News & Stories

  • California drought has wild salmon competing with almonds for water.

    August 21, 2014

    By Alastair Bland, NPR

    The ongoing California drought has pitted wild salmon against farmers in a fight for water. While growers of almonds, one of the state's biggest and most lucrative crops, enjoy booming production and skyrocketing sales to China, the fish, it seems, might be left high and dry this summer—and maybe even dead.

    Thousands of adult king, or Chinook, salmon are now struggling to survive in the Klamath River of northern California, where waters are running dangerously low and warm due to diversion of river flows into the Central Valley, an intensely farmed agricultural area. If more water isn't let into the Klamath River within the coming days, the salmon, which are migrating upstream toward their spawning grounds, could succumb to a disease called gill rot.

    The disease, which played a role in the 2002 Klamath die-off of tens of thousands of Chinook, flourishes in warm water and is already creeping through the salmon population. Frankie Myers, a member of the Yurok tribe, a Native American group that lives in the Klamath River basin, tells NPR about 1,000 salmon have already died this summer in a 100-mile stretch of river. Now, the remaining fish, which cannot survive in water much warmer than 70 degrees, are clustering in dense schools around the mouths of cold tributary streams, seeking relief from the sun-warmed river.

    Members of local tribes have pleaded with government officials to step in and help by releasing cold water from the federally managed Trinity Lake, a reservoir upstream of the salmon. This would chill the river, stop the disease in its tracks and allow the salmon to continue their spawning migration.

    Topics: drought

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  • Tribal members, Klamath River advocates address Interior Department head on fish-kill preventative releases

    August 12, 2014

     By Will Houston, Times-Standard Local News

    A coalition of local tribal members and Klamath River advocates gathered in Redding on Tuesday during a press conference on California's widespread wildfires to confront Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell about the recent decision to cease pre-emptive releases to prevent fish kills on two North Coast rivers.

    After taking questions concerning the multiple wildfires in the northwest, Jewell met with members of the Hoopa Valley Tribe and the Klamath Justice Coalition.

    "Right now, we're all united to save the water for our fish," Hoopa Valley Tribe Chairwoman Danielle Vigil-Masten said. "We put all of our differences aside to fight for our water rights."

    The U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Reclamation announced July 31 that it would not be making pre-emptive water releases from Trinity Lake into the Klamath River and its tributary, the Trinity River, to prevent fish kills brought about by low flows and warm water temperatures. The water will instead go to the Sacramento River and its tributaries, where the bureau said it would protect federally endangered salmon from gill rot disease and other deadly conditions. The chinook salmon populations in the Trinity and Klamath are only designated as a species of concern. Emergency water releases will be performed should population monitoring find signs of poor fish health, such as gill rot disease or dead fish.

    During the brief meeting, Jewell assured the tribal members and river advocates that the water and fish are being monitored, and that emergency releases will take place if conditions get to an unhealthy level.

    "There is an opportunity to do emergency releases, if we see the temperature rise," Jewell said to the group at the press conference. "We'll make sure that people come out and there is an opportunity to see it. We are dealing with profound drought all over. We're dealing with it in the Klamath. So, I'll follow up. Also, I want you guys to understand the biggest issue is the lack of water."

    Topics: drought

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  • Ten Mile River getting reef-to-ridge makeover to save salmon

    August 9, 2014

    By Peter Fimrite, San Francisco Gate

    The deep-blue Ten Mile River snakes down from the mountains through redwood forests and coastal wetlands near Fort Bragg before it flows past rolling sand dunes into the sea.

    The little-known waterway along the rugged Mendocino County coast looks, from the air, like an untamed remnant of the nearby Lost Coast, but it is far from pristine.

    The river and fishery are reeling from decades of logging, farming, myriad diversions, pollution and other indignities inflicted by humankind. It is why conservationists led by the Nature Conservancy are working with a half dozen local ranchers on a model program to restore the river's wetland habitat and bring endangered coho salmon back from the precipice.

    It is the first time anyone in California has ever tried to rebuild historic floodplains and habitat from the mouth of a river all the way to the headwaters.

    "What we are doing is undoing a 100-year legacy of forestry damage," said Jason Pelletier, director of the Nature Conservancy's North and Central Coast regions, as he stood next to the river where it winds over flatlands before emptying out at the fog-shrouded beach at MacKerricher State Park. "This is a reef-to-ridgetop conservation opportunity. We have this entire watershed to restore. That just doesn't happen anywhere."

    The group, through a series of conservation easements, plans to restore 8 miles of river and streamside habitat. The work, which is expected to begin this fall, will involve the reconstruction of the historic river plain where fish once thrived.

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  • Protected fish force early water shutoffs/Hydrology is worst in the last 20 years

    August 7, 2014

    By Lacy Jarrel, Hearld and News

    Environmental requirements for protected fish are forcing early water shutoffs for some Klamath Project irrigators.

    According to a Bureau of Reclamation letter sent to Klamath Project water managers last week, Upper Klamath Lake inflows were over forecast earlier this year by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and water deliveries to Warren Act contractors are being curtailed as a result.

    According to the Bureau of Reclamation 2014 Drought Plan, Warren Act, or “B,” contractors receive water secondary to Klamath Project contractors who have “A” rights. Deliveries to Warren Act contractors can be curtailed when water supplies cannot meet the demands of “A” irrigators.

    Malin Irrigation District irrigator Ed Stastny said some irrigators may have access to groundwater, but many others don’t have wells.

    “This is going to hurt a lot of families and will certainly hurt the community,” he said.

    The BOR letter notes that if full Klamath Project water deliveries continue, the surface level of Upper Klamath Lake will fall below the minimum elevation required by the 2013 joint biological opinion to maintain aquatic habitat for fish.

    Topics: drought

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  • Diseased fish found in Klamath River

    August 5, 2014

     By Lacey Jarrell, Herald and News

    More than three-quarters of juvenile chinook salmon recently surveyed in the Klamath River are diseased, according to a report by the California-Nevada Fish Health Center.

    The center has examined juvenile salmon from four reaches of the Klamath River since March. According to the report, the parasite Ceratomyxa shasta has been detected in 76.5 percent of the fish tested. Parvicapsula minibicornis has been detected in 87 percent of the fish.

    According to report data, in 2013 C. shasta was found in fish during six out of the 12 weeks the river was surveyed. In 2014, the parasite was found in all 12 weeks. The parasite spiked in late June, increasing from a less than 20 percent presence one week to a roughly 95 percent presence the next. Last year during that time, surveys indicated the parasite was present in only 5 percent of the fish.

    Nick Hetrick, a supervisory fish biologist for the Arcata Fish and Wildlife, said P. minibicornis infections make salmon more vulnerable to C. shasta infections, which can be lethal.
    Hetrick said C. shasta infections attack fish intestinal tracts and cause the abdomen to bloat.

    “It almost turns the fish into a sponge. It’s fairly obvious when a fish is infected,” Hetrick said.

    Hetrick pointed out that C. shasta is completely dependent on temperature — fish can be infected and not exhibit symptoms. Once water temperatures crest 57 degrees, the disease advances quickly, he said.

    “The warmer the water, the faster they multiply,” said Sara Borok, an environmental scientist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “The lower the water, the more crowded the fish are and the faster the disease spreads.”

    Topics: drought

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