- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 16, 2002

Hundreds of baby salmon making their spring journey down the Klamath River in California were stranded in puddles reportedly because water was being diverted to area farms.
However, Bush administration officials say the problem resulted from a sudden storm and privately say there is an effort by opponents of the irrigation project to portray it as harmful to the environment.
The water was cut off to 1,400 valley farmers in California and Oregon last summer to protect endangered fish species, bankrupting many and causing havoc on the local economy.
Environmentalists recently lost a case demanding the water be used to support wildlife and Indian fishing rights.
At least two major California daily newspapers, the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, reported earlier this month the strandings were to blame on water diversions to farmers based on information from unnamed biologists.
Interior Department officials were the first to dispute the reports as erroneous, pointing to an unusual snow/rainstorm throughout the valley they say is to blame for the river's sudden rise and descent.
"That the diversions to farms caused the strandings is absolutely incorrect," the official said.
The Forest Service, an agency of the Agriculture Department, initially backed the reports when contacted by The Washington Times, but upon further checking concurred with the Interior Department.
"I don't know how this stuff gets started," said spokesman Joe Walsh.
"This was all weather-related. Chalk this up to Mother Nature," Mr. Walsh said.
The Bush administration restored the water to the farmers in a ceremony March 28. An official said care should be taken not to exploit the highly emotional issue.
The cutoff during last year's drought bankrupted many farmers and cost the regional economy $134 million.
The water war drew national attention when armed federal agents were called in to stop farmers from forcing open the head gates. However, the farmers succeeded on four separate occasions in releasing water to their fields.
"When accusations like this are made, all parties must be incredibly careful because this is a complex and emotionally charged issue," said Mark Pfeifle, Interior Department spokesman.
"We're working with everyone to honor tribal responsibilities, protect the environment and promote a vibrant farm community in the Klamath Basin," Mr. Pfeifle said.
Administration officials say privately they are bracing for a summer of misinformation campaigns by opponents to sway public opinion away from the farmers to support the fish instead.
"We're concerned that people might pull stunts like this one to show that the farmers are hurting the environment when they are not," one Interior official said.
Biologists from the Forest Service and tribe say they rescued nearly 500 of the stranded fish, but an eyewitness said more than 100 were killed in the process or left behind to die.
"I saw them electroshock the fish, and then after they left I went down there and saw many dead fish floating and live fish in the pools," said Connie Rasmussen of Happy Camp, Calif.
Mrs. Rasmussen questioned the officials' activities after they trespassed onto her property and told her they were saving the fish. She allowed the officials on her property to save the fish.
Afterwards, she said, there were more than 20 dead fish in one pool, more than 30 dead fish in a second pool and more than 100 live fish in a third pool. She said the pools occur naturally every year.


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