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High and Dry: Managing the Drought, Part Two

NORTH COAST- Looking back at this years drought, Yurok tribal members believe a massive fish kill was barely avoided.

It has been more than a decade since the 2002 fish kill, where over 70,000 Chinook salmon died as they returned to the Klamath river to spawn

"It's guaranteed by all the signs that we see that there would have been a massive fish kill this year," said Susan Masten, the vice chairperson for the Yurok tribe.

Low water levels, high temperatures, both precursors to the deadly disease Ich, where all present in the Klamath and Trinity river this summer.

A fish kill was avoided, the Bureau of Reclamation released water twice from the Trinity Reservoir and once from Iron Gate Dam to reduce the parasite's impact.

"We provided the science that showed that there would be a fish kill if water was not released. This time the government listened," Masten said.

Especially in a drought, where resources are limited, the Bureau is balancing interests locally and in Central California, where about half of Trinity River water is transported to support agriculture and other water users.

"It was really a balancing act, a very difficult balancing act," said Brian Person, the Northern California Area Office Manager for the agency.

But, for tribal members and fisherman it is an ongoing battle and many worry about what another year of drought could bring.

"I want my sons to come back here and be able to fish the way I have, " said Oscar Gensaw III, who has been fishing in the Klamath for 25 years. "It is important to have these flows released."

Stakeholders have said they want a long term solution, and an automatic response in dry years.

Congressman Jared Huffman of the 2nd District of Calif. said he is pushing for a resolution. "We've got to be very vigilant about people stealing our water quite frankly," he said.

Huffman said he is working to resolve the issue.  "I'm going to be working with my local tribes, Humboldt County and many other stakeholders to try and hang on to our water as we head into these recurring droughts."

Reclamation said they are working on a long term solution. A plan has been drafted by the agency and is expected to be released for stakeholder input by the end of this year.