Federal Court Rules More Water for the Klamath River

For Immediate Release: March 27, 2006Contacts: Kristen Boyles, Earthjustice: 206.343.7340 x33Glen Spain, PCFFA: 541-521-8655Tim McKay, NEC: 707-822-6918San Francisco, CA - On the eve of a potential salmon fishing closure that would devastate coastal communities and fishing families in California and Oregon, a federal court today ruled that the Bush administration can not continue to strangle water flows in the Klamath River in years with average or below rainfall. The court sided with fishing and conservation groups that have been seeking a more balanced distribution of water needed to rebuild Klamath River salmon stocks. The court ordered the federal Bureau of Reclamation to provide river flows needed for coho salmon now, instead of waiting for five more years to pass."This order will help prevent the kinds of closures we're seeing this year and last year and help make the Klamath River a healthier place for salmon," said Glen Spain of PCFFA. " After years of uncertainty, we finally know what needs to be done for water for fish, and farmers and fishermen can plan accordingly." PCFFA is the west coast's largest organization of commercial fishing families. The court's order, which sets a floor for in-river flows, comes during a high water period on the Klamath. "We stand ready to make any changes as smooth as possible for all our communities," continued Spain. Salmon advocates have been pointing to the plan's inadequacies since it was released in May 2002. Indeed, as soon as it was implemented and water diversions to upstream farmers began, juvenile salmon died in the river. A severe shortage of adult Klamath River salmon this year is traced directly to the effects of diverting Klamath water to irrigators. This shortage resulted in commercial salmon fishermen losing about 50 percent of their normal fishing season in 2005. In 2003, the court struck down the long-term portion of the plan but ordered no change to current operations.Because Klamath River coho are protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, the National Marine Fisheries Service must approve any irrigation plan devised by the Bureau of Reclamation that relies on taking water from the Klamath River. In May 2002, the Fisheries Service held that the Bureau's plan would jeopardize the continued survival of the Klamath River coho, but failed to require adequate measures to protect the salmon.Five months after the plan was adopted, in the fall of 2002, low flows caused by unbalanced irrigation deliveries killed as many as 70,000 adult salmon. However months earlier, during the spring of 2002, juvenile salmon died in the river from low water conditions."Today a court told the Bush administration to strike a better balance so it doesn't kill all the salmon in the river," said Tim McKay of Northcoast Environmental Center. "This order will help make sure that downstream communities that depend on salmon aren't left high and dry." "It's time for the federal agencies to stop making excuses and start working to protect salmon in the Klamath River," said Kristen Boyles of Earthjustice. " The Klamath was once the third mightiest salmon-producing river in the continental US, behind only the Columbia and Sacramento. We need to start now to bring it back." The case was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of PCFFA, Institute for Fisheries Resources, The Wilderness Society, WaterWatch of Oregon, Northcoast Environmental Center, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Defenders of Wildlife, Klamath Forest Alliance, and Headwaters. In the district court, these groups were joined by Congressman Mike Thompson (D-Napa) and the Yurok and Hoopa Valley Tribes; amicus briefs supporting the plaintiffs were filed by the Cities of Arcata and Eureka, Del Norte, Humboldt, and Trinity Counties, and the Humboldt Bay, Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District.For more information on the Klamath Basin and a copy of the opinion, please visit Earthjustice's webite.