Klamath Water Users Association

Bald Eagle Conference
February 15, 2003, Klamath Falls, Oregon

Speech by Dan Keppen, KWUA Executive Director


Time for a New Approach to Species Recovery:
Water Users’ Approach to Basin Restoration

Good Evening. Thanks for the opportunity to participate tonight. Several weeks ago, Eve actually asked me to try to recruit Congressman Greg Walden or California Congressman Wally Herger to appear on tonight’s panel, but both had prior commitments, so I landed here by default. Actually, I’m very pleased to be here tonight to discuss the Endangered Species Act, and I’m looking forward to the questions some of you may have later in the evening.

Background on Klamath Water Users Association

The Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) is a non-profit corporation that has represented Klamath Irrigation Project farmers and ranchers since 1953. KWUA members include rural irrigation districts and other public agencies, as well as private concerns who operate on both sides of the California-Oregon border. Our association strives to support the mission of our collective members, which is to develop full supplies to the farmers and ranchers who have farmed Project lands with reliable water deliveries in 95 of the past 96 years. You might be surprised to know that local water users play an important role in Klamath Basin wildlife conservation activities, including efforts to provide environmental water to two national wildlife refuges. We are also actively engaged in environmental restoration activities undertaken in other forums.

ESA Impacts to Klamath Project Farmers and Ranchers

The Klamath Project, built nearly 100 years ago and operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) covers roughly 200,000 acres that straddle the California-Oregon border. The Project represents 2% of the land area in the entire Klamath River watershed, and depletes a total of 4% of the water that finds its way to the Pacific Ocean, 200 miles downstream. It was built to provide water stored in the federal project (Upper Klamath Lake, Clear Lake and Gerber Reservoir) specifically for irrigation purposes.

In the last ten years, since two sucker species were listed as endangered and coho salmon were listed as threatened under the ESA, biological opinions rendered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (for the suckers) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS – for the coho), have increasingly emphasized the reallocation of Project water as the sole means of avoiding jeopardizing these fish. The net result of these restrictions on local water users was fully realized on April 6, 2001, when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) announced its water allocation for the Project after USFWS and NMFS officials finalized the biological opinions (BOs) for project operations in a critically dry year. Based on the actions of those regulatory actions, Reclamation announced that – for the first time in Project’s 95-year history - no water would be available from Upper Klamath Lake to supply Project irrigators.

The resulting impacts to the local community were immediate and far-reaching. Hundreds of thousands of acres of valuable farmland were left without water, which, in addition to harming those property owners and managers, also imparted an economic "ripple" effect through the broader community. The wildlife benefits provided by those farms – particularly the food provided for area waterfowl – were also lost with the water. The local farming community is still reeling from the April 6, 2001 decision.

NAS Report / 2002-2012 BO

Concerned about the plight of farmers and the questions raised about the science used by NMFS/ USFWS, U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton commissioned a review of the BOs by a committee of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). An interim report last year concluded that insufficient scientific evidence existed to justify the higher lake and river levels to protect coho salmon and sucker fish. A full report is due next month. While Reclamation’s final 10-year Biological Assessment properly incorporates the findings of the NAS, the fishery agency BOs do not. The USFWS opinion continues to perpetuate the questionable assumption that lake level management is the principle mechanism affecting sucker survival in Upper Klamath Lake. The NMFS jeopardy decision similarly continues to place high emphasis on downstream flows. While Reclamation last June also sharply disagreed with the findings of each agency, it is not yet clear how consultation will be reinitiated and a 10-year operations plan finalized.

Implementation of the ESA

Has Had Damaging Impacts to Klamath Project Irrigators

I spent most of the past week in Washington, D.C. with officials, talking about some of the issues that I will touch upon tonight. On my flight back East, I came across a letter written by former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber in 1998 that included an assessment by the State Attorney General’s Office on a draft environmental assessment of Reclamation’s proposed 1998 Klamath Project Operations Plan. At that time, coho salmon had not yet been listed under the ESA, so the additional and substantial Project water that was later to be reallocated to meet coho flow requirements had not yet come into play. Even without the coho flows on the table at the time, that letter contained some statements about impacts associated with higher lake levels in UKL that were to prove to be chillingly prophetic. That letter warned the U.S. government of the following:

  • In a dry water year, Project water users bear the risk of suffering significant financial losses.
  • Project water users will pay the full cost of a collective public responsibility.
  • Because the prescribed minimum lake elevations are absolute, there is no preference. In an emergency, all Project diversions would need to be stopped.
  • The current paradigm has had an effect on the availability of agricultural financing in the Basin. Few lenders are willing to underwrite cropping plans for the 1998 season without greater assurance concerning the risk of water curtailment.

