OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — Bungled federal management of stream flows contribute to a lethal disease that's infected 90 percent of juvenile coho salmon on sections of the Klamath River, the Hoopa Valley Tribe claims in court.
The tribe sued the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the National Marine Fisheries Service on July 29 in Federal Court.
The 2,700-member Hoopa Valley Tribe, in Humboldt County, includes the unincorporated village of Hoopa. Tribal members accounted for 82 percent of the village's 3,040 population, according to the 2000 census. They have fishing rights on the Klamath River by treaty.
The Hoopa claim the federal agencies' Klamath Irrigation Project violates the Endangered Species Act by harming protected coho salmon already ravaged by Ceratomyxa Shasta (C.shasta), exacerbated by low levels in the river.
The tribe wants water deliveries restricted until a new study is completed on how best to protect the fishery.
The Klamath River originates east of the Cascade Mountains and flows 263 miles through Southern Oregon and Northern California to the Pacific Ocean.
Since 1996, the Bureau of Reclamation's Klamath Project has supplied water to 210,000 acres of cropland and to four wildlife refuges operated by the Fish and Wildlife Service: Lower Klamath, Tule Lake, Clear Lake, and Upper Klamath.
The Bureau of Reclamation plans the minimum flow level of the river, making sure to supply enough water for agriculture. According to the complaint, the Bureau of Reclamation's 2016 Annual Operations Plan calculates that 388,680 acre-feet of water will be supplied to the Klamath Project.
The Hoopa Valley Reservation is the largest in California, on 89,400 acres in northeast Humboldt County, along the Trinity River. The Hoopa Tribe holds property rights in the Klamath River Basin and the federally reserved fishing rights include a corresponding right to have enough water in the Klamath and Trinity rivers to support a productive habitat for coho and Chinook salmon.
"These fish have been essential to our culture, religion and economy since time immemorial," Hoopa Valley Tribal Council Chairman Ryan Jackson told Courthouse News in a statement.
But the dams built along the Klamath River have taken a toll.
The Klamath and its major tributaries such as the Trinity used to be abundant with salmon, with as many 500,000 fish in the early 1900s, according to a 2009 NMFS report to Congress on the Klamath River Basin.
However, "only remnant populations of wild spring run Chinook salmon return to the Klamath River Basin today due to the presence of dams without fish passage," the Fisheries Service found.
Chinook salmon are anadromous, spending several years in the ocean before returning to fresh water in their home rivers to spawn. Coho, or silver salmon, have a similar life cycle, but use smaller streams and tributaries to spawn, making them more susceptible to dying in low water, which, in addition to being more difficult to navigate, is warmer than deeper water.
The problem has been recognized for decades. In 1980, the salmon population fell to less than 50,000, according to the 2009 report. So in 1984 Congress enacted the Trinity River Basin Fish and Wildlife Management Act, to develop a management program to restore the salmon population.