KLAMATH FALLS, OR – Oregon’s U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley on Friday hosted a science summit, the Sucker Recovery Summit, to share updates on the health of the species and to discuss possible short-term options to help the Lost River (C'waam) and shortnose (Koptu) suckers survive until long-term solutions take effect.
Merkley developed the Sucker Recovery Summit after meeting earlier this year with Klamath-area stakeholders affected by water resource issues; all parties pointed to sucker survival as a critical element to water availability.
“Both irrigators and the Klamath Tribes expressed to me the desire to find collaborative solutions to water resource issues,” Merkley said. “In the face of extreme drought, suffocating wildfires, and other water resource challenges, stakeholders across the board came together to begin addressing one piece of the puzzle: endangered sucker survival.
“We all have a lot more collaboration and hard work ahead of us to solve these water challenges, but the ideas generated at today’s summit are a promising start,” Merkley continued. “I am heartened that everyone has shown tremendous willingness and openness to participating today. As irrigators, tribal members, and other stakeholders overcome obstacles to work together on this urgent issue, I am committed to being a strong federal partner and continuing to work in a bipartisan, bicameral manner to secure resources for the Basin.”
Currently, juvenile suckers in the Klamath Basin are not surviving—creating crisis conditions for the Klamath Tribes, for whom suckers are essential tribal treaty resources, and for farmers and ranchers, whose irrigation supply is affected by the need for in-stream water for the fish, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
With separate efforts underway to address this issue, Merkley convened the Sucker Recovery Summit so that stakeholders could compare and combine information and develop solutions. He asked experts to come prepared to discuss short-term solutions that could be implemented in the next 1 to 3 years, to help suckers survive until long-term solutions take effect.
After hearing from panels of experts and scientists, Merkley identified several action items:
• Use his position as the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture and Rural Development to support several projects: Oregon Department of Agriculture’s innovative water quality improvement efforts; a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pilot program to collaboratively develop alternative fish habitats; irrigation district modernization projects; a phosphorous filtration project near Upper Klamath Lake; and feasibility analysis for open water algal biomass removal.
• Support Klamath Basin collaborative watershed stewardship work groups.
• Support rapid expansion of sucker rearing ponds.
• Follow up with federal agencies to determine what is needed to ensure continued monitoring of post-release survival and health of propagated suckers, and to prioritize a study of the impacts of poor water quality on suckers and other fish species.
• Support a study to evaluate the prevalence and rate of predation by non-native fish species on sucker larvae.
Last month, Merkley worked with his colleagues Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Greg Walden to successfully include in the Water Resources Development Act drought relief language to assist Klamath Basin farmers who have been hard-hit by drought in recent years. The language is essential for the irrigators to effectively use $10 million in drought relief funds that the lawmakers secured in 2018.
The language authorizes the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to work with farmers to develop and implement strategies to align water demand with available supply. It also authorizes the Bureau to develop a plan to provide reduced-cost power for irrigation, with a preference for efficiency, conservation, and local renewable energy projects. Merkley also won an irrigated pasture waiver so that Upper Basin ranchers would have access to some relief funding.