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Recently uncovered evidence strongly suggests that the deaths of 33,000 salmon and steelhead trout during last September’s fall run within 20 miles of the mouth of the Klamath River in northern California was not due simply to a lack of sufficient water, as claimed by a California state agency and environmentalists, but may have been caused by contamination from illicit drug manufacturing operations near rivers in the area.

A second overlooked factor appears to have been the temperature of the Klamath River, which was too warm for salmon. This, in turn, was caused by an unpublicized diversion of water from the much colder Trinity River that flows north to meet the Klamath at the small town of Weitchpec on state highway 96.

In a report in Monday’s Siskiyou Daily News, Barry Clausen, an investigator and author, challenged the official view and urged that toxicity and diversion of water from the Trinity be seriously investigated as likely contributory factors to the mysterious die-off.

According to the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department and Larry Hand of the California Conservation Corps, a CCC crew last summer discovered several large glass flasks used for cooking methamphetamine on Ohpah Creek, a tributary of the Klamath River, just 21 miles from the mouth of the river. The flasks had been left on land owned by the Simpson Timber Company above the Ohpah Creek Ranch and were part of a “meth dump” – a place where unused residue and cooking utensils from meth labs are discarded.

“Could the illegal marijuana and meth producers dumping chemicals, poisons and waste above the fish kill into creeks, watersheds and river be accountable for the dead fish or at least have magnified the impact of the gill rot?” Clausen asks.

His question calls into dispute the official position of the California Department of Fish and Game detailed in a 63-page study released in early January. As WorldNetDaily reported, the department concluded that “too many migrating fish crowded into a depleted river, allowing the spread of two naturally occurring parasites that destroy the gills of fish. The salmon and steelhead subsequently died of asphyxiation.”

The DFG report – which is a preliminary analysis – in effect casts the blame for the fish kill on the Bush administration’s decision to release “too much water for farmers” during the spring without leaving “enough flow for the fish.”

The study also warned that unless the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation increases flows from the Klamath Lake in coming years, “there is a substantial risk for future fish kills on the Klamath River.” The bureau is the federal agency responsible for overseeing water diversions from the Klamath.

According to the DFG report, department biologists – after eliminating various factors that could have killed the fish, including drought, a late summer heat wave and a possible spill of toxics into the river – found the only difference in the Klamath River in the fall of 2002 compared to other dry years was that the number of salmon returning from their annual spawning run was high and the amount of water in the river was low.

They determined that “no substances were found at concentrations toxic to fish and therefore were not a factor in the 2002 fish kill.”

Clausen quotes the report: “Soon after the fish kill manifested itself, claims were made that toxic substances may have been the cause. The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board Staff collected samples from five locations on Sept. 26, 2002, to determine if any toxic substances were present at concentrations toxic to fish. These scans test for a broad spectrum of organic compounds including organochlorine pesticides, PCBs, and Glyphosate.”

The date of the testing poses serious problems for defenders of the DFG report.

“The samples were taken seven days after the discovery of the dead fish,” Clausen points out. “The question arises – would concentrations of chemicals still be present in the alleged test areas after this length of time?”

This also was an issue that struck David Vogel, a biologist who worked for 14 years with fishery research divisions with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before starting his own environmental consulting firm, Natural Resources Scientists, in 1990.

“They [Fish and Game] state that the fish kill began Sept. 19, and yet they say that no [water] analysis was done of any potential toxic substances until Sept. 26 – seven days later,” exclaimed Vogel when interviewed by WorldNetDaily. “So they conclude that toxic substances could not have caused the fish kill, when in reality there’s no way in the world you could make that conclusion when the samples were taken a full week later after the fish kill was under way. I was astounded at that.”

According to Clausen, who based his conclusions on interviews with numerous law-enforcement officials, toxic substances could have been introduced either from meth production or marijuana growing, the latter being a prominent “cottage industry” in the area. Marijuana growing in itself does not produce pollutants, but does pose a hazard to fish as growers use “rat poison, insecticides and pesticides to kill unwanted animals that penetrate their operations,” and these work their way into the groundwater and, ultimately, the river.

