WILLOW CREEK (CBS SF) — Federal officials have released water reserves to combat the growing threat from a drought-fed parasite that a fisheries spokesman called the “Ebola” of salmon and which could result in a “die-off” to the state’s fragile salmon population.
The Bureau of Reclamation began releasing additional water from PacifiCorp’s Iron Gate Dam Saturday morning because of an outbreak of the Ich parasite in Coho and Chinook salmon in the upper Klamath River.
“Recent fish sampling in the Klamath River indicate that a fish disease outbreak is occurring…significant additional sampling of fish has occurred since Ich was first identified in mid-September. Recent sampling shows that the majority of fish collected in the mainstem Klamath River, upstream of the confluence with the Trinity River, are infected with Ich, with most of the cases classified as severe,” the Bureau said in a press release about the move.
Ich is known to thrive in stagnant water. It attacks the gills of fish, suffocating them.
“Think of Ich as the Ebola of the Klamath basin salmon fishery,” said Hoopa Valley Tribe Fisheries Director Michael Orcutt.
The plan calls for roughly 16,000 acre-feet of water to be released from reservoirs, but should have “no effect” on Upper Klamath Lake elevations, according to the Bureau. Members of the Hoopa said in a release to the press that the added water likely comes too late.
“What we have now in the Klamath River is dead fish swimming,” said Robert Franklin, a Fisheries Hydrologist with the Hoopa.
Tribe members say the federal government should have acted much earlier to protect the fish, and claim that the problem stems for “unsustainable and unlawful” commitments of water to Central Valley irrigation, a long-running political issue in the region.
In September, the Bureau of Reclamation released additional water from the Lewsiton Dam on the Trinity River, which feeds the Klamath, after discovery of the parasite on that waterway.
Thousands of salmon died as a result of the parasite in 2002 during similar drought conditions, according to the Associated Press.