The Yurok and Karuk Indian Tribes on Wednesday accused the U.S. Forest Service of ignoring its responsibility to protect endangered coho salmon on the Scott River, a major tributary of the Klamath River.
"The US Forest Service continues to sit by as its water right on a vital stream for ESA listed salmon is not met," according to a joint statement from the Tribes.
Hundreds of adult salmon are now circling at the mouth of the Scott waiting for enough water to migrate up into the Valley and spawn. Currently the river is running at 18 cubic feet per second (cfs) - not enough water for migrating salmon to make it up river to their spawning grounds.
A video by Craig Tucker, Klamath Coordinator, of the Karuk Tribe, shows the fish circling at the mouth of Scott River as only a small trickle of water runs down the Scott. See the video at: http://www.youtube.com/...
“These kinds of conditions can lead to disease outbreaks and fish kills," according to Yurok Fisheries Program Manager Dave Hillemeier.
The Tribes said the Scott River is of "vital importance" to Chinook salmon, Pacific lamprey, steelhead trout, and ESA listed coho salmon. Scott River water is divvied up by a water rights adjudication that awarded flows designed to protect fish to the US Forest Service. Tribal leaders said the water right has not been met since August 3, yet the Forest Service has failed to notify water management agencies.
“During meetings between the USFS and the Karuk Tribe, the Tribe has asked that attention be brought to the failure of meeting water needs," said Karuk Tribal Chairman Buster Attebery. "The Klamath National Forest has yet to take any action regarding the reported shortage in water and the obvious failure to protect the fishery.”
The Forest Service’s water right for the month of August is 30 cubic feet per second (cfs), according to the Tribes. Their right is 40 cfs in October to accommodate adult migration.
"Despite the fact that the number of days per year that the USFS water right is not met has increased steadily since the 1980 adjudication, the agency has never lodged a complaint with California Water Resources Control Board," The Tribal representatives revealed.
"Before the adjudication, it was rare for flows to ever drop below 30 cubic feet per second (cfs). In fact between 1942 and 1980, the Scott dropped below 30 cfs on average only 5.6 days a year, mostly in drought years. Between 1980 and 2009, the flows dipped below 30 cfs on average 35 days a year. This year, the river has been below 30 cfs since August 3rd!" they said.
The Tribes are urging the Forest Service to formally notify the State Water Resources Control Board of the situation and make a call on any junior water rights holders.
A representative of the Forest Service had not yet replied to my request for their response to the Tribes at press time.
These low flow conditions on the Scott River continue as a record fall Chinook salmon run is expected on the Klamath River and its tributaries.
Biologists are forecasting four times more salmon than last year – and an astounding 15 times more than in 2006. Federal scientists estimated the pre-season ocean salmon population this year to be 1.6 million adult Klamath River fall Chinook, compared to last year's forecast of 371,100, and forecast that 380,000 Chinook salmon will return to the Klamath River this fall.
Tribal representatives, fishermen and environmentalists are trying to prevent a Klamath River fish kill, like the one that took place in September 2002, from ever occurring again. Over 68,000 adult salmon perished, due to a disease outbreak spurred by warm, low water conditions.
Under political pressure from the Hoopa Valley Tribe and Humboldt County, the federal government released additional water from Trinity Lake from August 13 to September 30 of this year to supplement flows in the Lower Klamath River to help prevent another fish kill from taking place.
The California Fish and Game Commission this spring approved a Klamath-Trinity River recreational salmon season with the highest adult fall chinook quota since 1986, 67,600 fish, and increased bag and possession limits due to the projected high abundance on the river this year. The Commission raised the daily bag limit on the Klamath and Trinity Rivers to 4 adult chinooks over 22 inches and increased the total possession to 8 adult chinooks.
For more information, contact: Craig Tucker, Klamath Coordinator, Karuk Tribe: 916-207-8294, Matt Mais, Yurok Tribe, Public Relations: (707) 954-0976.