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Algae on the Trinity River, July 2014. Photo: Klamath Justice Coalition.
Algae on the Trinity River, July 2014. Photo: Klamath Justice Coalition.
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Fish before agribusiness! California river tribes demand water

Oliver Tickell

22nd August 2014

Large scale salmon deaths are imminent on the Klamath River and its tributaries in northern California due to low flows and high temperatures. Native American tribes are protesting in the state capital as federal agencies illegally prioritize water for large scale agribusiness over fish and indigenous people.

These fish are diseased and dying. Once the disease starts to spread, it can't be stopped and we will have a fish kill on our hands, courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

Hundreds of Tribal members and supporters from the Trinity and Klamath Rivers are protesting this week at the Bureau of Reclamation in Sacramento this week to demand increased water flows to prevent a mass killing of wild Chinook salmon.

'Preventative flows' are desperately needed from Lewiston Dam into the Trinity River, the largest tributary of the Klamath River, they said.

Campaigners also asked that more water be let out of Iron Gate Dam on the Klamath - and denounced Reclamation's recent decision to withhold emergency releases until large numbers of adult salmon die.

They say that emergency flow releases from Lewiston Dam would take four days to reach the struggling Klamath River salmon - leaving few if any survivors.

Large scale fish kill is now 'likely'

Fisheries biologists agree that by the time the emergency flows are triggered and the water has traveled from the dam, it would be too late to prevent a large-scale fish die-off.

"Klamath River flows are lower than they were during the 2002 fish kill", says Nat Pennington, Fisheries Biologist for the Salmon River Restoration Council.

"River temperatures are consistently higher than the acute stress level for Chinook salmon at 72 degrees Fahrenheit. If this trend continues, a large-scale fish kill is likely and the Klamath could loose the entire run."

And tribal members say Reclamation is ignoring the beginning stages of a disaster. "Fish are pooled up at cold water tributaries because the water in the river is so warm and polluted", said Hoopa Valley Tribal member, Kayla Brown.

"These fish are diseased and dying. Once the disease starts to spread, it can't be stopped and we will have a fish kill on our hands, courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation."

According to the Klamath Fish Health Assessment Team, much of the Klamath River and its tributaries are on an 'orange' alert level, signifying high temperatures, a critically dry water year designation, and increased fish mortality. "A die-off is imminent and management levels in agencies need to be alerted."

Wild salmon before agribusiness irrigation!

The protestors said they support Klamath River fisheries biologists' assertion that a minimum of 2,500 cubic feet per second be maintained near the mouth of the Klamath River. This can be achieved if the Bureau of Reclamation approves preventative releases from the Lewiston Dam reservoir.

When the dams and diversion tunnels were built on the Trinity, laws were set up to protect the river and fish, before exporting water to the Central Valley. These laws established that fish, and the tribes that depend on them, are the top priority for the Trinity River flows.

But currently, five times more water is diverted to the Sacramento Basin for Central Valley irrigators than is released into the Trinity River. Even at this critical time, the Bureau of Reclamation appears set to ignore the law in order to favour California's powerful agribusiness interests.

We will not give up our fight for the salmon

Karuk tribal member Molli White said: "Reclamation says they need the water for Sacramento River salmon, but our rivers are actually being exported to meet the demands of corporate agriculture like the Westland's Water district."

California's almond growers are projecting an 8% increase in harvests, he added, while the rest of California experiences a devastating drought year.

"We need these releases now more then ever", said Frankie Myers of the Yurok Tribe Watershed Restoration Program,

"The Klamath fish kill of 2002 was devastating for our tribal communities and to the West Coast Fisheries. Previously, Tribes, fisheries scientists, and the Department of the Interior have worked together to avert fish kills by releasing preventative flows during drought years."

Klamath Justice Coalition members have made it clear that Tribal people and traditional fishermen will not give up until Reclamation releases water.

"Historically, the Klamath River was one of the three most productive salmon rivers in America", according to California's Friends of the River campaign group. "Today dams, diversions, and other basin activities have caused coho and fall Chinook salmon populations to decline to 10% of historic numbers."

 


 

Follow the Klamath Justice Coalition on twitter at #releasethewater #savethesalmon #stopafishkill #neveragain

Information about current river conditions and fisheries health.

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