Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
Klamath Indians to bend ear of dam owner
THE KLAMATH RIVER
There's a lot they
didn't discuss during hearing
Representatives of four Klamath River tribes will meet with the CEO of dam owner PacifiCorp, just weeks after visiting its parent company in Scotland.
Two Yurok tribal councilmen described the visit to Scotland as successful, having drawn the attention of ScottishPower to problems the tribe sees with the continued operations of its subsidiary's hydropower facilities on the Klamath, half a world away.
More than two dozen people from tribes, fishing groups and environmental organizations traveled to Scotland last month, and some got the ear of Scottish Power CEO Ian Russell. Tribal representatives will meet with PacifiCorp CEO Judi Johansen in Redding on Monday.
"He gave us his word that PacifiCorp would start negotiating with the tribes," said Councilman Sid Nix.
The Yurok, Hoopa, Karuk and Klamath tribes are pressing for the removal of six dams on the Klamath. The facilities' license expires in 2006.
The dams are in part responsible for the decline of salmon runs, but the tribes say they've also taken a toll on other fishes, like lamprey, candlefish and sturgeon. In PacifiCorp's draft application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the company proposed trucking salmon around the dams, but did not consider building fish ladders, which could be expensive.
Nix said the tribes are committed to the removal of the dams, and believes the trip to Scotland advanced their cause.
The California Energy Commission and the National Research Council have both recommended FERC analyze removal of some of the dams.
Questions in that analysis might include the effects of dam removal on water quality and flow and how sediment trapped behind the dams can move out of the system.
Yurok Councilman Richard Myers said many of the ScottishPower shareholders first learned about the effects of the dams during the tribes' visit.
"They seemed to be good people, and want to return the salmon home," Myers said.
Meanwhile, the tribes and fishing and environmental groups on Friday called on President Bush -- stumping in Portland, Ore., -- to release more water down the Klamath. They want to avoid a repeat of the 2002 fish kill, which wiped out 34,000 to 68,000 salmon.
A plan is being hashed out by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation this week to release water from Lewiston Dam on the Trinity River, the Klamath's main tributary. Fishermen on the lower Klamath have reported extremely warm water and a small number of fish that appear to be succumbing to gill rot, one of the symptoms of a disease that killed fish in 2002.
They are concerned that the planned flows, expected to increase beginning Aug. 22, might come too late.
The groups say the Bush administration's continued denial that it's irrigation project upstream on the Klamath prompted the fish kill doesn't square with its efforts to find, and buy, water to release from the Trinity.
THE KLAMATH RIVER
New push for consensus on major salmon stream
Orleans, Siskiyou County -- The nearby Klamath River is seductively warm at this time of year, perfect for swimming. And that's the problem.
The Klamath -- after the Sacramento, California's longest river -- was once one of the continent's great salmon and steelhead streams. But salmonids need cold water, something that has been woefully lacking in recent years, due to low flows and scorching summertime temperatures.
The decline in the runs has put agricultural irrigators at odds with downstream Indian tribes, commercial fishermen and sport anglers. Politically, the situation is deadlocked, snarled in a welter of lawsuits and dueling press releases.
The intractability of the conflict has enervated stakeholders as well as fish. This has led some of the involved parties to call for a new approach, a consensus strategy that would bring everyone to the table, to divvy up the water in an equitable fashion.
There is precedent for such a tack: A similar impasse on the Sacramento River in the 1990s led to the creation of CalFed, a joint state and federal initiative that has resulted in extensive fisheries and wildlife-habitat restoration, and a more coherent water-distribution strategy. Few of the Sacramento River stakeholders are completely happy with CalFed, but most agree it is better than the endless animus and litigation that preceded it.
As it stands now, the lion's share of the water from both the Klamath and its major tributary, the Trinity River, is diverted for agriculture. The natives and fishermen say diversions and dams are the primary causes for the disappearing fish. Farmers and ranchers claim that view is simplistic and say a number of factors are involved in the decline, including overfishing and logging.
