Tribes to Feds: Klamath Plan Unacceptable
http://www.times-standard.com/20150805/tribes-to-feds-klamath-plan-unacceptable After a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation representative wrapped up a presentation in Arcata regarding the agency’s long-term plan to protect salmon in the lower Klamath River, a Yurok Tribe member unexpectedly picked up the microphone to voice disappointment of the bureau’s separate plan to protect fish this summer.
“The proposed amount of water that is in your impact statement is not acceptable,” Yurok Tribe member Annelia Hillman said during the bureau’s meeting at the Red Roof Inn conference room on Wednesday afternoon. “We need flows that are preventable for fish disease that guarantee that our fish will live on and that we will live on.”
Hillman was one of the many North Coast tribal members, families and supporters that attended the meeting to protest the bureau’s recently proposed plan to release 32,000 acre-feet of Trinity River dam water to prevent a possible fish kill on the lower Klamath River this summer caused by low-flow conditions. The protest was put on by the Hoopa Valley Tribe which had, with backing from the Yurok Tribe, submitted a recommendation to the bureau in mid-July calling for 64,000 acre-feet of Trinity River water to be released.
However Wednesday’s meeting itself focused on a completely separate plan the bureau is working on that bureau Supervising Natural Resources Specialist Paul Zedonis said would protect lower Klamath River fish “for the long haul.”
The bureau has had to make five fish kill preventative flow releases for lower Klamath River fish since 2003, but each year required its own environmental review as there was no set protocol in place on how such releases would be carried out.
This lack of set procedure has led to many disagreements between tribes, government agencies, biologists and Central Valley water users as to how and whether dam water should be used to protect the fish.
Wednesday’s meeting and the five flow releases are all tied together by an environmentally catastrophic event in September 2002 that left tens of thousands adult Chinook salmon and steelhead trout dead in the lower Klamath. An outbreak of two deadly pathogens had occurred as the fish packed together near cooler tributaries along the river to get out of the warm, low-flowing waters that weaken their immune systems and cease upriver migration. Within two weeks, 35,000 fish had died.
The bureau’s proposed long-term plan currently encompasses and combines several protocols that were put into place during the five years these preventative flow releases were made.
The plan draws most of its policies from 2012 and 2013 when the highest and second-highest fall Chinook salmon runs were predicted, respectively. Under the current proposed plan, the bureau would release preventative flows to increase the flow of the lower Klamath River to a minimum of 2,500 to 2,800 cubic feet per second depending on the estimated fall Chinook salmon run size.
The flow releases would start when either the Yurok Tribe’s fishery in the Klamath River estuary area harvests 7,000 or more Chinook salmon, or on the set date of Aug. 22 should that catch size not be met. The flows would end Sept. 21 unless water temperatures stayed at or above 73 degrees Fahrenheit.
The plan also includes protocol for when a emergency doubling flow should take place as had to occur in 2014 after preventative flows failed to stop the spread of the deadly gill parasite known as “ich.”
The long-term plan is currently undergoing the initial stages of the federal environmental review process, which requires the drafting of an environmental impact statement.
Stillwater Sciences fisheries biologist Joshua Strange said that the estimated year-long process should address some of the deficiencies he sees in the plan, such as basing flow allocations on predicted sizes of fall-run salmon. Strange said this lesson was already learned in 2014 when the actual fall run size had more than 67,000 more fish than projected, and the unprecedented emergency flow release had to be made.
“We can’t push the preventative flows down to the bare minimum when there is a projected small run because, in fact, the run was twice as big as what was predicted,” he said.
Strange said that the minimum standard flow to protect fish from disease should be 2,800 cubic feet per second – the same that the Hoopa Valley and Yurok tribes are seeking to protect this year’s salmon run.
Along with fish health, the plan’s environmental impact statement will address several other factors such as maintaining reservoir supply in the midst of an ongoing four-year drought, Humboldt County’s promised annual 50,000 acre-feet of Trinity River water, Central Valley contractors, impacts to power generation and tribal interests.
While oral public comment wasn’t being taken at the meeting, several tribal members took it upon themselves to take up the microphone and voice how impacts to the river are also impacts to tribal culture.
“It’s not just water to us. It’s not ‘Oh, I like to eat fish for dinner,’” Hoopa Tribal member Sara Chase said to the meeting attendees. “It’s part of our soul. It’s part of our blood. It goes back thousands and thousands of years before time was even recorded.
“It’s part of who were are,” she continued. “And when you say, ‘Oh, we can’t give you enough water so you can be who you are,’ then that is the most disrespectful thing that I can think of.”
After the tribal members were done speaking, bureau Deputy Public Affairs Officer Louis Moore thanked them for voicing their views and asked them to submit their comments.
The bureau plans to release a draft environmental impact statement by early 2016, with a public comment period beginning in spring 2016, according to Zedonis.
Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.