GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — A federal agency said Wednesday it will release extra water into Northern California's Klamath and Trinity rivers once salmon start dying from drought-related disease, but not before.
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Louis Moore said from Sacramento, California, that the decision came under terms of a 2012 emergency water plan, and after consulting with tribes, irrigators and other agencies.
"When you look at the need and demand for water, it's for every requirement out there, whether it is drinking water, species, power, agriculture or flow in the rivers," Moore said. "The best use of that water was part of that discussion. How can we use this water and still meet all the needs that are there."
Fisheries biologist Joshua Strange of Stillwater Sciences said that will be too late. Strange submitted a memo to the Klamath Fish Health Advisory Team saying low flows this year could lead to a salmon kill like the one in 2002, when tens of thousands of adult salmon died.
The major threat is a parasite known as Ich, short for Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, which attacks fish in stagnant water.
He says the idea of raising flows down the rivers is not to cool the water temperature, or make it easier for the fish to swim, but to make it harder for the tiny parasites, which swim with hair-like filamets along their bodies, to attack fish.
"Everything we know about Ich is that an ounce of prevention is worth 20 pounds of emergency action," Strange said. "If you can keep it from starting, your chances are way, way better. It builds up momentum very quickly."
After salmon were reported dying last week in the Salmon River, a tributary of the Klamath, salmon advocates called on the bureau to put more water down the Klamath and Trinity rivers to protect salmon.