Drought causes disease of young salmon in the Klamath River

This story is original featured in High Country News which is part of Climate office cooperation.

The video shows clear river water dripping over the rocks as sunlight dances in the shallows. Small white leaf-like shards float to the surface. But they are not papers. They are the bodies of young salmon, most of them no more than a finger, that died of warm-water disease exacerbated by the drought in the Klamath River. The caption on the video, filmed by Yurok Vice President Frankie Joe Myers, is stark: “This is what climate change looks like when we don’t act.”

The fish have been spending in the Klamath River since about May 4, according to the Yoruk Tribal Fisheries Department. In that time, 97 percent of baby salmon caught by the department’s river fishing device became infected. Ceratonova Shasta A parasite is either dead or will die within days. Over a two-week period, 70 percent of the baby salmon caught in the trap died.

Photography: Terray Sylvester / Alamy

This spring, the Klamath Basin is already experiencing an exceptionally severe drought – one of the worst drought years in four decades. The upstream irrigation devices were told from a fish kill in mid-May that for the first time since the A-channel on the Klamath Project began operating in 1907, they wouldn’t get any water from it. The Marwawis say they need 400,000 acres of water, but this year they will get only 33,000 acres from the Klamath project – a historic low. The situation put pressure on a besieged area already stuck in a state of cyclical crisis due to a dry climate. “For salmon owners, killing the juvenile fish is the absolute worst case scenario,” Myers said in a statement.

In a statement on this year’s drought, Klamath Irrigation District President Ty Klewer said, “This could not be worse. The impacts on our family farms and these rural communities will be out of scale.”

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Last summer was also dry, and farmers and their supporters organized a tractor convoy to protest water shortages and allotment decisions by the Bureau of Reclamation. Meanwhile, the Yurok Tribe’s boat dance party was canceled due to low flows last August, and after a dry winter, heated lawsuits over the allocation of water continued. this week, Several irrigation devices set up camp Through the main gates of the Klamath project, which were opened by irrigation during past droughts. “This drought is no coincidence,” Yoruk native and tribal councillor Amy Cordales said at a House hearing on the ongoing drought in the West this week. “It is part of a larger pattern of droughts caused by climate change. Climate change is no longer a vague future threat – we are seeing its effects happening now, in real time.”

Wet years used to be the norm, and drought years were uncommon, but that has changed in recent years, especially since 2014, said Barry McCuvey Jr., director of the Yurok Fisheries Department and a Yurok native, who has studied fish diseases at Klamath for 20 years. . . This year’s drought is part of the new climate system the basin is turning into. “The good water years where there is plenty of water to meet all the needs of the aquarium are now scarce,” McCuvey said.

With the outlook so bleak early in the year, communities are already seeking help. The first round of drought relief set aside $15 million for irrigation and $3 million for the tribes of the Klamath Basin, even though the tribes—along with commercial fishermen and nonprofit organizations—asked for $250 million in relief. In a virtual forum in May with congressional representatives, Ben Duval, chair of the Klamath Water Users Association, called for a settlement agreement to bring “long-term stability” to the basin. “It can be done; it has been done elsewhere.” Such agreements have been attempted in the past with varying degrees of success, although one of the last major efforts, the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, has not been made through Congress.

Such large-scale agreements require significant federal involvement Home Secretary Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) has indicated her interest in the Klamath issues, but has not yet spoken of an agreement. In April, acknowledging the impact of climate change and a difficult summer ahead, she canceled a number of memos and assessments by the Trump administration, saying they were issued without tribal consultations and did not reflect the current administration’s goals. Representative Jared Hoffman (D-CA) urged Haaland to appoint a “Caesar Klamath” – “a high-ranking agent who can make quick and important decisions.” Meanwhile, the planned removal of four dams on the Klamath River is still awaiting approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The constant killing of fish is reminiscent of the agonizing death of 2002, in which 60,000 mature Chinook salmon died of disease due to low waters in Klamath. The optics that year were even more dramatic—fish bodies were everywhere, stacked on river banks, floating downstream—but the mass death of juveniles meant they would never make it to the ocean and never get a chance to lay their eggs. Because of the salmon’s life cycle, it also ensures that salmon will go bad years from now. “Everyone will continue to suffer if we don’t come up with a plan that works going forward,” McCovey said. “We don’t have much time left.”

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