Reclamation Releases More Water to Combat Fish Kill Parasite

After touring the Trinity and Klamath Rivers in early August, Bureau of Reclamation Regional Director, David Murillo (left), at the urging of scientists, tribes and activists, chose to allow more water to flow from the Trinity to prevent a catastrophic fish kill in the Klamath River. /Photo by Allie Hostler, Two Rivers Tribune

After touring the Trinity and Klamath Rivers in early August, Bureau of Reclamation Regional Director, David Murillo (left), at the urging of scientists, tribes and activists, chose to allow more water to flow from the Trinity to prevent a catastrophic fish kill in the Klamath River. /Photo by Allie Hostler, Two Rivers Tribune

TWO RIVERS TRIBUNE

Additional water releases are expected to begin at 10 am on Tuesday, September 16 by increments of 250 cubic feet per second every two hours until flows reach 3,400 cfs.

On Monday, September 15, the Hoopa Valley Tribe sent a brief letter to Bureau of Reclamation Regional Director, David Murillo stating that ich (the fish parasite pronounced “ick”) was detected in the Lower Klamath River.

The letter asks Murillo to take immediate action to double the flows at the lower Klamath gauge for a period of seven consecutive days in order to slow the progression of fish diseases and prevent a catastrophic fish kill. The additional water would extend the existing fish health releases that concluded on Sunday.

As drought and river conditions worsened in late August, Murillo heeded calls for more water from scientists, and the Hoopa, Yurok and Karuk Tribes. Flows were ramped up beginning on August 23 with a large pulse on the August 26 followed by steady flows of 950 cfs from the Trinity River to bring the lower Klamath up to 2,500 cfs through Sunday, September 14.

Fish biologist Dr. Joshua Strange, said it turned out that some adult Chinook salmon tested positive for ich on August 22, prior to the increased flows.

“This documented presence of ich before the flows arrived does fit the understanding that ich is basically just lurking there at undetectable levels until the right conditions come about and encourage it to spread and grow,” Strange said. “Things were definitely set up for another fish kill and the flows interrupted it, but not at the level that has completely prevented the parasite from getting a foothold and it appears to be on the rise as those flows are ending. Unfortunately, our full preventive flow recommendations were never met and the preseason run size forecast appears to have significantly under estimated the number of salmon coming back to the river this fall.”

The Hoopa Valley Tribe’s letter said, as of Monday, that nine fish tested positive for ich and six have “severe” infestations. Fish health expert Dr. Scott Foott of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was in the field on Monday gathering samples and will release more information on Tuesday. Notably, the last time severe ich infections were observed at this level was in 2002 during the fish kill.

“Given the findings today of multiple severely infected fish, biologists are concerned the flows ended prematurely and apparently were not large enough for the run and are requesting a seven day emergency release,” Strange said.

Strange said a fish kill isn’t currently occurring, but that ich levels are trending upwards rapidly and immediate emergency action is needed to flush the Lower Klamath River of the disease causing parasites before more fish become seriously infected. There is serious risk of a major outbreak and kill if the situation isn’t closely monitored and quickly remedied.

“The Hoopa Valley Tribe is very appreciative of the earlier action that Reclamation took by releasing preventative flows. However, it didn’t appear to be enough and we shouldn’t deviate from what the science tells us to do, which is to double the flows for the next seven days,” Chairwoman Danielle Vigil-Masten said. “We expect that Reclamation will take the right action which is to release the emergency flows that are called for under the criteria.”

Activists who rallied Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and the Bureau of Reclamation are also concerned, not only about this year’s salmon but future runs as well.

One such activist, Regina Chichizola of Orleans believes long-term solutions are critical to prevent recurring crisis on the Klamath and Trinity Rivers.

“Every year we have to fight Central Valley and the Klamath farmers for the minimal amount of water to fight fish disease. Often we get too little, too late or only temporary solutions,” Chichizola said. “Beyond emergency flows this year, we need long-term solutions. The Trinity and Klamath’s water belong in the rivers.”

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