Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Fighting for Our Right to Irrigate Our Farms and Caretake Our Natural Resources

Klamath County Commissioners make decisions regarding current lawsuit targeting irrigators, and Barnes property storage, kbc news report 3/11/0

The Klamath County Commissioners (KCCs) supported the Klamath Water Users (KWUA) in their filing a brief regarding the US District court case of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association (PCFFA) v U.S Bureau of Reclamation (BOR). And although there was much skepticism and over 60 concerned about the the acquisition of the controversial Barnes Property for water storage, they voted 2 to 1 to support that also. These were two of the subjects addressed at KCC regular meeting. Commissioners are Steve West, John Elliott, and Al Switzer (chairman).

The Klamath Tribes will participate in the case of PCFFA v. BOR, a suit filed to insure stationary water levels to remain constant for the fish, shutting off water to the irrigators if the supply runs short. KWUA ask KCCs to file a brief in support of the water users in the U.S. district court as ‘friend of the court."

Dan Keppen, executive director of KWUA, pointed out that this in not a fishermen’s group, but a group of extreme environmentalists that filed a temporary restraining order last year, denied by Judge Armstrong. Yuroks contend that BOR violated fishing rights.

Commissioner West said that extreme environmental groups talk of ‘best available science,’ but would rather use the Hardy study, which was not finalized or peer reviewed. The fish in the 2002 fish kill were Trinity River stock near the mouth of the Trinity River (which diverts most of the Klamath River water. He stated that he is on the Klamath Fisheries Task Force, and many in this group would like to see farming end in the Klamath Basin. Luther Horsley, local farmer, brought to the commissioner’s attention, that the Hardy Flow studies were paid for by the Dept of Justice.

Commissioner Elliott added that if we had released more water, it would have been 70 degrees, a lethal temperature for fish. He also mentioned that the letter regarding the lawsuit does not address over-fishing (which the USFWS deemed a major reason for low fish numbers in the past).

Keppen continued that this was the 3rd highest return of salmon at Iron Gate fish hatchery. These environmental groups hire full-time press people to convince the public of the fallacy that the Klamath Project should be 100% responsible for a fish kill 200 miles away where the Klamath Project only provides 2% of that water.

Doug Whitsett, veterinarian, expressed agreement with Keppen’s request, "…the preservationist community, using the courts as their weapon of choice, have divided the people who depend upon our natural resources for their livelihood." Referring to the Charlie Brown comic strip with Lucy, Charlie and the football, "Charlie never learns, and apparently neither do we. "Will we soon be at the throats of the Jackson County Commissioners and communities over the Cascade canal diversion? He encouraged dialogue among county leaders from both communities, which would be educational as to the methods being used "to divide and destroy us." Whitsett said "an organized and coordinated county-level proactive response is required."

Steve Kandra, Merrill farmer, expressed concern for the fish, and dismay that the management of the water system doesn’t take into account all the tributaries to see what the problems are. They don’t deal with all the issues.

Bill Ransom, Klamath Bucket Brigade chairman, supported Keppen, and requested that the commissioners get the support of the Oregon governor. He explained that we used 2% of the Klamath River watershed, and the Trinity takes 1/3 of the water. West said he will pursue the governor’s support.

The Board of Commissioners moved and voted to support KWUA—the motion passed unanimously.

The next pertinent item on the agenda was the purchase of the Barnes Ranch for water storage. Andy Gigler felt that the irrigators caused all the water quality and quantity problems in the basin. He encouraged the Barnes purchase to remedy those issues. Elliott responded that, in Fremont’s journal of 1837, when there were no farms in the area, water was so bad that his horse could not drink it. Elliott explained that there was poor water quality before the farms came, saying that for Gigler to condemn farming, to lay all the blame on farmers, is an insult to residents of the Klamath Basin.

Rich McIntyre is the leading spokesman for the American Land Conservancy, ALC, (the group that encourages landowners to become willing sellers and sell their farms, and he is the broker.) He encouraged support for the Barnes Ranch purchase, saying he would try to get credit for the Project irrigators, and would try to get $9 million from private rather than federal funds, and they would pay the taxes on the land somehow, and it would be a mistake not to purchase this land for shallow water storage. At first he spoke about the federal government paying much of the cost, but later assured that he could get private funds.

Dave Sabo, BOR, said that he supports the purchase. He brought up that the BO requires more of the Project water on low water years than on critically low years. In his opinion, it could supply cold water in the spring, and would re-establish habitat.

Frank Goodson, Fort Klamath farmer and California Fish and Game biologist, asked the commissioners to ‘go slow’ on the Barnes Ranch purchase. He explained that we were assured storage and more water with the Wood River and Agency Ranch purchases. These have not provided more storage, and as exemplified by Ed Bartell last week on a chart regarding Upper Klamath purchases, they have USED more water from evaporation and water soaking into the ground. 60 people came to a Fort Klamath meeting, fishermen, rafters and ranchers, and they did not support the purchase. They blame the Wood River and Agency Lake purchases—warm water going into the lake, for the immense decline in sports-fishing successes. Barnes purchase will raise the water temperature drastically—"it is bad for fish!" Warm water releases have already weakened the fish. Fishermen and guides ‘won’t have good fishing anymore if this happens.’ Also, this is prime ag land, and the Oregon State Law requires we not destroy ag lands. Goodson asked that if the land is purchased, that they do not use it like a wildlands, uninhabitable by everyone except government workers, with access for only government workers like the other purchases of ag lands.

Goodson’s solution was to use BOR and NFWS’s 90,000 acres of government land to store the water, which would gravity flow and not have to be pumped (as power rates in 2006 will be horrendous). He suggested storing water also on B and C ground, which could happen sooner than Barnes. We need deep, cold water storage.

Steve Kandra, past long-time Hatfield committee member, expressed concerns that we’ve done a lot of ‘environmental tweeking’, and it has provided no flexibility, no assurance for farmers, no more water for downstream uses. He is concerned that the taxpayers again will pay if this property becomes government property.

Whitsett again addressed the commissioners, asking where the water right will come from to store water here, since 3 ½ acre feet are allocated here. "Klamath is the poster child of unintended consequences." Wood River ranch was purchased for reducing pollution and for fish habitat, and the water now looks like milk. The consequence was bad water quality which destroyed the river. It did reduce phosphorus because the water does not go into the lake. Under Upper Klamath TMDL, it is against the law to release this much phosphorus into the lake.

Fred Fahner, Tulelake farmer, said he hoped that the property would be managed better than the Wood River property that was purchased for storage.

Despite the concerns of mismanagement, illegal phosphorus levels, poor water quality, higher taxes, warm water releases killing fish, concerns of 60 fishermen and guides, soil absorption and evaporation (which uses more water than irrigating), and ‘no credit for Project irrigators’, and possible government acquisition (all of these consequences from past ‘water storage’ acquisitions), the commissioners voted to support the ALC’s attempt to broker the Barnes property. Commissioner Elliott, who continually questioned the logic, voted against the support.

West had a letter saying he supported it if it resulted in private ownership, BOR management, credit for water users, and no tax liability.


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