Klamath River Dam Releases for Fish Health Begin Shortly After Court Order

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation ramped up flows on the lower Klamath River on Friday morning in an attempt to reduce the risk of threatened fish from contracting a deadly parasite as had occurred in years past.

The US Bureau of Reclamation began ramping up flows on the lower Klamath River on Friday after a Wednesday federal court order mandated the agency to create a new flow plan to prevent parasitic infections of Coho salmon. (NOAA)

The move came just over a day after a federal judge found that the bureau’s past dam operations had caused harm to threatened juvenile Coho salmon in 2014 and 2015. The judge ordered the agency to draft a new flow plan in collaboration with local Native American tribes to reduce impacts this year.

But due to recent storms increasing natural flows of the river, Yurok Tribe Counsel Daniel Cordalis stated Friday evening that the bureau has decided not to increase flows past 6,000 cubic-feet per second because of “flooding concerns.”

Cordalis said the bureau’s actions demonstrate its willingness to comply with the court order.

“The strength of the court’s order is the collaborative process — the ability to make real-time decisions to benefit the fish, but without causing safety concerns,” Cordalis said. “We feel like the big flows are doing some good for the fish, and we hope we can get more later this winter.”

Yurok Tribe Fisheries Program Director Dave Hillemeier said that the current dam releases will be enough to flush away parasites on the surface, but not enough to achieve deeper flushes. While this would not technically fulfill part of the court order, Yurok tribal officials said there will be other opportunities for these deep flushing flows — those above 11,250 cubic-feet per second — in the coming months.

In coordination with tribal scientists and the National Marine Fisheries Service, the bureau plans to ramp up flows through Feb. 13 in order to flush out an intestinal parasite known as Ceratanova shasta.

“Reclamation recognizes that every acre-foot of water in the Klamath River Basin is extremely valuable and of limited supply, and we are making every effort to optimize the water released for fish health purposes to reduce disease among Klamath River salmonid species while balancing other demands,” Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Manager Jeff Nettleton said in a statement Thursday.

On the Klamath River, up to 90 percent of juvenile Coho salmon, which are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, were infected by the parasite in 2014 and 2015. Under a 2013 National Marine Fisheries Services biological opinion, up to 49 percent of surveyed juvenile salmon on the Klamath River can be infected by the intestinal parasite as a result of the Bureau of Reclamation’s dam operations.

Should the infection rates climb above 49 percent, the Bureau of Reclamation is obligated to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service to discuss possible changes of operations.

After the National Marine Fisheries Service recommended in early 2016 that the bureau make no changes to its operations due to high infection rates being “expected” during dry years, the Hoopa Valley Tribe sued the two agencies in federal court in July 2016. The Yurok Tribe, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association, the Institute for Fisheries Resources and Klamath Riverkeeper filed a second lawsuit against the agencies in December.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick ordered the bureau and National Marine Fisheries Services to consult with tribal scientists to create a new flow plan for the river to reduce parasitic infections.

This plan, as recommended by the tribal scientists, would include dam releases in winter and spring to flush out the parasites as well as providing emergency flow releases should infection rates of juvenile Coho salmon exceed 30 percent or by other agreed upon thresholds. These emergency flows would be used between April and June 15, according to the order.

Article by: Will Houston
Published: February 11, 2017 by Eureka Times-Standard
Read original here.