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Another view: Water use on Klamath not so simple

By Greg Addington -- Special to The Sacramento Bee

Published 8/27/06
Followed by SacBee article, Klamath Soup

The Bee’s August 16 editorial, Klamath Soup, was irresponsible.  Residents of the Upper Klamath Basin are becoming numb to agenda-driven rhetoric. However, this latest accusation directed at Klamath Basin farmers deserves a response.

The Bee Editorial attempts to connect Klamath Project agriculture to the toxic algae blooms behind hydroelectric reservoirs on the Klamath River. It alleges that “In the Klamath, fertilizers from farms on the Oregon-California boarder flow downstream”. The Bee is making claims that it can not substantiate.

Upper Klamath Lake is, and has long been, a naturally eutrophic body of water. Webster’s dictionary defines eutrophic as: “a body of water characterized by a high level of plant nutrients, with correspondingly high primary productivity”. The naturally warm and shallow lake is in this state prior to one drop of water being diverted for the production of food and fiber within the Reclamation Project.  Upper Klamath Lake’s water quality problems are a major issue for the entire Klamath River Basin, but they are not caused by irrigation in the Klamath Project.

In 1995, a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation provided funding for a U.C. Davis study, An Assessment of the Effects of Agriculture on Water Quality in the Tulelake Region of California.  The study analyzed the effects of agriculture on water quality in the Klamath Basin. It noted that the irrigation water from Upper Klamath Lake is naturally rich in phosphorus (a factor in algae blooms) and that it was unlikely that irrigated agriculture contributes phosphorus loads in amounts that would alter the natural state of the river. 

Two National Fish and Wildlife Refuges ultimately use this same water prior to it returning to the river. This water receives more than its share of scrutiny.  An intensive monitoring effort conducted by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the United States Geological Survey determined that no pesticides or fertilizers in use by irrigators have been detected in amounts of toxicological significance in waters of the irrigation districts or the wildlife refuges.

Finally, the editorial links all of this with the relicensing of the Klamath River hydroelectric dams. It notes that this is a contentious process with much finger-pointing. For perhaps the first time ever, Tribes, irrigators and other stakeholders are genuinely working together trying to find solutions to some very complex issues. Inaccurate simplification and finger-pointing from the Bee will not help us achieve solutions. Quite the contrary.


Editorial: Klamath soup
River runs thick with wrong kind of green

August 16, 2006
Story appeared in Editorials section, Page B6 Sacramento Bee
The tribes and fishermen who depend on fish from the Klamath River can't seem to catch a break. There was a smidgen of good news last week, when Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez declared a commercial fishing disaster on the West Coast. The declaration frees up grants for salmon fishermen hit by restrictions aimed at saving depleted salmon that spawn in the Klamath.

Yet as everyone knows, fewer hooks in the water won't replenish the once-mighty runs of chinook and coho in the Klamath, California's second-largest river. Salmon and other fish need viable habitat and clean, cool water. The emergence of a noxious algae bloom in Klamath reservoirs has again demonstrated that this river is sick.

Go online to sacbee.com to see images of the algae, microcystis aeruginosa. It has turned parts of the Copco and Iron Gate reservoirs into a pea-green mess. This algae is as nasty as it looks. Health officials are urging people not to touch it or breathe the fumes it emits.

As the Los Angeles Times recently noted in a five-part series, these algae blooms -- caused partly by man-made pollution -- threaten rivers and oceans worldwide. In the Klamath, fertilizers from farms on the Oregon-California border flow downstream. The reservoirs warm up the water and the nutrients, creating perfect conditions for noxious algae.

A company called PacifiCorp owns the hydroelectric dams that impound these reservoirs, which were created solely for power purposes. PacifiCorp is now going through a federal relicensing process. Indian tribes, environmental groups and state and federal wildlife agencies are exploring if the dams could be removed, both to improve water quality and to improve passage of salmon.

The relicensing process has been contentious, with lots of the usual finger-pointing we've seen on the Klamath for years. Yet all parties are close to an agreement.

They need to reach it soon. The Klamath will require millions of federal dollars for dam removal and other restoration plans, yet this basin faces competition. On the San Joaquin River, once warring parties are close to a restoration agreement.

Whoever gets there first will stand a better chance of impounding the congressional gravy.



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