- Associated Press - Thursday, July 24, 2014

ORLEANS, Calif. (AP) - Low warm water conditions from the drought are starting to kill salmon in Northern California’s Klamath Basin - the site of a massive fish kill in 2002.

A recent survey of 90 miles of the Salmon River on found 55 dead adult salmon and more dead juveniles than would be expected this time of year, Sara Borok, an environmental scientist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said Thursday. About 700 live fish were counted in cool pools fed by springs.

Fisheries officials do not want see a repeat of 2002, when an estimated 60,000 adult salmon died in low warm water, but she said there is little to do but pray for rain.

The Salmon is a tributary of the Klamath River, and home to one of the last remnants of spring chinook salmon in the Klamath Basin, which return from the ocean in spring and stay in the river until October, when they spawn and die. A tributary of the Klamath River, it has no storage dams. Even in the Klamath, which has dams to store water, there is little available for extra releases.

“We are all nervous,” Borok said. “We are all kind of going, ‘We need rain because it is heating up this week.’ There will be mortalities, given the low flows and high temperatures. It is just to what extent. We are all screaming to our people to make decisions to find us water. There isn’t much to be had, because we are in a drought year.”

Representatives of a wide range of organizations interested in the river are holding weekly meetings, she said. Posters have been distributed asking people to report when they see an unusually high number of dead fish - more than 55 in a mile of river.

Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, which represents California commercial salmon fishermen, said the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was meeting minimum flows in the Klamath River set under a biological opinion for threatened coho salmon.

“This is the sort of situation we are all going to have to cope with through the summer,” he said. “And it’s going to be a white-knuckle ride, there is no doubt about that.”

In 2001, a drought forced water shutoffs in a federal irrigation project straddling the Oregon-California border to assure enough water flowed down the Klamath River for threatened coho salmon. But in 2002, the Bush administration ordered irrigation to resume, resulting in low warm water in the Klamath River. When a record run of 181,000 chinook returned in September, an estimated 60,000 died from gill rot disease that spread as fish crowded into low and warm pools while waiting for higher water to move upstream to spawn.

Borok said at least this year, a smaller return of salmon is expected: only about 60,000.

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