The battle has raged for years, but the situation reached a crisis in September 2002, when thousands of returning wild salmon and steelhead died from disease and heat stress. Early estimates put the loss at 34,000. A recent California Department of Fish and Game report said the final mortality figure was probably twice that.
Things look somewhat better this year than they did in 2002. True, water temperatures in the lower river hit 74 degrees Fahrenheit earlier this month, far too warm for salmon. But the hot weather has moderated recently, and the river is cooling.
Even more heartening is the promise of increased downstream flows. The U. S. Bureau of Reclamation, which controls the spigots on the Klamath system, has earmarked almost 40,000 acre-feet of cold, clear water for the Trinity River.
The water should be released from Trinity Dam starting next week and continuing through mid-September. It will benefit both Trinity River fish and salmon on the lower Klamath.
The bureau will also modestly increase the flows from upstream dams on the Klamath during the same period.
"We've had cooler weather this year than in 2002, and that's been a big help," said Jack Ellwanger, a spokesman for the Klamath Restoration Council, a coalition of native and environmental groups. "The run is also smaller, so the fish aren't as crowded and stressed. We're seeing very little in the way of disease pathogens among the fish."
The extra water, said Ellwanger, is particularly welcome, and particularly telling.
"The big 2002 kill caused a huge outcry, caused a lot of public pressure, and now we're seeing the effect (the extra releases)," said Ellwanger. "Nobody wants to see a repeat of 2002."
Still, profound tensions remain. Until more water is guaranteed for the Klamath and Trinity, the runs will remain imperiled, say fisheries advocates.
"We're going to get more hot weather this year," said Wally Johnson, a Seiad Valley angling guide who fishes the Klamath. "We're not going to dodge any bullets. Until we get greater flows, we're going to see sick fish."
Meanwhile, with water temperatures at least temporarily abated, the five hydropower dams on the upper river -- which are now up for relicensing by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission -- are drawing scrutiny.
None of the dams has any fish-passage mechanisms, meaning that salmon are denied spawning access to fully half of the 400 mile-long river.
In its application for the license, which would be valid for 30 to 40 years if approved, the dam's owner -- PacifiCorp., a Portland, Ore.-based subsidiary of Scottish Power -- did not specify the addition of any fish- passage devices. That makes the proposal a no-starter for the Yurok, Hupa and Karok, the three tribes that live on the lower river.
"Right now, this is the No. 1 issue for the tribes," said Leif Hillman, the vice chairman of the Karok tribe. "We're in a war of survival here -- we depend on the fish, and we always have."
The tribes, said Hillman, want to see salmon reclaim the upper basin, the historic limits of their range.
"For that, we need fish passage around the dams, or more appropriately, dam removal," he said.
John Engbring, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supervisor for the Klamath region, said it was noted by several government agencies that PacifiCorp's application did not include any fish-passage measures.
"Fish passage is a major issue on this river," Engbring said. "Right now, all the fish stop at Iron Gate Dam (near Yreka). There's another 200 miles of river above that."
Dissatisfied with PacifiCorp's proposals to FERC, Hillman and other tribal leaders recently traveled to Scotland to press their concerns with executives of the utility's parent company, Scottish Power.
The tribal members met with Scottish Power CEO Ian Russell and PacifiCorp CEO Judi Johansen. Later, Johansen said during an interview on Scottish television that PacifiCorp would look at all possible solutions to the fish- passage problems, including dam removal.
That hint of a possible compromise has led some stakeholders to call for a more concerted drive for a consensus solution.
Dan Keppen, the executive director for the Klamath Water Users Association, which represents farmers in the river's upper basin, looks to the CalFed process on the Sacramento River as a guide for the Klamath.
"Right now, we're just beating each other up in the press and courts," said Keppen. "What finally broke the impasse on the Sacramento was Gov. (Pete) Wilson and President (Bill) Clinton appointing some people with real portfolios to the situation. They locked everyone up in a room until things got done. At this point on the Klamath, we need similar leadership from President Bush, Gov. Schwarzenegger and Gov. (Ted) Kulongoski (of Oregon) to bring the stakeholders together."
