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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.

Dan Keppen

Executive Director Family Farm Alliance

Spoken Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Water and Power

Committee on Resources

United States House of Representatives

June 22, 2005

Chairman Radanovich and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. My name is Dan Keppen, and I serve as the executive director of the Family Farm Alliance, which advocates for family farmers, ranchers, irrigation districts, and allied industries in seventeen Western states.

My written testimony submitted to the Committee details the on-the-ground impacts of the ESA to farmers and farm families. While the membership of the Family Farm Alliance spans most of the West, the very specific examples presented in my written testimony are based on my experience working in the Klamath Basin, located in southern Oregon and northern California, where I reside.

I moved to the Klamath Basin in 2001, and served as the executive director for the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) until February of this year. As you may recall, 2001 was the year that the federal government announced that, for the first time in 95 years, no water would be provided for irrigators from Upper Klamath Lake. Instead, that water was reallocated to meet the alleged needs of three fish species protected by the Endangered Species Act. The process that led to this disastrous decision has since led a National Research Council committee to conclude – in two studies – that the decision-making employed by the federal agencies that year were not scientifically justified.

During my tenure with KWUA, I directly witnessed the stress and anxiety that rural families faced in 2001 and the troubling years since, the drain on their finances, and the toll on their health. These farmers – my neighbors and my friends – were impacted in almost unimaginable ways when their water supplies were curtailed in 2001. Those impacts continue to linger today, four years later.

While many of these impacts – such as income tax difficulties, inability to establish credit, increased demand for social services – are things that can be documented and explained, some issues simply cannot be quantified. Dick Carleton – the 61-year old farmer whose experiences form the core of my written testimony - believes that probably the most difficult thing he and his neighbors have to face is the uncertainty of the future. With current operations plans in place, Klamath Project irrigators still don’t know if they will have water, or, if so, how much. This uncertainty makes planning for the future, at best, very difficult.

As you know, there has been incredible media and political scrutiny of Klamath Basin water issues. In July of 2004, this very committee conducted a field hearing on the ESA held in Klamath Falls, which I attended. I recall, at that time, being puzzled by media statements and opinion pieces written by long-time critics of the Klamath Project, who stereotyped the event as yet another attempt by Klamath Basin farmers and ranchers and their supporters to "gut," "dismantle" or "cripple" the ESA.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. I was at the hearing, and what I witnessed was an amazing degree of agreement, coming from very diverse panelists, about the importance of applying common-sense solutions to resources decisions that impact real people. Notably, the diverse panelists agreed that peer review of critical resources decisions — like the NRC Klamath review - is a good thing.

As with last year’s hearing, much spin and counter-spin followed the NRC
committee’s reports, which effectively found no scientific basis for the 2001 cut-off to the Klamath Project. Proponents of the agency decisions correctly point out that the NRC committee did not say the decisions were "wrong" or "arbitrary." And, they say, "Science is uncertain, we all know that: …so, no big deal."

For anyone who endured the consequences of the 2001 decisions, the efforts to minimize the significance of the NRC committee’s findings are absurd. In 2001, a desperate community was looked in the eye and told, "sorry, we know it may hurt, but ‘the science’ is compelling and requires you to go without water." This was wrong, literally, and as a matter of policy. For whatever reason, the agencies had become too close to, and too much a part of, the side-taking that had come to dominate issues surrounding the Klamath Project. For this reason alone, outside review was needed.

The Family Farm Alliance strongly affirm the goals of the ESA. However, this 30-year old law could stand some targeted reforms, including common-sense changes to make it work better, minimize confusion, and discourage litigation. We support legislation that would require the establishment of standards for scientific and commercial data that are used to make decisions under the ESA. We believe that relatively greater weight should be given to data that have been field-tested or peer-reviewed. The former requirement would help clarify when such things as "personal observations" or mere folklore are considered by the agencies to be reliable enough to make decisions with potentially profound effects. We support peer review of ESA listing decisions and ESA section 7 consultations by a disinterested panel, and we believe legislation can be crafted to create procedures for that process.

Advocates of peer-reviewed science are not trying to "gut" or dismantle this 30-year old law. We are simply trying to make it work better. There is nothing inherent in peer review that either favors or disfavors economic interests. If the administration of the ESA has reached such a point that oversight is perceived as critical, the act is not working.

The Klamath peer review underscores the point. That peer review process not only forced a reconsideration of otherwise-unchecked disastrous decisions, it pointed to a better approach for species recovery. It also hints at something that is often overlooked in the ESA debate, especially by interests outside of rural areas. If protecting a species is important to society as a whole, then all of society - not just select family farms - should bear that burden. 

Thank you.




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