Meth labs suspect

But the major suspect for toxicity would be the production of methamphetamine, which uses a variety of chemicals obtained from various sources (such as car batteries) and varying degrees of toxicity.

A few of these, listed by Clausen, include toluene, ether, drain cleaner (sulphuric acid), car batteries (lithium), Red Devil lye (sodium hydroxide), hydrochloric acid, white gas, laundry soap and diesel fuel.

“The chemicals are then cooked in such items as Pyrex dishes or large glass flasks like the ones found on Ohpah Creek,” he explains. “Coffee filters are then used to filter the items cooked.”

Clausen reports that law-enforcement officials he spoke with emphasized that “the chemicals end up in creeks and watersheds,” and ultimately in rivers such as the Klamath.

Several members of the DFG told him they were familiar with the chemicals listed and their potential for harm: “Of course they could kill fish. The fish have gill rot, but there is the possibility they may have survived. If there was any of these chemicals in the river at any level, it would have stressed the fish and yes, it could have been a factor in the kill.”

Two persons Clausen interviewed claimed there are five meth labs between Weitchpec and the mouth of the Klamath, one being known to both law enforcement and local residents as the “Crystal Palace.” When asked, one Siskiyou County law-enforcement official told him, “It the truth were known, there are probably 50 labs.”

Temperature factor

The other factor Clausen checked was the temperature of the Klamath River, which Vogel has insisted was too warm for salmon migrating upstream.

As Vogel explained to WorldNetDaily, “Notably absent from the [Fish and Game] report is an analysis of the water temperatures that were present in the Upper Klamath River downstream of Irongate Dam during the time of the fish kill.”

He added that the information and relevant data was available, which he had studied, and it was clearly apparent that water temperatures in the main stem of the Upper Klamath were within “lethal range” for salmon.

“They were too high,” he emphasized. “So Fish and Game attempts to build an argument for increased flow below Irongate Dam during early September. But the problem with that is that even if the flow had been increased, the water temperatures were unsuitably warm for salmon in the upper river. In other words there was no place for the fish to go.”

Added Vogel, “It doesn’t take much increase in water temperature to have catastrophic effects on fish. Just a couple of degrees plus or minus can make it or break it for fish.”

Warm water temperatures can also foster an increase in the number of death-causing parasites. “A major contributing factor in the fish kill would be the warmer temperature of the water, which Fish and Game did not take into account,” said Vogel.

The question, then, is what caused this higher temperature? Basically, there was not enough cold water flowing into the Klamath to cool it off. Cold water would normally flow from the Trinity River, which is 15 degrees cooler than the Klamath. But Clausen discovered that as much as 90 percent of the Trinity’s water is being diverted to the Sacramento River.

“This water would usually flow [north] into the Klamath at Weitchpec, but instead is being diverted and utilized in the Central Basin of California,” he writes.

The diversion is a major concern to the Hoopa Tribe of Indians, through whose reservation the Trinity flows. Government officials had assured tribal members that the amount of water released from the Trinity Reservoir to the Sacramento would be only 50 percent.

Instead, the amount water being released from the Trinity Reservoir at the time of the fish kill was 73 percent, according to Tom Patton, a hydraulic engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation.

Many of the local Hoopa blame the die-off on this overlooked diversion of the Trinity to the Sacramento River, rather than on the diversion of the Klamath to farms of Klamath basin upstream.

Duane Sherman, who has served on the tribal council, monitors Native American fishing rights, the Trinity River diversion, water levels, water temperature and the fish kill.

“The Trinity is 15 degrees colder than the Klamath, and if the Trinity had been flowing as we were promised, the fish would not have died,” Sherman told Clausen.

Asked if he blamed the upstream farmers and ranchers, he said, “No, but something different needs to be done – and soon.”

Related stories:

Bush plan to save Klamath farmers a mistake?

Destination: Klamath Falls

Feds reject plea for ‘God Squad’

‘Us now, you’re next,’ say desperate farmers

Related column:

Tightening the screws

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