Ellwanger expressed similar sentiments and said the process must be ambitious enough to address the entire Klamath ecosystem, not just the main river corridor.
"We're talking about the restoration of a 15,000-square-mile bioregion," Ellwanger said. "For something of that scale, it's increasingly clear that the only way to get anything done is to have people talking to each other, not at each other."
E-mail Glen Martin at email@example.com.
There's a lot they didn't discuss during hearing on endangered species
Published August 16, 2004
By Felice Pace -
I've been reading reports about the Endangered Species Act hearing July 17 in the upper Klamath River Basin. Based on news and participant reports, what was said in Klamath Falls was predictable. Those who control water - the irrigation folks, their right-wing supporters and their Republican congressmen - don't like the law's restrictions on irrigation.
Tribes rightly point out that the law does not protect their fishing and gathering rights. Fishermen from the coast cited their decades-long losses.
This is all old territory, gone over time and again since the summer of 2001 when - after a decade of pleading for more river flows - environmental groups used the Endangered Species Act to prevent the federal government from ignoring that drought necessitates cutting back irrigation deliveries.
What is more interesting is what was not said.
Not said was that in the Klamath Basin the Endangered Species Act has so far been the only thing that has provided the tribes with even a portion of the water rights they need to protect and restore treaty fisheries. No one wants to talk about the Endangered Species Act as a tool for social justice, but in the Klamath it has been just that.
More and more taken
Throughout the 20th century the federal government, the states of Oregon and California and private agricultural interests appropriated more and more water. By 2001 up to 90 percent and, in some smaller streams, 100 percent of available summer stream flow is now diverted for irrigation.
This appropriation, which is still continuing as groundwater supplies are tapped, has come at the expense of those who rely on fisheries. The law has functioned to remedy - if only in part - this historic injustice.
Not said was the fact that if the states of California and Oregon had been doing their duties, irrigators and the feds would never have been able to get control of 80 percent to 100 percent of dry-season surface water and the Endangered Species Act would not be needed to secure minimum river flow.
For example, the California Constitution, as well as the state's water and fish and game codes, require flows below dams and diversions to maintain fish habitat "in good condition." Dry, sluggish and polluted is not good condition.
Not said in Klamath Falls was that the Bush administration main program to fix the Basin's water conflicts - on farm "projects" to improve "water conservation" - are in reality a $50 million dollar give-away to irrigators.
Many of the area's Environmental Quality Incentives Program projects (they are really capital improvements) provided to irrigators will actually increase net water use during critical summer and fall months. No one in Klamath Falls called for the congressional investigation needed to expose this affront to taxpayers and perversion of the intent of Congress when it funded Farm Bill "on-farm water conservation."
There was a lot more not said in Klamath Falls. The Bush Administration's active efforts to link Klamath River dam relicensing with the flow issue in order to get concessions from the tribes to benefit agriculture, was not mentioned.
Other things left out
The fact that the federal Klamath Irrigation Project, PacifCorp's Klamath River dams, and most private irrigation systems don't comply with another bedrock environmental law - the Clean Water Act - was not mentioned.
The fact that right now Iron Gate Hatchery, owned and funded by PacifiCorp and operated by the California Fish and Game Department, is "taking" coho salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act, in violation of the law, was not mentioned. No one asked why neither agency charged with caring for coho, nor fishermen, tribes, nor scientists are taking action to stop coho from being killed by the hatchery.
As usual when congressmen come to town, what was not said in mid-July in Klamath Falls is much more interesting than what was said. However, if we are going to have a real and a just solution to the ongoing Klamath water crisis, those unmentionables listed above will need to come out for public scrutiny and debate.
One thing is sure, if we the citizens allow the Klamath's "solution" to be crafted in back rooms by lawyers, professional lobbyists and politicos, we will not like the result -- nor, I fear, will the fish.
NOTE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, any copyrighted
material herein is distributed without profit or payment to those who have
expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit
research and educational purposes only. For more information go to:
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM Pacific
Copyright © klamathbasincrisis.org, 2004, All Rights Reserved