Too few answers given to questions about Klamath Basin fish issues

September 15, 2003

By Jim Leard

Jim Leard is a World War II veteran of the Marine Corps. He came to Klamath Falls to be treated at the Marine Corps Barracks for a tropical disease contracted during the war in the South Pacific. A well-known photographer, he is retired after a career in real estate.

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Every time I read about the raging controversy over endangered species, fish kills, water levels and who is to get what, I become more and more confused. In my opinion, the ones most clearly involved in this controversy are making claims and counterclaims and seem to be ignoring some of what seem to me to be basic facts. I am listing some questions that have been bothering me with the hope that someone, somewhere, can give me straight answers.

First question: Regarding the listing of various sucker fish in this area as endangered, can someone tell me how many of these fish exist today, as against, say 40 years ago? Nowhere have I read even estimated figures, so I assume that is a total unknown.

Also, how does one reconcile the fact that the fish existed in huge quantities for thousands of years before the Link River Dam was constructed to form a lake? From history and old photographs I understand that what is known as Upper Klamath Lake was mostly a marsh with a stream flowing through it. Why have the fish suddenly undergone a genetic change that requires them to have a very high level of water? A sucker, wherever found, is a bottom feeder and does not require deep water to survive.

The United States government recently spent $15 million to build a fish screen at the head of the A Canal to keep out the suckers. That doesn't appear to satisfy the Klamath Indians and the environmental zealots. They want the water to the Basin farmers dried up. Why? So they can turn thousands of acres of rich, productive farmland into a sagebrush desert. The Klamath Indians claim the sucker is required for sustenance. Hog wash. How many of the Indians exist on sucker fish? If they want them for ceremonial purposes, I am quite sure they could find a couple once a year for that purpose.

Second question: Regarding endangered salmon and, in particular, last year's fish kill: From what I have read, this kill occurred below the confluence of the Klamath and Trinity rivers. The hue and cry by environmentalists, Indian tribes and salmon fishermen is that there has to be more water released from Klamath Lake for the fish to exist. Why is it then that the salmon that survived the die-off made it up the Klamath with no apparent ill effects? When the Trinity emptied into the Klamath, did that not add more water to the stream? Has anyone investigated the quality of the water in the Trinity that might have caused the kill?

Too endangered? Why then are fishermen allowed to catch tons of salmon, so many this season that they were giving fish away? Or am I missing something I would like to know about? There is even talk of breaching the three dams on the upper Klamath River to increase water flow downstream.

Assuming that someone did breach or destroy the dams, what then? First there would be a huge wash of water and silt into the stream bed as the pools were emptied. After that, where would the extra water come from? The lake would continue to empty only so much water into the river bed, regardless of whether or not there were dams.

The dams do not consume the water. After it is used to turn the turbines, it flows downstream. It is still the same amount of water, but with the silt buildup from destroying the dams, the stream would of necessity be more shallow.

I have now asked questions that have been bothering me, but I do not expect any comprehensive answers. I would, however, be satisfied if those questions were presented to the proper authorities. They just might cause them to rethink the situation.

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