Trinity River Water Could Save Klamath Fish, But California Farmers Need It Too

Jul 22, 2013

Water struggles in the Klamath Basin are spreading to the Trinity River. Managers at the federal Bureau of Reclamation say by releasing extra water from the Trinity into the Klamath River, they may avoid a fish kill.

Salmon fishers, conservation groups and tribes applaud the proposed water release. But California irrigators, who rely on the same water, have threatened legal action. From Jefferson Public Radio, Devan Schwartz reports.

On a good year, salmon nurture the livelihoods and cultures of fishers and tribal members in the Klamath River and the Pacific Ocean, but this year drought conditions threaten the fall salmon runs.

Glen Spain of the Institute for Fisheries Resources says poor river conditions could create disease and overcrowding, causing a major fish kill.

Spain urged the Bureau of Reclamation to release water from the Trinity River, which meets the Klamath 42 miles from the ocean.

Spain: “It helps reduce the population pressure in the lower portion of the river by getting enough fish, with enough water, to the Trinity.”

Spain says the Trinity accounts for 40 percent of salmon spawning in the Klamath River system. But his argument isn’t enough to convince Dan Nelson, who represents Central Valley farmers.

Nelson’s group filed an intent to sue Reclamation because he says this would be the second straight year of Trinity River water being released into the Klamath without consulting Central Valley farmers -- who have equal claim to that water.

“They’re sort of forcing it on us in the 13th hour when we ourselves are in a water supply crisis mode,” says Nelson.

Regina Chichizola of the Hoopa Valley Tribe says the extra water would help but would only be a drop in the bucket.

Chichizola: “Putting enough water down the Klamath to make sure we have a healthy run of fish that can support the tribes and the coastal community is not a priority in the Klamath River right now.”

The Bureau of Reclamation proposes to release the water in August and September during the height of the salmon run, with public comments taken through the end of July.

Copyright 2013 Jefferson Public Radio