Appeals Court Upholds Klamath Salmon Flows


Klamath Water Users efforts to deny fish water fails


Jan Hasselman, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 25

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling today requiring the federal government to maintain bare minimum flows to keep salmon alive in the Klamath River. The minimum flows were ordered by Judge Sandra Armstrong in a March 2006 ruling. The Klamath water users appealed Armstrong’s ruling even though the federal agency that gives them water declined to join the appeal. The appeals court ruling was hailed by commercial fishermen who relay on Klamath salmon for part of their living.  Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman handled the appeal.

The water users asked the appeals court to throw out Judge Armstrong’s order directing the federal government to start providing minimal survival flows for salmon in the Klamath River. This decision overturned a miserly 10-year federal flow plan (“Biological Opinion”) that had been killing salmon year after year from its beginning in 2002. Oregon Governor Kulongoski praised the court’s decision at his first Salmon Summit. US Representatives Defazio, Hooley, and Wu hailed the decision in speeches on the Oregon coast. US Representative Thompson praised it in coastal California. Even a west coast National Marine Fisheries Service spokesperson with years of experience called it a “turning point” for Klamath salmon before the Washington DC politicos read that in the newspaper and forbid him from talking about salmon issues anymore. 

The minimal flows order is the only thing that stands in the way of the Klamath turning back into a salmon killing zone and jeopardizing future commercial salmon seasons next time drought visits.

Klamath irrigation groups and the Pacific Legal Foundation appealed the decision requiring higher flows for salmon on July 14, 2006.

Just how important are flows to Klamath salmon? The Pacific Fisheries Management Council sent a  letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, dated April 21, 2005 saying, “the most important factor impeding anadromous fish recovery in the Klamath River is the inadequately low flow prescribed in the 2002 Coho Biological Opinion (BO).”  

Read the decision (PDF)

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