KWUA Dan Keppen writes Letter to the Editor in the Grants Pass Daily Courier
Dan KeppenThe following ran in the Grants Pass Daily Courier as a guest editorial earlier this week.
The recent editorial in the Daily Courier regarding Judge Saundra Brown
Armstrong's recent court decision on management of the Klamath River
provided a generally accurate assessment of what the judge ruled on
("Judge's ruling a mixed catch for Klamath fishing," by Todd Wels, July 18).
However, certain statements made in the editorial, particularly those
that unfairly correlate the deaths of Klamath River salmon in 2002 to
Klamath Irrigation Project operations, are simply not justified. Further,
Wels' editorial leaves the reader with the impression the Klamath Project,
representing only 2 percent of the area of the 10.5 million-acre Klamath
River watershed, is somehow responsible for the lion's share of real and
perceived environmental problems throughout the watershed.
The Klamath Water Users Association represents those irrigators denied
Klamath Project water in 2001 by regulatory agencies trying to protect
sucker and salmon populations via the federal Endangered Species Act.
The recent editorial incorrectly characterizes the management decisions
made earlier this summer by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Based on
current hydrologic conditions, the Bureau of Reclamation on July 10
rescinded the below average" water year type announced on June 13 and
replaced it with a dry" year classification.
Reclamation's action was based on the latest Upper Klamath Lake inflow
forecast by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and on information
provided by the Oregon Water Resources Department. Reclamation had
previously changed the water year type on June 13 from dry" to below
average," primarily due to an extraordinarily wet April.
Since Reclamation first changed the water year type when inflows were
92 percent of average net inflows into the lake (originating from areas
outside of the Klamath Project) had, at times, virtually disappeared. In
the past week, net inflows into Upper Klamath Lake have actually been in
the negative range, due to low upstream inflows, 100-degree weather and
high lake evaporation. Contrary to the Daily Courier's assertions,
Reclamation's decision to rescind its earlier year-type change is sound,
based on hydrologic reality and backed by the state of Oregon.
The Daily Courier editorial mistakenly suggests farmers were not asked
to curtail water use until after the government's decision to prevent a
Klamath Project shutdown in June. Farmers and ranchers actually began
taking action to reduce their demand before the irrigation season even
started. Local irrigators last spring voluntarily agreed to participate in
an environmental water bank that left 17,000 acres of farmland fallow and
that will provide 60,000 acre-feet of water to meet ESA requirements this
Further, over 600 applications have been received for water
conservation projects using Farm Bill funds that our association helped
In the week leading up to the near-shutdown, Klamath Project irrigators
voluntarily reduced deliveries out of Upper Klamath Lake by nearly
one-third, despite the fact out-of-project demand above the lake had
reduced lake inflows to zero. Since the beginning of this month, irrigators
have taken action intended to reduce diversions, which were running at
1,600 cubic feet per second or higher earlier in the month, to an average
of 1,350 cfs for the remainder of those months.
For the past 10 days, net Klamath Project diversions have consistently
stayed well below this target.
Project irrigators have reacted in a positive way to help Reclamation
meet regulatory lake elevations, despite having reservations regarding lake
level management benefits to sucker fish health. In a situation where they
could have bowed their backs, Klamath Project irrigators have voluntarily
stepped up to find ways to avert a crisis.
Finally, the editorial is flat wrong in promoting the correlation"
between 2002 Klamath Project operations and the Klamath River fish die-off
in 2002. Armstrong did not find that there was at least enough evidence
that irrigation deliveries were responsible for the 2002 fish kill to allow
that claim to go to trial." Rather, based on the conflicting evidence
presented by the parties regarding the cause of the fish die-off, Armstrong
found a triable issue of fact" exists as to whether Reclamation breached
its duty to the Yurok Tribes through its operation of the Klamath Project.
Accordingly, the court denied the tribes' motions for summary judgment on
Contrary to Wels' conclusion, it cannot be shown low flows killed the
salmon last fall. Simply look at 1988, when identical flow conditions
existed in the Lower Klamath River. That year, a run of 215,322 salmon
occurred on the Klamath River, and no fish die-off occurred. In 2002,
132,600 salmon returned, and 33,000 died on the lower river. In other
words, there was a much larger salmon run in 1988 with the same lower river
flow, but no fish die-off.
Yet the Yurok Tribes and the state of California within days of the
fish die-off assigned the blame for this unfortunate event to the Klamath
Project, 200 miles upstream. The Daily Courier editorial perpetuates this
Klamath Basin residents have long understood the substantial,
impressive and often overlooked proactive conservation efforts undertaken
by local landowners, often in partnership with state and federal agencies.
Now, others are also beginning to notice. Last month, the Oregon Department
of Agriculture notified our association it has been selected as the
recipient of the state's 2003 Agriculture Progress Award for leadership in
Wels' editorial, unfortunately, completely disregards the most obvious
dynamic in our local community: Irrigators are trying to fend off a very
coordinated attack on Klamath Project agriculture, while at the same time
striving to do the right things to protect the environment, improve water
management and sustain the local economy.
Dan Keppen is executive director of the Klamath Water Users
Association, which represents Klamath Irrigation Project farmers and
Klamath Water Users Association
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