Klamath Water Users Association
Activistsí Refuge Report Resurrects Familiar Anti-Farming Solutions
Earlier today, the Oregon Natural Resources Council, WaterWatch of Oregon, and other long-time critics of family farms and ranches, released a report entitled "Refuges in Peril". These activists have released a slick publication, which repackages arguments that are now quite familiar to the hard working family farmers and ranchers of the Klamath Project, a favorite target of extreme activist organizations. The "solutions" proposed by the report are also nothing new, and focus on removing farmers from refuge lease lands, enticing other farmers to sell out and move, and converting other valuable agricultural lands to marshes.
The report notes that the central problem behind the water crisis in the Klamath Basin is that federal and state officials have "simply promised too much water to too many interests." What the report fails to identify is that water that once flowed to both farms and the refuges has been reallocated away from these purposes in recent years to meet the alleged needs of three fish species protected under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
"The same interests that cry "The refuges need water!" are the same activists who scream the loudest for regulatory agencies to send more water downstream for purported fish needs," said Dan Keppen, Executive Director of the Klamath Water Users Association. "What they do not apparently understand is, that when the farm donít get water, the refuges donít get water."
The primary reason that is driving thee challenges facing Klamath Basin wildlife refuge managers are federal fishery agency-imposed regulations that keep lake levels and river flows artificially high, with results that have been questioned by the National Academy of Sciences. A U.S. Interior Department solicitorís opinion that puts perceived ESA and tribal trust water needs above those of Klamath Project irrigators and the national wildlife refuges. In essence, according to this opinion, farmers get the water thatís left over after lake and river level conditions are met, and the refuges get whatís left over after that.
When the farmerís water is taken away, the refuges also suffer, as was plainly evident in 2001, when, for the first time in 97 years, Upper Klamath Lake irrigation supplies were curtailed at the beginning of the growing season. The 2001 cutoff tragically underscored the vital linkage that exists between irrigated farmland and wildlife. Water that would normally flow through farmland habitat was directed instead towards three species protected under the federal act. The vitality of over 430 other wildlife species was threatened when subjected to the same fate as farmers.
The ONRC report leaves the reader with the impression that is consistently hoisted upon the media by extreme environmental activists: "Agriculture is harmful to waterfowl and other wildlife and is wholly inconsistent with the purposes of wildlife refuges." In fact, Congress itself has recognized the dual benefits of the lease lands within the Klamath National Wildlife Refuge Complex in the 1964 Kuchel Act. For nearly 100 years, farmers and ranchers of the Klamath Basin have coexisted with immense populations of wildlife. Many wildlife species, especially waterfowl, are familiar visitors to their highly productive farms and ranches. Of all the lands in the Klamath Basin, the Kuchel Act Lands may best epitomize the truth of these statements.
The farmers that are being targeted by certain environmental groups are among the most proactive conservationists in the country. The farmers that are being targeted by this report are among the most proactive conservationists in the country:
Last year, the Klamath Water Users Association, who represents these irrigators, was awarded the 2003 Agriculture Progress Award for "Leadership in Conservation" by the State of Oregon. Tulelake Irrigation District was also recently presented with the prestigious F. Gordon Johnston Award in recognition for their innovative canal-lining project, which eliminates water losses near the refuges.
This effort to develop solutions designed to comply with ESA requirements while enabling farmers to continue to farm and to continue to support wetlands and wildlife is a delicately balanced activity. Environmental exaggerations Ė like those promoted in the wake of the 2002 Klamath River fish die-off - scare the public and make us more likely to spend our resources and attention solving phantom problems while ignoring real and pressing issues.
The Klamath Water Users Association is a nonprofit corporation that has represented Klamath Irrigation Project irrigators since 1953. KWUA members include rural irrigation districts and other public agencies, as well as private irrigation companies operating on both sides of the California-Oregon border.
MYTH VS. FACT: FARMING ON THE REFUGE LEASE LANDS
Myth: "Lease land farming pollutes the refuge with toxic chemicals."
FACT: After years of study, there has not been one shred of evidence to suggest pesticide use on the lease lands is detrimental to wildlife. California has the strictest pesticide regulations in the nation. And 90% of the pesticides registered for use in California, are disallowed on the lease lands. In fact, the previous Klamath Refuge Manager recently stated, "we have done all sorts of monitoring . . . we have not found a smoking gun."
Myth: "Removing crops creates additional water for the refuges".
FACT: First, consider that the California lease lands consume less than 2% of the water generated in the entire Basin. It is true that row crops consume somewhat more water than grain crops and less than alfalfa. However, due to the design and location of the lease lands in the Klamath Project delivery system, water used on the Tule Lake lease lands consists entirely of return flows or drainage from the private lands to the north. This means that a minimal amount of water utilized for irrigation of the lease lands is actually diverted from Upper Klamath Lake specifically for use on these lands. As a consequence, irrigation on the lease lands has little or no effect on the availability of water for fall flooding on the Lower Klamath NWR. Moreover, the refuges benefit from the high priority water rights of agriculture. If any "savings" were created, under state law that water would likely go to other, higher priority uses.
Myth: "The Fish and Wildlife Service has to decide whether to manage these lands for geese, herons and eagles or for potatoes, onions and alfalfa."
FACT: Agriculture and wildlife management is not an either-or proposition. In fact, the opposite is true. Migrating waterfowl depend upon the cereal grains that are planted on 75% of the acreage of the lease lands, as required by federal law, for food and habitat. The row crops Ė the "potatoes, onions and alfalfa" of which environmental activists speak Ė can be planted on not more than 25% of the total lease land acreage. This is not a conflict, but a mutually beneficial relationship.
Myth: "Farming is entirely inconsistent with wildlife management."
FACT: According to the California Waterfowl Association, "[f]or nearly 100 years, farmers and ranchers of the Klamath Basin have coexisted with immense populations of wildlife. Many wildlife species, especially waterfowl, are familiar visitors to their highly productive farms and ranches. Klamath Basin agriculture provides a veritable nursery for wildlife."
Myth: "The lease land program is inconsistent with the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act."
FACT: A coalition of environmental groups raised similar arguments several years ago in Federal District Court, arguing that crops grown, pesticide use, extensive water use and poor water quality make this program incompatible with waterfowl purposes. The court rejected those arguments outright, upholding the Fish and Wildlife Serviceís determination that the lease land program is entirely consistent and compatible with waterfowl management.
What is true is that if the ONRC recommendations were to be implemented, they would cause further economic hardship to Klamath Basin farmers, who are still struggling in the wake of the 2001 water shut off.
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