Most people know the butterfly effect of drought leads to the obvious, like more widespread wildfires, water shortages and agricultural woes. But a parasite outbreak? That may not be something most think about when contemplating the many threats drought brings.
An ongoing fish kill has been plaguing the Klamath River since early May. The Klamath flows through Oregon and northern California, and like many water sources in the West, has seen water levels drop considerably due to extreme drought. A lower river means a slower and warmer river, which is what some parasites need to thrive. The parasite C.Shasta is expected to kill off nearly all of this year’s juvenile Chinook salmon in the Klamath.
The Yurok Tribe, California’s largest federally recognized tribe, depends on the salmon for commercial purposes, as well as ceremonial purposes. The tribe’s way of life has depended on the Klamath River’s health, and especially the salmon runs, for as long as their history traces back.
The tribe, which is a leader in natural resource management and fisheries restoration in the area, has been monitoring the drought-caused fishkill. In early May, 97% of the juvenile salmon caught by the Yurok Tribal Fisheries Department’s in-river trapping device were infected with C. shasta, and were either dead or dying. In the following two-week period, 70% of the juvenile salmon caught in the same trap were dead, High Country News reported.
“For salmon people, a juvenile fish kill is an absolute worst-case scenario,” Yurok Vice Chairman Frankie Joe Myers told the magazine.
The fish kill will affect the salmon run for years to come, since the juveniles affected haven’t made it to the ocean to lay eggs. It’s a nightmare for the Yurok Tribe, who have seen some of the lowest fish runs on record on the Klamath over the past five years.
The Yurok haven’t been able to harvest enough fish for their own meals and ceremonies, let alone commercial purposes. This is the fifth year that the tribe has had to stop commercial fishing, its families’ main source of income.
The Klamath Basin is experiencing one of its worst drought years in four decades. The Bureau of Reclamation announced in mid-May that the Klamath Project’s A Canal would remain closed throughout the season and feed nothing downstream for the first time since its inception, according to Herald and News.
Irrigators will receive just 10.7 billion gallons from the Klamath Project, down from the 130 billion needed.
California has resorted to trucking 17 million salmon to the ocean from some locations as the water levels and water temperatures have made their trip so difficult, The Guardian reported earlier this month.
Currently, 88% of the West is experiencing at least moderate drought, with 55% of the West in the most serious two categories of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The drought has depleted reservoirs and water sources throughout the region, with most of California’s big reservoirs holding less than half their capacities. Experts blame climate change and this year’s La Niña.
“This drought is not a fluke event,” Amy Cordalis, Yurok citizen and tribal counsel, testified in a House hearing in late May. “It is a part of a larger pattern of drought brought on by climate change. Climate change is no longer some vague future threat — we are seeing its effects happening now, in real time.”
MORE FROM WEATHER.COM: Bolivia’s ‘People of the Water’ Face Loss of Way of Life After Lake Dries Up
The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.