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T"his interview was publicly released by the National Water Resources Association earlier this week," Dan Keppen, KWUA
July Klamath Congressional Field Hearing – What Was Learned?

Dan Keppen, Executive Director of the Klamath Water Users Association, talked with the National Water Resources Association about the Congressional field hearing that occurred on July 17.  Below is the transcript of the July 26 interview:

NWRA: Can you tell us how the House Resources Field Hearing on the Klamath Water Users situation went?

KEPPEN: A Congressional Field Hearing was held to specifically discuss the Endangered Species Act and the application of the ESA in Klamath project operations.  Prior to the two hour hearing, we also had a rally out in front of the theater where the hearing took place that drew about 1,000 people.  The hearing itself, I thought, was very constructive and positive despite how it’s been portrayed by some of our critics in statements made in the press. 
The things that stand out to me: First, everybody on the witness stand, which I believe included nine different interests representing tribes, conservation groups, irrigators and government agencies, all agreed that peer review is something that could help in how ESA is administered.  Second, it was interesting to note that all the panelists also agreed that new storage facilities would also be beneficial toward helping solve problems we face in the Klamath Basin.  I think those two messages came out loud and clear. 
Also in general, the Committee’s rehash of what happened in 2001 provided a very large media contingent with a clear understanding that the Project was drastically impaired in 2001 and that we have to make sure that that doesn’t happen again.  Peer review via Congressman Walden’s bill is one way to help that from occurring again.

NWRA: Yes I do know in 2001, the decision to shut off the water from the Klamath Water Users farmers was later found by the National Academy of Sciences to be a bad decision.  Congressman Walden’s legislation would try to fix that situation because his legislation requires peer review in situations where jeopardy is determined.  Was there any new information that came forward during the hearing that was helpful to the process?

KEPPEN: A couple of things were brought out both in the testimony that was provided by the witnesses and also through the questioning of the witnesses by the Congressmen on the committee.  First of all I think Dave Vogel, who is a scientist with nearly 30 years of experience, and much of that in the Klamath Basin, had very interesting testimony that talked about the kind of double standard that exists in the Endangered Species Act relative to criteria used to list and delist the species.  As an example, he pointed out to the listing of the suckers, which have taken away from our flexibility to manage stored water for irrigation supplies.  It was interesting to note that prior to the listing of the suckers, the Klamath Project was not even identified as a major stressor to those species, yet after listing occurred, the agencies and environmental groups just focused on the federal Klamath Project operations and now exclusively lake level management is what drives efforts to purportedly avoid jeopardizing the sucker fish.  Dave also mentioned in his testimony that prior to the Coho being listed on the river that the Klamath Project operations weren’t listed as a significant stressor to the fish and yet after listing occurred, flow management out of the Klamath project became the primary mechanism to avoid jeopardizing the fish.  I thought that was very riveting testimony, and it caught the attention of a lot of folks in the audience. 

For the 33 media outlets there, which was an incredible turnout from the press, they hopefully become aware of the fact that the so-called division that existed between fisherman, farmers and conservationists is not all that it is made out to be.  Ralph Brown, a commercial fisherman who is also a County Commissioner for Curry County, Oregon testified that there’s great opportunity for farmers and fishermen to work together and in fact we have a lot in common, probably more in common than a lot of people realize.  Bill Gaines of California Waterfowl Association testified to show the beneficial relationship that occurs between irrigated agriculture and the wildlife refuges served by the project.  We are constantly battling myths in the Klamath Basin, myths driven by extreme environmental activists.  One of those myths is that the farmers are destroying the refuges, and Mr. Gaines’ testimony  refuted that.  The other myth is farmers and fisherman are at odds with one another.  I believe Mr. Brown’s testimony showed that the two groups actually can have a very constructive working relationship.

NWRA: Wasn’t it true that the farmers actually created the wetlands?

KEPPEN: Well, the wetlands are primarily provided by the refuges themselves, which include  large open bodies of water.  The refuges serve as resting areas for the birds.  75% of the food that the waterfowl use comes from the adjacent farmland or the leaselands that are a part of the Klamath refuges.  So it’s just another myth out there that the farmers are somehow ruining the refuges.  The fact is that food that is provided by the farmlands is a huge benefit and is one reason why we get so many birds coming to this area.

NWRA: You mentioned the need for additional storage.  How much storage would you estimate to be sufficient in increasing the flexibility of the system?

KEPPEN: We haven’t really developed hard conclusions about specific projects.  What we’ve offered up as an association is a list of half a dozen projects that  have been studied in the past, that we believe if they are studied relative to one another using the same screening criteria, will lead to one or two that will make the cut.  These are the projects that we will need to push forward and develop.  One of those projects that looks more promising is Long Lake, which would be an off-stream storage reservoir, similar to the proposed Sites Reservoir in the Sacramento Valley.  Preliminary modeling shows that constructing  that project, which stores about 350,000 acre-feet of water, would essentially take care of the regulatory demands that have been placed on the project in the last 10 years.  That storage could exclusively be used to take care of the environmental needs driven by the ESA and to help refuge needs.  Then the Upper Klamath Lake water supply, which was originally constructed for irrigation purposes 100 years ago, can be returned to the farmers, and that essentially will take care of many of your problems in most years.  We don’t have the exact number as far as storage volume required because it’s such a complicated system, but it looks like somewhere in the ballpark of 500,000 acre-feet, which would solve most of our problems.

NWRA: What is the next step for the Klamath Water users?

KEPPEN: One thing we want to do is to continue to use the momentum from this hearing to shine light on some of these bills that have been proposed to help the Endangered Species Act, such as Congressmen Walden’s peer review bill, which passed the House Resources Committee last week.  We want to continue to use momentum from the hearing to get attention focused on that issue.  We continue to advocate and plead to our State and Federal leaders to come together in a forum of some sort and provide the leadership that we need to get the various stakeholders together and truly manage the Klamath River on a larger watershed-wide basis instead of continually focusing on our small sliver of the river basin.  We will continue to advocate for an open process where the stakeholders who are effected the most will have a say in these decisions that can have such a huge impact on communities. 





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