Our Klamath Basin
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2004 water bank blackmail, ESA
December 9, 2003
It was another monthly Tulelake Irrigation District (TID) meeting, and it was déjà vu all over again. Dave Sabo from the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) was here to bring a familiar message to the weary board.
His message was: we want to contract you to sell us your TID well water. Last year we offered this to you and you turned it down, so we took it anyway and did not pay you. If you sign a contract you will get paid. And we don’t have much money to pay you.
We all remembered this summer all too vividly. We retired farmland and private irrigators pumped groundwater to meet the outrageous demand of 50,000 AF (acre feet) to be sent down Klamath River. We had a wet spring, so the BOR took more. In July they told us our Project water was shut down, this time with 200,000 million dollars of crops in the fields. Sabo then said that if we do not pump our TID wells and send more water down the river, the entire Project would probably be shut down for several days, long enough for the crops to die from lack of water of frost. This would have been a loss from which few could recover.
The 50,000AF requirement of water taken from the Project irrigators turned into 78,000 AF that they took. This was 28,000AF more than required by the operation plan. The water pumped by TID and several private irrigators was not paid for by the BOR, but it was demanded. Our alternative was to let the crops die.
In 2004, 75,000AF water is being demanded of the irrigators, and 100,000AF in 2005. This is a mandatory downsize of the Klamath Project, regardless of water year type. Regardless of the best available science, the NAS report, that says that higher lake levels and river flows will not save fish.. Regardless of the fact that no fish kills have happened on low water years in Klamath Lake. Regardless of the fact that the Link River, headwaters of the Klamath River, used to go dry.
Does the ‘best available science’ mean anything at all?
Dr. Hardy, hired by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Justice, did Hardy flow studies based on the highest water year period in recorded history. His studies demand more water than the Klamath Project can physically produce, essentially decimating the Klamath Project. They used these reports to form our operation plan, sucking out even our groundwater.
So tonight Dave Sabo made the offer again to buy TID water. John Crawford, TID board member, said we would consider it after we get paid for the water they demanded in 2003 and did not pay for. It became clear that there is no choice if we want to get paid for the groundwater they plan to take.
A question was asked of Sabo if the lake levels met the ESA (Endangered Species Act) demands for November 30th, and he said "no". It was brought to his attention that USFWS was withdrawing water and the lake levels were failing to meet the ESA requirements. When the lake was a fraction of an inch below target this summer, the BOR said they were shutting down the Klamath Project. Project irrigators were entirely responsible for the lake levels and river flows regardless of what other irrigators or USFWS diverted.
To avoid paying irrigators a fair price for their groundwater, this year the BOR plans to create a bidding war, where farmer bids against farmer and they take our water for less than market price. But, since the BOR is the largest water broker in America, it should be no surprise.
Less than a year ago, we were told that the water bank was temporary, it would provide enough water for the rest of the Project, and the BOR would expedite a reconsultation regarding the Biological Opinions after the NAS report became final. We were assured that another 2001 wouldn’t happen where they paid some for their groundwater and others pumped at their own expense. Reality, water bank downsize is not intended to end any time soon, they may still shut down the Project if they decide they want more, and the BOR has no intention of reconsultation soon.
So the moral of the story is, if you are a government agency, you can ignore the ESA requirements and the fish will be fine. If you are a farmer, you will be taken to court and your stored water and your ground water will be taken away from you. If the best available science says the fish need more water, the fish get more water. If the best available science says the fish do not need more water, the fish get more water. If the irrigators make a plan like a water bank that will work, the government agency throws it away. If the agency makes a plan and it does not work, and defies the best available science, they repeat it until we the farmers and irrigation districts are broke.
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