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Greg King: Any Klamath dam deal must provide water for fish

March 29, 2008 By Greg King - Special to The Sacramento Bee


Not long ago my neighbor said he'd seen me on TV discussing the Northcoast Environmental Center's opposition to the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement. He seemed puzzled.

"I thought you guys wanted dam removal," he said.

My heart sank. Of course the NEC wants to tear down four dams on the Klamath River. The NEC is an original proponent of dam removal, as we've long worked to restore populations of fish and other wildlife along one of America's greatest rivers.

We want the dams out to open up more than 300 miles of former salmon and steelhead habitat, and to improve the abysmal water quality currently released by the reservoirs behind the dams. But dam removal is only one step, however significant.

The agreement's most controversial provision allocates to farmers 330,000 to 340,000 acre-feet of water during dry years, and 385,000 acre-feet in wet years. (An acre-foot is literally that: the amount of water it would take to cover an acre of land a foot deep.) This allocation can be renegotiated only during "extreme drought" years, but this "drought plan" will not be created until after the settlement agreement is completed, one of the many unsettling provisions of the agreement. Also, this allocation is about 10 percent more than farmers currently get during dry years under court-ordered Endangered Species Act protections.

Two species of salmon (chum and pink) are already extinct on the Klamath. Spring Chinook runs are at dangerously low levels. Klamath Coho salmon are listed as "threatened" under the federal Endangered Species Act. Dam removal alone is not enough to prevent further declines. Scientists tell us that the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement may not provide enough water for salmon to avoid extinction, owing to significant allocations to farmers.

The NEC supports farmers. They provide our nation with food, and in many places productive farmland can forestall development and preserve open space. So we hope farmers in the upper Klamath basin are able to secure adequate water supplies, but not at the expense of salmon. This occurred in 2002, when farmers received 400,000 acre-feet of water and 68,000 adult salmon died in the lower Klamath. Would the agreement prevent such an excessive allocation? Probably. Would an allocation of 330,000 acre-feet also be excessive even during very dry years? Good question.

Last year, the NEC hired Bill Trush of McBain and Trush, and Greg Kamman of Kamman Hydrology, to examine the complex scientific modeling of flow allocations contained in the agreement. Trush's primary conclusion was that once the dams come out and agricultural interests get their water, there still might not be enough water in the river for fish.

Last month the NEC again hired Trush, this time to create an alternative path that scientists working on the agreement could follow to better ensure fish recovery on the Klamath River. In that paper, Trush wrote, "The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement relegates salmon and the Klamath River ecosystem to the status of junior water users, while upper basin irrigators become the senior water users. This premise squarely places onto the salmon and the river ecosystem any risk inherent in the conclusion that flows contained in the agreement will actually provide enough water for recovery of the species."

The Trush and Kamman reports are available at www.yournec.org.

At the same time, the NEC's board of directors hosted a phone conference with Thomas Hardy, associate director of the Utah Water Research Laboratory at Utah State University. Hardy's analyses of Klamath River hydrology are considered to be the best available science for evaluating the river's fishery. Hardy confirmed Trush's conclusions: "Agriculture gets all the guarantees, and everything related to the environment is left to somewhat vague processes and committees." In dry years, said Hardy, agriculture in the upper basin will be "taking too much water from the system." An acceptable agreement, he said, would "guarantee flows for fish first, then other water uses."

The NEC's rejection last month of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement was intended to make it better and to aid the recovery of the entire Klamath River ecosystem. We are still negotiating. Already the NEC has spent about $60,000 to review the science and legalities contained in the 256-page agreement, and we're not done yet. If we agree to support the settlement it will be because dams will come down and fish will get the water they need to thrive. That's our promise to our members and to the fish.


from Klamath farmer

Mr King, Did you know that historically the Klamath Basin was under water...it was a navigable lake? Where we farm in the Tulelake Basin was under 20-30 feet of water before we rerouted the lake into ditches and canals and Klamath Lake for storage, and we also blasted a tunnel through a mountain and pump the excess water uphill and into the Klamath River. Did you know that most of this lake was in a closed basin? That means it had no way to get out of here until we built the Klamath Project, diverting water OFF our farms INTO the river? Why do you begrudge us 2 acre feet of water to water our crops? Regarding Dr Hardy, much of his "science" was deemed flawed since he used the highest water year in recorded history to demand that amount from the Klamath irrigators. Did you know he used tribal science and was contracted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs? And did you know that Link River, at the head of the Klamath River, historically went dry? we have pix; fish didn't walk up dry rivers.

save the fish

how did salmon and steelhead trout ever make it this far? how did they ever survive the droughts and changing climates of the past, let alone the effects of the gold rush. they adapt. anyone betting on these folks to save the fish is making a fools bet. people tried to exterminate coyotes. ever hear a coyote at night of in the distance? he's laughing at you.

Unintended Consequences ?

Disastrous flood of the Klamath River ? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Does anyone care about history anymore ? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . This *damn deal* will be disastrous. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Floods cause havoc in the environment. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The dams are there for flood control.


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