National Research Council Reports Higher Water Levels Not Needed for Klamath Basin Fish, by Gretchen Randall

BACKGROUND: Last year both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service issued “biological opinions” claiming more water needed to be released from Upper Klamath Lake to protect both the sucker fish and coho salmon. The National Research Council’s just-released interim report on the scientific issues involved in last year’s controversy “finds no clear connection between water levels in Upper Klamath Lake and conditions that are adverse to suckers. In fact, the highest recorded increase in the number of adult suckers occurred in a year when water levels were low.”

In addition, the NRC study found no scientific basis for increasing the water flow for the benefit of the salmon, noting that water released from the reservoir could be so warm as to be lethal to coho. However, the report also noted that allowing the water level to drop too low could also affect the fish but said no study had been conducted to determine the affect on suckers.

It was because of the “biological opinions” of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service that water in the Basin was diverted from farmers’ irrigation ditches during a dry year and was instead allotted to protect the threatened salmon and endangered sucker fish.

TEN SECOND RESPONSE: It’s too bad thousands of farm families had to lose their livelihood before it was proven the federal agencies were wrong.

THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: How many more rural families must suffer like the farmers in the Klamath Basin before common sense and scientific evidence prevail? Man and animals can co-exist together without either species being harmed, but many environmental groups promote just the opposite. It’s time the federal agencies consider the cost to human life and livelihood or humans, at least in some areas, will become an “endangered” species.

DISCUSSION: William M. Lewis Jr., chairman of the committee that wrote the report, said, “The available scientific evidence does not support current proposals to change water levels or river flows to promote the welfare of the fish currently at risk, although future research may justify doing so.”

The committee’s final report on the environmental requirements of suckers and coho salmon is expected next spring.

The report “Scientific Evaluation of Biological Opinions on Endangered and Threatened Fishes of the Klamath River Basin” is available at


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