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Study on Klamath Project recreation impact dead wrong

Done by the U.S. Geological Survey, it is laced with inaccuracies and dangerous assumptions


Klamath Falls Herald and News By DAN KEPPEN

The commentary written by Felice Pace that appeared Nov. 25 opens with a bold question: "You want studies reviewed by peers?" That initial question is never truly addressed in Pace’s ensuing commentary, which raises additional issues that require clarification.

The Klamath Water Users Association was dismayed to learn that a draft version of a report prepared by a U.S. Geological Survey office and consultant was leaked to the media and environmental organizations on Nov. 1.

Not only is our association concerned about the manner in which this report surfaced, we are truly surprised that such a report had even been commissioned, especially without soliciting local input on its disastrous implications for the Klamath Project. Even more disturbing is the fact that the

Geological Survey — a government agency we have previously held in high regard for its adherence to a sound and unbiased approach to assessing matters of physical science — would

delve into the relatively arcane and theoretical field of recreational economics.

The lack of empathy exhibited by the authors towards the devastating ramifications of their assessment is chilling. In essence, they have proposed to eliminate an entire community so that assumed future tourists might enjoy additional — and debatable — recreational amenities.

The draft report is laced with inaccuracies and dangerous assumptions that are too numerous to address here. However, we point out a few glaring errors that simply cannot be ignored.

Highly theoretical

The report itself is a highly theoretical exercise, based in part on information culled from "cold calls" and mailings sent to random respondents in four Western states.

Participants were polled on past visits they made to the Klamath River, and then were asked if they would increase visits based on improvements noted in the river, such as enhanced water quality and angling harvests. Not surprisingly, respondents answered positively, and the draft report’s findings suggest that recreational visitation would increase under these circumstances. The study then balanced the theoretical economic gains associated with increased visits versus the costs for actions that were assumed to improve water quality and fishery conditions.

Although the study clearly states "we have no quantitative information about the impact of the individual restoration activities on habitat or water quality," the "restoration" activities chosen included:

* Acquiring all farmland within the Klamath Project at an assumed price.

* Acquiring forest land along the Klamath River and tributaries.

* Increasing Trinity River flows by 500,000 acre-feet per year.

* Removal of some Klamath River hydroelectric dams.

The report concludes that the recreational benefits achieved by increased recreational use would far outweigh the costs of buying farms and forests, removing water supplies from California’s Central Valley and removing hydroelectric dams.

Importantly, it provides no explanation whatsoever for how the radical "restoration" measures it proposes will improve the fishing and habitat conditions in the river.

It also fails to address the obvious impacts that would result from these measures. In the Upper Klamath Basin — even ignoring the callous attitude that would close down entire towns — what would be the cost of acquiring the residences, businesses, schoolhouses, and communities throughout the Klamath Project?

What would happen to recreation benefits — as well as the many other benefits associated with the private farmland — when the farmers disappear?

What happens to the national wildlife refuges? How will they receive water when irrigation districts that serve them are wiped off the map?

The negative economic impacts associated with other proposed actions appear fairly obvious to us, but are nowhere even addressed in the draft report. This is but a small sampling of some very fundamental problems.

We do not know how this draft report was initiated, or when. We have formally requested that we be notified if Geological Survey intends to modify or finalize the current draft document.

So who knew?

While Felice Pace asserts that Geological Survey scientists completed "rigorous internal and academic peer review" of the draft report last year, our association had no knowledge that these reviews had been undertaken, or that such a report had even been commissioned.

How did we find out about the report? Just like (nearly) everyone else, we read about it in the Wall Street Journal last month. After spending hours working with our congressional delegation and senior U.S. Interior Department officials in Washington D.C. to track down a copy of the report, we determined later that a coalition of environmental groups had already obtained the report and issued a press release within hours of the Wall Street Journal coverage. Naturally, these groups immediately attacked the Bush administration for allegedly stifling the release of this damaging report.

Our association is working strenuously to preserve and enhance the assets and resources of this Basin in a constructive manner. We have witnessed a barrage of well-coordinated legal, legislative and media attacks on Klamath Project farmers in the past two months.

The "leak" of the draft Geological Survey report — and its use by anti-farming interests as a tool to marginalize the importance of Klamath Project irrigators — is just the latest such attack. These attacks only serve to erode the potential to forge truly constructive approaches to the water resources challenges we face in the entire Klamath River watershed. But we are heartened by the response from other Americans throughout the country who understand that farmers in Klamath

and other parts of the nation are part of the solution, and not a problem that can be written off with the stroke of an economist’s pen.






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