamath Lake, by taking their new wagon road through Bear Valley. Their journals report that they believed the waters of Upper Klamath Lake was so bad that it might be too dangerous for their livestock to drink late in the season.
The topographical exploration party lead by Lieutenants Williamson and Abbott camped on Upper Klamath Lake near the mouth of the Williamson River in 1855. Williamson’s journals report that fish were abundant, but that the waters of the Lake were brackish and bitter to the taste.
There are two points to be made from these multiple journal entries written over a period of a dozen years. First, the waters of Upper Klamath Lake were eutrophic and “polluted” long before European man settled in the Upper Klamath Basin. Second, the Red Band Trout, Short Nosed and Lost River sucker fish also lived and thrived in these eutrophic waters since long before the Basin was developed by European man.
In my opinion, the alleged need to restore the streams and rivers has little to do with fish species. As the Herald and News article states, we already enjoy some of the best fisheries in the world.
On the contrary, the alleged critical need for restoration has much more to do with who will receive the money to do the continued research, and who will be paid to implement the restoration plans. As usual, to determine the purpose of government plans and expenditures we need only follow the money.
Please remember, if we do not stand up for rural Oregon no one will.
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Page Updated: Saturday August 10, 2013 02:46 AM Pacific
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