The Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) announced last week that it would resume flow increases to the Klamath River after it abruptly stopped them in early May. Dry conditions in 2020 have created dangerously low water levels, endangering juvenile salmon at a time when fish infection rates from C. Shasta parasites spiked at alarming levels, according to a news release.
The Yurok Tribe and commercial fishing groups sought court intervention after the Bureau unilaterally reduced river flows in early May, denying water promised in a plan the Bureau had adopted to resolve a lawsuit brought by the Tribe and fishing groups. However, a federal judge refused to get involved in Reclamation’s flow shutoffs to the Klamath River, preferring all stakeholders to work together to resolve challenging water issues.
“Disease levels were up to 98 percent in May, and we were facing catastrophic losses of salmon,” said Yurok Tribe Vice-Chairman Frankie Myers. “The Bureau’s violation of the commitments it made in the Interim Plan, less than three months ago, represents yet another broken promise to the Yurok Tribe — one that will likely impact our livelihood for years to come.”
“Salmon are the backbone of the economy for many west coast communities, including many in my North Coast district; and we have had several tough years for the Klamath salmon runs,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, whose district includes the Klamath basin area in Northern California. “It’s good to see some of the promised water partially restored and hopefully it will help prevent fisheries disasters.”
Beginning June 11, the Bureau will release flows to help sustain juvenile salmon, but it plans to provide only 16,000 of the 40,000-acre feet promised in the plan developed with the Yurok Tribe, fishing groups and irrigators in March. And nearly a month passed without augmented flows when young salmon were being infected and dying from disease-causing parasites and 1.5 million hatchery fish were released and ready to pass through the infection zone.
“Adequate river flows help protect a several-hundred million dollar per year west coast commercial salmon fishing economy by assuring that valuable salmon runs in the Klamath River survive,” said Glen Spain, Northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. “Keeping water in the Klamath River, especially during May and June, creates jobs and brings millions of dollars to many rural and coastal communities.”
“While we applaud the Bureau for resuming the river flows, we fear that it might be too little, too late,” said Patti Goldman, Earthjustice managing attorney. “The Bureau must do more than keep Klamath River salmon on life support.”