Reduced flow at Klamath River results in fish die-off

A fish killed due to reduced flow in the Klamath River by the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office is pictured below the Keno Dam on Monday, April 30, and one of between 500 and 1,000 discovered by a Southern Oregon fishing guide.

Reduced flows to the Klamath River have resulted in a die-off of between 500 to 1,000 fish, crustaceans, and invertebrates below the Keno Dam.

The reduced flows to the Klamath River were issued to charge the A canal in preparation for water delivery to Basin irrigators, according to the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office.

A Southern Oregon fishing guide who hiked in to the Keno section of the Klamath River last week discovered pools of dead fish. The guide is concerned the die-off could also impact the diet of the redband trout.

Stuart Warren, based in Phoenix, Ore., found the fish, including, fathead minnows and sculpin — neither endangered — about a mile below the Keno Dam on Monday, April 30. He heard that flows in that stretch of the river were low, and having grown up fly-fishing the Klamath River, he and a friend wanted to see for themselves.

“We walked in and almost instantaneously found these fish stranded,” Warren said. “At that point, we started taking pictures,” Warren added.

“Because these pools were filled, literally filled with sculpin and a catfish and a bullhead minnow as well.”

Warren submitted photographs of the dead species to both Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Basin Area Office.

Laura Williams, BOR public affairs officer, called the event a rare one.

“I’ve never heard of it happening since I’ve been here,” Williams said.

Williams said the reduced flows were issued to prepare canal systems for irrigation as well as to meet Reclamation’s required standards for levels of Upper Klamath Lake under the biological opinion.

“It’s a sad thing when there’s so many competing needs for that water,” Williams said. “We don’t want it to happen.”

Warren, a lifelong fisherman and a guide for steelhead and trout, is concerned that the fish and invertebrates killed could affect the diet of the redbands.

“You can’t mess with the ecosystem that much and not expect for there not to be some negative impact on the species within there,” Warren said.

“When you lower the water that low, in a stream that’s already higher than it should be with higher sediment loads than it should be, it puts a lot of stress on those fish,” Warren added.

“And then on top of that, you start reducing the amount of food that’s in the river. You start chipping away at that as well, and you’re going to see some fish that don’t make it.”

Warren, who has fly-fished the area since his youth, agreed about the outcome.

“It’s sad in the fact that we as fishing guides or fishermen — you have a connection to the fish you’re chasing after,” Warren said.“It’s something that really helps me connect myself to this place — to the rivers, and the fish. And to see those fish in there …” he added.

“This is an important part of our culture in Southern Oregon and we need to look after it.”

Warren hopes more can be done to ensure that a fish die-off doesn’t occur again in the Klamath River.

Warren said his ultimate motivation for reporting the incident is not to point fingers, but to spread awareness of competing demands for water in the Basin.

A fourth-generation Southern Oregonian with roots in Ashland’s Greensprings, Warren said Reclamation has a hard job managing water flows for different regions of the river.

Warren, who also happens to be in his second year as city councilor of Phoenix, hopes the conversations continue, and even that they may lead to new legislation to protect the Klamath River’s fisheries.

“My motivation now is to try to establish the desire to create some sort of legislation for a law that prevents this from happening in the future,” Warren said.