Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Klamath dam removal and the government’s fraudulent survey
by Bob Kaster for Siskiyou Daily News 2/17/21
I try to stay away from politics as much as possible. Politics right now is divisive, and there are so many other interesting things to write about, right here in Siskiyou County. I prefer to leave the politics to others, as there are plenty of people out there willing to jump in. One exception for me is the dams. Over the last few years, I have written at least six columns about the dams, a topic which, of course, is dreadfully political. I’m referring to the four dams along the Klamath River that PacifiCorp and the Klamath River Renewal Corporation (KRRC) propose to demolish. I am against dam removal, and it is a topic I’m passionate about. Why am I passionate? As a long time Yreka resident, I am a stakeholder in the dam-demolition question, but not as immediate as others, say, those whose livelihoods are directly related to the river, or ranchers and farmers dependent on the water.
My passion on the subject goes back to August, 2011, almost 10 years ago. My wife and I received in the mail a survey from the United States Department of the Interior, entitled “Restoring a U.S. River: What Is Your Opinion?” This survey informed us that the federal government was interested in “restoring” the Klamath River Basin by implementing a project that would remove four dams. The survey was commissioned and funded by the U.S. Department of Interior, and was purportedly sent to 11,000 randomly selected households in the entire country. Statistically it was remarkable that we, or anyone in Siskiyou County, received it at all.
Recipients were asked to participate regardless of whether they had any knowledge of the Klamath River Basin or the proposed project. The survey stated: “Even if you have never heard of the Klamath River, your opinions are very important to us and this research project.” It further stated: “The information from the survey will help the U.S. Department of the Interior decide what to do and how much to spend, if anything, on improving conditions in the Klamath River Basin. This is an opportunity for you to provide government decision makers with your opinion about whether and how tax dollars should be spent on this issue.”
I generally have a high threshold before I become agitated about issues, but this so-called “survey” really got to me. My wife remembers the circumstances. We were driving on an extended trip. Before leaving, we grabbed our mail, which included the survey, with the idea that we would fill it out along the way. I was driving and Ann was reading it to me. She recalls that the more she read, the more I started driving erratically.
The survey was outrageous, biased, a sham, and an improper use of tax money. I have since learned that it also was expensive; its direct costs exceeded a half million dollars, money that could have been directed toward solutions, such as fish passages, to solve the problems that the dams allegedly caused. The survey questions assumed to be true “scientific facts” that have been strongly challenged by other experts and people with direct knowledge. These “facts” informed the survey recipient that the dams caused declining fish populations including Chinook salmon and steelhead trout. These “facts” suggested to the recipient that the dams have threatened and endangered the Shortnose Sucker, Lost River Sucker and Coho salmon populations. These “facts” informed the survey recipient that dam removal and other aspects of the project would reduce the chances of extinction of certain fish populations and improve water quality. These “facts” suggested that removal of the dams would somehow increase water deliveries to farms. The survey minimized the potential real cost and detriment resulting from dam removal, and concealed that many informed, knowledgeable people vehemently disagreed with the “facts” assumed in the survey questions. The survey then asked the recipient to choose one of three options to mitigate the issues presented in the survey as “facts.” The options were: “Action Plan A” (which included dam removal), “Action Plan B” (which also included dam removal), and “No Action.” None of the three options included other solutions long advocated by informed and knowledgeable people short of dam removal.
Given that the survey was sent to 11,000 random households throughout the entire United States, it was likely that only a small fraction of the survey-takers would know there was another side of the story. I now believe that this was intentional. To test the waters, in May and June 2011, the DOI conducted a “pretest” – a smaller-scale pilot survey – before sending out the real one. The purpose was to assess whether the survey instrument and data collection process worked as expected. The pretest was sent to 1,200 households, divided evenly across three groups. The groups were: (1) the 12-county area adjacent to the Klamath River, (2) the rest of Oregon and California, and (3) the rest of the United States. The results of the pretest were tallied and it was discovered that a big percentage of the people from the 12-county area adjacent to the Klamath River (people who knew there was another side to the story) opposed dam removal, while a high percentage of the people in the other two groups favored dam removal. Go figure! When the actual survey went out, the model selected was only the national model; it was distributed nationwide. Apparently, that was the most effective means to get the desired answers. To make it worse, when the government discovered it wasn’t getting as many responses as it had anticipated, it offered to pay people $20 to respond.
I believe the survey was not designed to honestly assess the true public opinion, but to elicit only the responses that the government wanted, for political purposes.
Not surprisingly, many surveytakers, not being given the information that there was another side of the story, were convinced to respond in favor of dam removal. Responding in any other manner would be like voting against mother and apple pie.
In my opinion, this was fraudulent, and an improper use of the taxpayers’ money. Everyone, regardless of how you stand on dam removal, should be outraged. But that was ten years ago, water under the dam, so to speak. Why bring it up now? I think it demonstrates the zealousness of the people who want to destroy four beneficial dams important to us in northern California and southern Oregon the real stakeholders. Zealous enough to commit fraud, which is what I consider that survey to be. A standard instruction judges give to jurors in California jury trials states: “If you decide that a witness deliberately lied about something significant in this case, you should consider not believing anything that witness says.”
Dam removal proponents intended to use the survey result to convince the Secretary of the Interior and then the U.S. Congress to authorize dam removal. When Congress didn’t bite, the proponents changed the thrust of their attack to go around Congress and to ram it through unelected bureaucratic agencies instead, such as the Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC), and the California Public Utilities Commission, which is where we are now. FERC has been collecting input and presumably will soon decide whether or not to approve the transfer of the dams to KRRC, and then whether or not to approve the decommissioning and destruction of the dams. I’ve already talked about those things at length in prior articles, but probably will feel compelled to talk about them more in the future.
Bob Kaster is a long-time Yreka resident and retired Superior Court Judge. As a lawyer and judge he wrote many legal briefs and judicial opinions but after retiring has enjoyed writing for fun. He writes occasional columns for the Siskiyou Daily News and short stories. His second novel, “The Mansion – A Septuagenarian Thriller,” will be available soon. His website is http://bobkaster.com.
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