Statement Regarding NAS Preliminary Report on the Klamath Basin

Earthjustice and other groups respond to National Academy of Sciences report


Ken Goldman
202.667.4500, x. 233


After a preliminary review, National Academy of Sciences has issued an interim report stating that more scientific study is needed to support the current conclusions of the National Marine Fisheries Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service regarding water levels for endangered lake fish and Coho in the Klamath Basin. It also stated that proposals by the Bush administration to further reduce the water levels in Upper Klamath Lake and in the Klamath River have no scientific justification and would put the lake fish and the Coho salmon at an unacceptable risk of extinction.

While we believe that we must continue to compile information about the endangered species in the Klamath, we are calling on the administration to take a precautionary approach and maintain high water levels in the Klamath River and Upper Klamath Lake consistent with the best available science. The NAS panel did not determine that the water levels as determined by NMFS and USFWS are wrong, only that the science is currently inconclusive. This means that “future science” may well show that higher water levels are warranted.

Unfortunately, the lake fish and the Coho cannot wait five to ten years for us to develop science that is perfect. The number of Coho returning to the spawn in the Klamath River have dropped from over hundreds of thousands in 1900 to just a few thousand in 2001 – the two species of lake fish, once caught “by the truck load” in 1909 by the Klamath tribes now number only in the hundreds. The Endangered Species Act requires us to act today in a way, using the best available science, that halts these species’ slide towards extinction, and begins their restoration. Common sense requires that we need to err on the side of caution.

We are also calling on the Bush administration to heed the warnings in this report that the very low lake and river levels that they currently propose “have no scientific basis” and “would require the acceptance of undocumented risk” to the endangered fish in the basin. The Bush administration should not be celebrating this report. The report certainly does not endorse the Bureau of Reclamation’s current plan to take the Klamath Basin back to the 1980s, impose historically low water levels, and allow the fish to continue to steadily decline. It does show that the Bureau of Reclamation has a role to play in solving the complex problems of over allocation of scarce water in the basin.

The report does dramatically underscore how important it is to address the problem of pollution in Upper Klamath Lake at its source. The scientists noted how poor irrigation practices in the Upper Klamath Basin are sending animal wastes, fertilizers, and pesticides flowing into streams and ultimately the lake and Klamath River. We need to take steps to reduce that pollution, and to restore wetlands and riparian areas that help filter the water before it reaches the lake. The State of Oregon bears considerable responsibility for enforcement of water quality in the Upper Basin, but has ignored this obligation for the last 20 years. Likewise, the Bush administration needs to take forceful steps to enforce the Clean Water Act and devise a plan for cutting the amount of agricultural pollution entering Klamath Lake and the river.

Finally, this report does not change the reality on the ground in the Klamath Basin. We have brought irrigation to the high desert, and in the process promised too much water to too many people. Even under the status quo, in dry years there will still not be enough water to go around. We need to implement a comprehensive plan to restore the Klamath Basin including demand reduction and wetlands restoration – as we are doing in the Everglades. Only then will we be able to provide clean water for fish and wildlife as well as farmers, fisherman, and tribal peoples.

The NAS report is available at

For more information, please contact Susan Holmes, Earthjustice, 202-667-4500 x 204 or

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.