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Juvenile coho

A new biological opinion for the Klamath Project is due in 2020 due to inaccuracies related to data regarding coho salmon fry and the effects and/or critical habitat to the fish.

Agriculture producers in the Klamath Project may start the 2020 primary irrigation season with a new biological opinion that informs and governs water management according to environmental requirements under the Endangered Species Act.

That’s because a consultant hired to assist Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office and federal wildlife agencies provided “erroneous” data that informed the most recent 2018 biological opinions, according to a news release.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and federal wildlife agencies announced Friday they have started the process of the Endangered Species Act consultation for a new biological opinion for the Klamath Reclamation Project. The agencies plan to complete the biological opinion by March 31, 2020, in time for the beginning of the irrigation season that starts tentatively on or around April 1, 2020.

Coho data

In letters from Reclamation to National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service obtained by the H&N, Jeff Nettleton, who manages Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office, asked to begin the re-initiation process on Wednesday, Nov. 13. Nettleton stated there are inaccuracies related to data regarding coho salmon fry and the effects and/or critical habitat to the fish.

“No one is happy this is necessary,” said Paul Simmons, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, in a KWUA news release. “But it is what the agencies should do under the circumstances, and we support them getting the word out and moving forward.”

Under the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies, including Reclamation, must ensure that their actions do not jeopardize the continued existence of threatened and endangered species.

Action agencies obtain the opinions of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service as to whether an action will cause jeopardy as well as how to avoid jeopardy. Agencies then determine how to move forward in light of those biological opinions.

“I don’t believe Reclamation can do anything other than pick up and move ahead, and we’ve confirmed that to them already,” Simmons said.

Consultation process

Reclamation has gone through the consultation process several times for biological opinions for endangered Lost River and shortnose sucker in Upper Klamath Lake since the 1990s and threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River, downstream of Iron Gate Dam.

The most recent consultation, which also took into consideration the effects on the killer whale in the Pacific Ocean, was expected to last through 2024. The biological opinions produced from that effort was expedited at the time by President Donald Trump in the signing of an executive memo in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“We were glad they got it done, but at the same time, it minimized the opportunity to talk about some things we might want to have addressed,” Simmons said, of the 2018 biological opinions.

“There are things that we believe that have gone beyond the duties of the Klamath Project.”

Simmons wants to be able to offer as much input from water users this time around, despite the short timeline. He cited an example wanting to ensure that water users are not the only parties held responsible for mitigating or eliminating fish disease such as C. Shasta in the Klamath River.

“It’s an undesirable situation, but they’re doing what they should,” Simmons said, of federal agencies.

A spokesperson for Bureau of Reclamation was not available for comment as of press time.