As you have just heard, all of these predictions came true, but not until 3 years later, in 2001.

We have consistently encouraged Interior and NMFS to reconsider the rigid proposals for streamflow releases and lake levels contained in the existing biological opinions. We recommend a more flexible management plan that will allow all affected interests a better opportunity to respond and adapt the water conditions as they develop during the irrigation season. Unfortunately, the apparent lack of flexibility caused by fishery agency regulations has already had a significant impact the Klamath Basin irrigation community, and has produced division, not cooperation.

ESA Implementation Limitations

While ESA implementation has obviously had harmful impacts on Klamath Project irrigators, I also believe the way ESA is applied can hamper recovery of the species, and may actually work at cross purposes with other species recovery efforts. Plus, we in the Klamath Project know that reallocation of water away from farms and wildlife refuges and towards the alleged needs of three fish species has very real impacts on waterfowl populations and the hundreds of other animals that rely upon farms and flowing water to exist.

Much concern has been expressed in a wide variety of national, state, and local forums that the present-day approach of development and implementation of single-species endangered species recovery plans are not effective in terms of resolving overall resource management issues. Plus, these recovery plans rarely allow for comprehensive integration of multi-species and ecosystem restoration programs. In some instances, single species recovery plans may actually serve as impediments to the development of comprehensive ecosystem restoration programs because the Endangered Species Act (ESA) does not allow for "trade-offs" between listed species or significant prioritization among species. Finally, the traditional ESA process usually does not prompt formal development of restoration/recovery plans until after species populations have declined to levels where it is difficult to formulate and implement meaningful recovery actions.

Overview of KWUA Efforts to Promote Effective Restoration Efforts


Purpose and Formulation of KWUA’s "Initial Plan" (1993)

In 1993, KWUA developed its first Ecosystem Restoration Plan for the Upper Klamath Basin. The intent of this plan was to catalyze the development of a comprehensive ecosystem restoration plan and, at the same time, to initiate an aggressive, pro-active approach to begin to address basin-wide resource conflicts. The plan emphasized the use of cooperative efforts between local interests and those individuals and groups sharing common goals. We have long advocated that this approach is preferable to traditional fragmented plans, which often result in conflicts for limited resources among user groups.

While parts of our 1993 Initial Ecosystem Restoration Plan utilize traditional aspects of endangered species recovery plans, it is broader because its overall approach is toward resolution of basin-wide concerns, enhancement of fish and wildlife resources, and beneficial uses of water. Minimizing conflicts among competing uses for common resources is a principal theme of this plan.

This plan first focuses on biological aspects of the endangered species in the basin, then on specific aspects of recovery efforts for those species, and last on the development of an improved and integrated water management and resource planning programs to assist in overall ecosystem restoration. Much of the information presented in this document was intended to assist the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in the development of the agency's formal recovery plan for the endangered suckers.

Purpose and Formulation of KWUA’s 2001 Plan

We developed another recovery plan in 2002, the intent of which was to speed up recovery of the two sucker species by aggressively implementing a focused comprehensive restoration plan. The 2001 Plan reiterates many of the themes contained in the 1993 report and focuses specifically on:

  1. Implementation of specific actions to accelerate the recovery of the endangered suckers, and
  2. Performance of short-term research projects to fill knowledge gaps necessary to recover the species.

Look to the South: The CALFED Bay-Delta Program Solution Principles

The situation we are currently facing in the Klamath Basin reminds me of the fragmented state of things that was apparent in California’s Bay-Delta in the early 1990’s. There, environmental groups, urban water users and agricultural interests, weary after several years of drought, environmental degradation, water supply uncertainty, and litigation, gathered together to form a détente of sorts. With leadership from the Clinton and Wilson Administrations, the Bay-Delta Accord was signed, which called for a temporary freeze on litigation, and focused spending on fish protection and ecosystem restoration projects that everyone could agree upon. Out of this process emerged the CALFED Bay-Delta Program (CALFED), which was established to develop a long-term solution to the incredibly contentious conflicts facing water users and environmental needs that vie for the water supplies of California’s San Francisco Bay-Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta.

