Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Dead adult salmon showing up in the Klamath

One would not know it from media reports, but those who live, work or recreate along the Klamath and Scott Rivers are reporting that “floaters” - which are dead juvenile salmon and steelhead - are becoming a regular sight along these two rivers. KlamBlog suspects the same is true on the Shasta and other streams with large agricultural diversions. While most irrigation ditches are still running full, these streams are already dry or are running low and hot.

Due mostly to a vast increase in groundwater pumping since 1977 
the Scott River now goes dry even in some non-drought years

Of even more concern is that, in the last day or two, Yurok fishermen have reported to the Yurok Tribe and to neighbors that they've observed a couple of dead adult salmon and numerous dead juvenile salmon in the Lower Klamath River near Blue Creek. Rising in wilderness, Blue Creek forms a major cold water refugia for salmonids and other fish where that cold stream enters the Klamath. If dead adult salmon are turning up there, it may indicate that cold water refugia on which Klamath Salmon rely to stay alive in a lethal river have become less effective. 

Along the Scott River, dead juvenile salmon and steelhead have been regularly seen by swimmers and others since mid-July. KlamBlog editor Felice Pace has personally observed dead juvenile steelhead recently in the Scott River at Jones Beach.

Where's the information?

The Califoirnia Department of Fish and Wildlife, the North Coast Water Board, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Yurok and Karuk Tribes and others collaborate on monitoring fish disease levels and mortality on the Klamath River. CDFW's “season summary” report on 2013 out-migrant salmon monitoring was issued on July 23rd. However, this report is not available on the CDFW website or on any other website as far as KlamBlog can determine. The latest fish health update from the US Fish and Wildlife Service was issued on July 22nd. This too is apparently not available on line.

KlamBlog has obtained a copy of the most recent fish health report. It includes the finding that by late June up to 100% of fish in the reach between the Salmon and Trinity River and 50% of the fish examined in the Klamath Estuary were found to be diseased. The scientists doing this work say this level of disease is not abnormal for the Klamath at this time of year; they're keeping the disease alert level at “yellow” rather than “red” because, they say, widespread fish mortality has not yet been detected.

Weekly prevalence of Ceratomyxa shasta infection in juvenile Fall Chinook salmon 
captured in the Salmon to Trinity River reach on the Klamath River, June-July 2013
The current situation then is that scientists are producing information on the state of fish disease and mortality in the Klamath and its tributaries but those responsible for getting that information out to the public are not doing their jobs. Why is information collected with taxpayer money which the public wants and needs not getting out? Where are the fish health and mortality updates and weekly press releases to inform the public? 

KlamBlog believes it is the responsibility of the California Department of Fish & Wildlife to keep the public informed about disease and fish mortality on the Klamath River. During times of drought, the agency should issue weekly media updates on Klamath and tributary fish and water conditions. CDFW insists that it is the top fish manager in California waters; therefore, they are the ones who should be getting out the information.

The KBRA effect

KlamBlog suspects that the lack of public information on the People's Klamath River and the People's Klamath Salmon is a product of the culture of secrecy which has developed in the Klamath River Basin as a consequence of the KBRA Dam Deal and the KBRA Water Deal. Having bought into low Klamath River flows, those tribe's and fishing organizations which signed the KBRA will face embarrassment and criticism if the public learns that fish are dying for lack of water while federal irrigators continue to get full – or nearly full – deliveries. Many of those who would once have been screaming bloody murder over this are now meekly staying in their seats in the backroom – or, even worse, shilling for the Bureau of Reclamation - as more and more salmon die in the Klamath River.

It is sad that the past defenders of Klamath Salmon have been compromised and co-opted into silence at a time when Klamath Salmon need their help so critically.

Meanwhile on the Trinity

A major controversy is developing over plans by the US Bureau of Reclamation to release additional water from behind Trinity Dam down the Trinity and Lower Klamath in hopes of preventing another massive adult salmon die-off like what occurred in the Lower River in 2002. However, Reclamation plans no complementary increase in Klamath River flows. This has some salmon advocates concerned that Klamath River salmon will be lured upriver by the increased flows only to encounter lethal conditions in the Klamath River above the confluence with the Trinity River. Severely depressed Shasta and Scott River Salmon stocks could be placed at even greater risk if that is what takes place.

Meanwhile, rich and power agricultural interests in the San Joaquin Valley have filed a letter declaring their intent to sue to prevent Reclamation from releasing more water down the Trinity River. They want that water diverted to the Sacramento River instead so that it will come to them as irrigation water. Ironically, while blocking the increased flow would hurt Trinity River origin salmon, it may be better for Klamath, Salmon, Scott and Shasta River Salmon. That is because – if flows remain low – the large run of salmon will remain longer in the nearby ocean and Klamath estuary until flows naturally increase with the coming of fall. Naturally higher flows and lower temperature in the fall would mean less chance of adult salmon mortality. 

Huge pumps suck Trinity and Sacramento River water from the  
Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and send it south to San Joaquin growers

Of course a better solution would be for Reclamation to allow more water to flow down BOTH the Trinity and Klamath Rivers. As the holder of high priority water rights, the federal government could - and should - make that decision. Any irrigation deficit within the Klamath Project can be made up by pumping more groundwater. Federal and state taxpayers have already provided these irrigators with plenty of wells and pumps.   

Allowing the Salmon to delay their spawning run, however, would inconvenience tribal commercial fishing interests and in-river sports fishermen and guides who count on catching these fish in Klamath and Trinity Rivers beginning now.


Felice Pace said...

Here's a report of dead adult and juvenile fish near Orleans which has been reported to CDFW:
"We have seen a total of 4 dead adult fish and at least 5-6 juvies at the mouth of Pearch Creek in Orleans over the past week."

The response from CDFW was:
"We (KFHAT) are all out surveying various portions of the river as part of our “regular” duties and keeping each other informed. Should we start seeing elevated numbers of dead fish (50 or more dead adults in a 20 km stretch of river in 24 hrs), then we will up our schedule of surveys."

Why is CDFW reporting these fish mortalities to the press and citizens? And why is the agency not alerting the public to be on the lookout for and to report dead fish?

Ian said...