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Federal Judge Grants Injunction Requiring More Flows In Klamath Basin To Combat Salmon Parasite
Posted on Friday, February 10, 2017 (PST)

A federal judge has granted a preliminary injunction that will require the Bureau of Reclamation and the Klamath Project to provide additional flows for flushing out a parasite that has been harmful to protected salmon in the Klamath River Basin.


Judge William Orrick III of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco issued the order for a preliminary injunction on Feb. 8, siding with plaintiffs in the litigation, the Yurok and Hoopa Valley tribes.


The plaintiffs contend the federal government’s response to the parasite, C. shasta, has been inadequate.


Orrick agreed that a review of the Klamath Project’s operations should have been triggered when parasite infection rates reached 81 percent of sampled fish in 2014 and 91 percent in 2015.


He said the infection rates in coho salmon are “extremely threatening” to a species that is designated as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.


In 2002, more than 34,000 adult salmon died from disease caused by low flows on the Klamath River as they returned to spawn. Since then, releasing “pulse flows” in the summer on the Klamath project largely prevented a recurrence of that type fish kill. But the C. shasta  parasite eventually emerged, this time targeting migrating juvenile salmon rather than adult spawners.


“In 2014 and 2015 … shasta infection rates in juvenile salmon that were sampled soared to 81 percent and 91 percent, respectively,” the plaintiffs stated in their request for an injunction. “This lawsuit seeks to compel the Bureau and NMFS to make changes in Klamath Project operations to prevent a recurrence of such high shasta infection rates.”


The defendants did not agree to recommendations that the Klamath Project provide additional flows in the winter and spring to flush out worms that carry the parasite, and to reserve water for emergency dilutions flows if parasite spore concentrations spike during juvenile salmon outmigration.


On Feb. 3, the court granted requests to extend case management deadlines so that a formal consultation regarding Klamath Project operations can get underway after May 2. The consultation is expected to yield a new Biological Opinion to replace a BiOp that took effect in 2013.


“There is good cause” to establish the requested schedule, the defendants’ attorneys contend, partly because knowing how to proceed will depend on a pending determination on the “scope of review” necessary in a consultation process that will guide development of a new BiOp.


The defendants have maintained that a preliminary injunction on additional flows was not necessary because the court could not provide any additional effective relief for salmon. They noted that the last parasite outbreaks occurred during drought years, and since then there have been more robust streamflows and the occurrence of C. shasta has declined sharply. That trend is expected to continue this year.


Orrick has said he is hopeful that plentiful precipitation recently will allow for some of the issues on both sides of the case to be mitigated.


But the plaintiff tribes contend that “protective flows” should be provided because the Klamath project is no longer operating under a valid Biological Opinion, and developing a new one could take at least six months.


“Surface flushing flows have been dramatically reduced over time, and surface and deep flushing flows would reduce these C. shasta rates,” the judge has stated.


“Evidence that the Coho salmon will suffer imminent harm of any magnitude is sufficient to warrant injunctive relief … Plaintiffs’ requested flows are supported by the best available science and are likely to reduce C. shasta rates,” Orrick concluded, adding that the federal defendants should have initiated consultation for a new Biological Opinion after the severe C. shasta infection of 2014.


A technical advisory group formed by the Bureau of Reclamation last November created a guidance document that has urged the agency to provide flushing flows during optimal periods. The group recommended setting aside 50,000 acre-feet of water to provide those flows as well as emergency flows if needed.


Every April, Klamath River Basin water supplies are surveyed by the bureau to allocate water for agriculture, replenishing reservoirs and lakes, and to provide salmon with effective flows and temperatures.


The Klamath Water Users Association has maintained that allocating more flushing flows would probably create economic hardships for farms and agricultural-based businesses. The Yurok and Hoopa valley tribes say they rely on salmon for subsistence, cultural identity, rituals, and economic well-being.


Also see:


--  CBB, Dec. 10, 2016, “Lawsuit filed Over Klamath Basin Operations,”


-- CBB, Oct. 10, 2014 “Stream Flows Increased In Klamath River By 75 Percent To Fight Parasite Threatening Coho, Chinook”


-- CBB, August 22, 2014, “Parasite-Driven Disease Hitting Klamath Salmon Hard Also Found To Lesser Degree In Columbia Basin”

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