'A disaster on our hands'

Water rushes forth from the headgates of the A Canal in Klamath Falls during the 2018 water year.

Bureau of Reclamation this week released the finalized portion of the Klamath Project Biological Assessment, a guiding document totaling hundreds of pages that will help other federal agencies to write the biological opinion for the Klamath Basin hoped to take effect by April 1.

“It’s analyzing, assessing, the impacts of the Klamath Project operation on all these (endangered) species,” said Laura Williams, a spokesperson for the Klamath Basin Area Office of Bureau of Reclamation.

“The services are going to use this Biological Assessment that we did … to create the bi-Op. We gathered as most recent science and statistics, and that’s what this assessment document is.”

The assessment references the threatened Coho salmon in the lower Klamath River, and endangered Lost River and shortnose sucker in Upper Klamath Lake, Williams said, among many others.

Expedited

Creation of the Biological Assessment began in fall 2016 and originally was planned to take several years to complete, Williams said.

“The President wanted it done sooner than that so we did expedited process,” Williams said. “Everybody has been working on this intensely for about two months.”

That includes working weekends and holidays to finish it.

“The court-required flushing flows and all that, those are in effect until the new biological opinion is done,” Williams said. “So that’s why it’s so important to do a thorough job, but as quickly as possible, so that we could get that done before the next water season. It’s as fast as it can be done.

The biological opinion will be a guiding document for impact on Endangered Species Act (ESA)-listed species for the next 10 years.

Project, effects

According to a news release, the Biological Assessment contains: one, a detailed description of the Klamath Project and its operation; two, a description of the specific area that may be affected by the action and the environmental baseline; three, a description of ESA-listed species and critical habitat; four, a description of the effects of the proposed action on ESA-listed species and associated critical habitat.

Reclamation’s proposed action analyzed in the assessment proposes to continue to: store waters of Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath and Lost rivers; operate the project for the delivery of water to meet authorized project purposes and contractual obligations inclusive of deliveries to national wildlife refuges; conduct routine maintenance activities on project facilities; and, implement conservation measures intended to minimize impacts of the proposed action.

The proposed action includes a water supply-based operational strategy and consists of a water management approach for Upper Klamath Lake and the Klamath and Lost rivers that mimic natural hydrologic conditions observed in the Upper Klamath Basin.

Reclamation officials said such an approach attempts to optimize the ecologic benefit of the available water supply, resulting in the ability to maximize the amount of remaining water available for the Klamath Project while seeking to fill Upper Klamath Lake during the fall/winter to increase the volumes available for the Environmental Water Account (including disease mitigation flows), Upper Klamath, and project irrigation supply during the spring/summer operational period.

Possible delays

The Biological Assessment was submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on Dec. 21, with the federal agencies tasked with formulating the biological opinion.

Susan Sawyer, FWS public affairs officer for the Klamath Basin office, said she not authorized to work at this time due to the government shutdown.

Due to the shutdown, in its 13th day today, the turnaround time of the biological opinion could be impacted, according to Williams.

“It’s the goal to have it in effect by then (April 1),” Williams said. “We are hoping it does not but there is potential for a delay.”

Officially known as the Final Biological Assessment on “The Effects of the Proposed Action to Operate the Klamath Project … on the Federally-listed Threatened and Endangered Species,” the document will serve as a guide for federal agencies to formulate the biological opinon that takes effect April 1 through March 31, 2029.

Reclamation officials said the information in the assessment represents the best scientific and commercial data available.

Reclamation officials expressed appreciation for the contributions provided by tribes and key stakeholders during the development of the assessment.

“We’re allowing the public to view it but there’s no comment period,” Williams said, of the assessment.

The 2018 assessment and its appendices are available at www.usbr.gov/mp/kbao. For additional information, contact Williams atljwilliams@usbr.gov or 541-880-2581 (TTY 800-877-8339).