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 and its declining salmon runs. The court sided with fishing and conservation groups that are 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 threatened 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. "This is good news for the whole basin, as it brings some much needed water stability, 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 minimum water flows for salmon, comes during a year of high snow-pack and cautiously optimistic water forecasts for the Klamath. "The whole basin is benefiting from the wet weather, but we stand ready to help make any changes as smooth as possible for both farming and fishing communities, " continued Spain.
"This case affirms that fish need water, and they need more water than they've been getting, " said Bob Hunter of WaterWatch. "There's a water crisis in the Klamath basin, and it's not going to be solved until water use is brought back into balance with what is sustainable."
Salmon advocates have long sought to reform the Bush administration's Klamath River water management plan. 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 administration'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. Juvenile fish kills linked to low river flows continue to occur every spring in the Klamath River.
"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, " said Kristen Boyles of Earthjustice. "The Klamath was once the third mightiest salmon-producing river in the continental US. This river can produce healthy salmon runs once again, and we intend to see that it does."
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.