I spent several years of my career involved with this process and served for three years on CALFED’s Ecosystem Restoration Roundtable.

The CALFED Mission Statement was developed through an open and public process, with discussion and input from participants at workshops and from members of the Bay-Delta Advisory Committee.

CALFED Mission Statement: "The mission of the CALFED Bay-Delta Program is to develop and implement a long-term comprehensive plan that will restore ecological health and improve water management for beneficial uses of the Bay-Delta System."

CALFED Solution Principles: Solution principles guide the CALFED Bay-Delta program. The six principles that guide the development and evaluation of the program and development of the solution alternatives are:

  • An affordable solution will be one that can be implemented and maintained within the range of foreseeable resources.
  • An equitable solution will focus on resolving problems in all problem areas. Improvements for some problems will not be made without corresponding improvements for other problems.
  • An implementable solution will have broad public acceptance, legal feasibility and will be timely and relatively simple compared with other alternatives.
  • A durable solution will have political and economic staying power and will sustain the resources it was designed to protect and enhance.
  • A solution will reduce major conflicts among beneficial users of water.
  • A solution will not solve problems in the Bay-Delta system by redirecting significant negative impacts.

While the CALFED Bay-Delta Program has its shortcomings, these principles could very well provide guidance under which conflicting parties within the Klamath River watershed can come to the table and work in a collaborative manner to address the challenges we all face.



An Effective Restoration Program for the Klamath Basin

Regardless of the format used, it is our opinion that an effective restoration program would possess the following elements:

  • Description of specific restoration goals and objectives
  • Clear description and assessment of specific resource problems
  • Logical prioritization of the importance of specific problems

(relative to other problems). For example, many factors have been identified as stressors to salmonid populations in the lower Klamath River.

  • Purpose for resolving the specific problem
  • Proposed alternatives to effectively deal with each problem
  • Analysis of each alternative

(including associated analysis criteria, benefits/costs/risks)

  • Selected alternative for implementation
  • Guidance for implementation of the selected alternative
  • Ongoing review of performance to provide information for adaptive management


Local agricultural and business leaders have dedicated thousands of volunteer hours and have spent over $1 million in legal and consulting fees in the past ten years to participate in processes associated with environmental restoration, Klamath Basin water rights adjudication, dispute resolution, drought-proofing, and water supply enhancement. Hundreds of individual ecosystem restoration and water conservation efforts have been completed – over 400 more have been proposed by local farmers and ranchers in the past year alone. Many of these efforts are driven by a desire to implement meaningful restoration actions intended to provide some sort of mitigation "credit" that could be applied towards reducing the burden carried by Klamath Project irrigators to "protect" threatened and endangered fish species. To date, that credit has not been recognized, and Klamath Project irrigation water remains the sole regulatory tool used to address federal Endangered Species Act objectives for endangered suckers and threatened coho salmon.

We recognize that there will be continued difficulties in resolving Klamath Basin problems. As we work towards meaningful solutions, we support the following principles:

  • Unassailable scientific rationale for all biological opinions – both process and substance;
  • Coordination and integration of restoration activities, and accountability for those actions;
  • Congressional support for meaningful restoration activities throughout the Klamath Basin for listed species and the refuges; and
  • Alleviation of the disproportionate ESA burden now borne only by the Klamath Project.

We will continue to draw attention to the current, rigid emphasis that federal biologists place on lake level and flow release management, using Klamath Project water and funds to implement. This approach must be amended to incorporate greater flexibility. This would allow for slight adjustments in the minimum elevations of UKL or flow conditions at Iron Gate Dam if expected inflow or climactic conditions could cause curtailment of irrigation supplies. The operations plan should allow mid-season adjustments based on conditions as they develop.

We are not asking that the environmental concerns associated with the lake elevation and the instream flows in the lower River be ignored. We ask only that all affected interests contribute to the solution, and that no one segment shoulder the entire burden of recovering three listed fish species. Thank you.


Klamath Water Users Association
2455 Patterson Street, Suite 3
Klamath Falls, Oregon 97603
(541)-883-6100 FAX (541)-883-8893 kwua@cdsnet.net

KBC Home



Content and Logo: Copyright © Klamath Water Users Association, 2002 All Rights Reserved
Page design: Copyright ©  klamathbasincrisis.org,   2002,  All Rights Reserved