NEW YORK TIMES 1/7/03
By DEAN E. MURPHY
SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 6 .. A new state report on the
River supports contentions by fishermen,
several American Indian tribes that 33,000 fish died
on the lower
river last fall because the Bush administration
allowed too much
water to be diverted to farmers.
The report by biologists at the California Department
of Fish and
Game is expected to figure prominently in a lawsuit
federal government that seeks to reduce water supplies
before the spring irrigation season, which begins in
Lawyers for both sides are scheduled to appear on
Thursday in federal
court in Oakland, Calif. A similar legal challenge
Department of the Interior, which regulates the
river's flows, failed
last year, but the extensive die-off has given
opponents of the federal
policy new resolve.
"This time around, Exhibit A will be 33,000 dead
Glen H. Spain, the Northwest regional director of the
Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "The water has
overcommitted and the demand has to be brought back
with the supply."
The state report, which was released on Friday, warns
conditions on the river remain the same and water
flows are not
increased, the Klamath could experience another major
fish kill. Last
year's die-off was the largest ever in California of
salmon, which accounted for about 95 percent of the
dead fish. A
smaller number of coho salmon and steelhead trout also
One author of the report, Neil Manji, a fish biologist
Calif., said the study was not intended "to point
fingers" at the Bush
administration. Instead, he said, it was meant to make
the case for
having more water in the river as "a common sense
managing the fisheries' needs.
The report says that of all the factors that
contributed to the die-off,
from the large number of fish to the presence of
in the water, "flow is the only factor that can be
controlled to any
"Man can only do so much at this particular time," Mr.
Manji said. "I
think every scientist would agree that increased flows
the potential for a big kill."
Last March, in a reversal of a curtailment the year
Secretary Gale A. Norton presided over a ceremony at
Ore., in which water was released to farmers that had
been held back
because of concern about endangered fish. The policy
denounced by fishermen, Indian tribes and many
who vowed to fight it and a new 10-year management
plan for the
river that would keep water flowing to the
Kristen Boyles, a lawyer with Earthjustice, an
group that represents the opponents of the
said the state report contributes to a growing
scientists that diversions from the river for
agriculture are harmful.
The 230-mile Klamath River, which flows from Oregon to
Ocean near Redwood National Park in California,
water to about 200,000 acres of farmland through the
Klamath Reclamation Project.
Last October, a biologist with the National Marine
sought federal whistle-blower protection after
claiming his agency
was pressured by the Bush administration to accept
water flows in
the 10-year plan that were too low to support fish.
Michael Kelly, said the low flows threatened coho
salmon, which are
protected by the Endangered Species Act.
Jeffrey S. McCracken, a spokesman for the Bureau of
the Interior Department agency that administers
policies, defended the decision last year to divert
more water to
farmers, saying it was based on advice from federal
biologists. He said
a decision about this year's flows would not be made
until studies of
the fish die-off are completed by the United States
Fish and Wildlife
Service and the National Academy of Sciences.
Mr. McCracken questioned the objectivity of the new
report by the
California biologists, since state officials began
blaming the federal
government for the fish kill last September, when the
fish were still
"The conclusions really aren't a surprise to us, given
they arrived at
these same conclusions even before they did the
study," he said. "It is
nothing that they haven't already said."
Jonathan Birdsong, a spokesman for Representative Mike
of California, who in October introduced legislation
to block the Bush
administration plan for the river, denounced the
toward the state report.
"This administration has always said the best science
is in the states,
that the states are closer to the people," Mr.
Birdsong said. "The fact
that they are discounting the state experts is a
little disheartening. It
is more than that. It is hypocritical."
But Dave Solem, manager of the Klamath Irrigation
members farm about 40,000 acres of land irrigated with
water, said he also viewed the state report with deep
"All of these things are focused on one thing: to be
used as evidence in
court," Mr. Solem said. "I can guarantee this will be
many times over and over. It becomes scientific fact
they put it out."