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3rd July 2021
... Continued from Part 1


The downstream tribes’ problems are compounded by hydroelectric dams, separate from the irrigation project, that block the path of migrating salmon.

In most years, the tribes 200 miles (320 kilometers) to the southwest of the farmers, where the river reaches the Pacific, ask the Bureau of Reclamation to release pulses of extra water from Upper Klamath Lake. The extra flows mitigate outbreaks of a parasitic disease that proliferates when the river is low.

This year, the federal agency refused those requests, citing the drought.

Now, the parasite is killing thousands of juvenile salmon in the lower Klamath River, where the Karuk and Yurok tribes have coexisted with them for millennia. Last month, tribal fish biologists determined 97% of juvenile spring chinook on a critical stretch of the river were infected; recently, 63% of fish caught in research traps near the river’s mouth have been dead.

The die-off is devastating for people who believe they were created to safeguard the Klamath River’s salmon and who are taught that if the salmon disappear, their tribe is not far behind.

“Everybody’s been promised something that just does not exist anymore,” said Holt, the Yurok fisheries expert. “We are so engrained within our environment that we do see these changes, and these changes make us change our way of life. Most people in the world don’t get to see that direct correlation — climate change means less fish, less food.”

Hundreds of miles to the northeast, near the river’s source, some of the farmers who are seeing their lives upended by the same drought now say a guarantee of less water — but some water — each year would be better than the parched fields they have now. And there is concern that any problems in the river basin — even ones caused by a drought beyond their control — are blamed on a way of life they also inherited.

“I know turning off the project is easy,” said Tricia Hill, a fourth-generation farmer who returned to take over the family farm after working as an environmental lawyer.

“But sometimes the story that gets told ... doesn’t represent how progressive we are here and how we do want to make things better for all species. This single-species management is not working for the fish — and it’s destroying our community and hurting our wildlife.”

DuVal’s daughter also dreams of taking over her family’s farm someday. But DuVal isn’t sure he and his wife, Erika, can hang onto it if things don’t change.

“To me it’s a like a big, dark cloud that follows me around all the time. It’s depressing knowing that we had a good business and that we had a plan on how we’re going to grow our farm and to be able to send my daughters to a good college,” said DuVal. “And that plan just unravels further and further with every bad water year.”