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Commentary: Irrational Klamath water management a formula for failure


No one likes to fail. But anyone who has been successful in life is going to tell you that failure is part of a learning curve necessary to be successful.

Yet to repeat failure is the definition of insanity. However, that is exactly what is occurring on the Klamath Project right now. We are taking 20-plus years of bad decisions, based on poor science, and doubling down on them.

Unfortunately, farms and ranches of the Klamath Basin are going to fail as a result. Itís not because of bad business, poor work ethic, or anything in our control. Rather, we are going to lose farms and ranches this year because of insane approaches to water management that are embedded in agency cultures.

An approach hell-bent on destroying multi-generational businesses is disturbing in its own right, but the foolishness of the reasoning is even worse.

While it looks like the Klamath Project will only get as little as 55,000 acre-feet in a year that irrigation demand would be approximately 400,000 acre-feet, we are going to send a minimum 152,000 acre-feet of stored water from Upper Klamath Lake down the Klamath River. Thatís 152,000 acre-feet, or more, of water that never, under any circumstances, would have been provided by nature. The only reason itís even available is the reservoirs that were built for a single purpose ó storing irrigation water for the Klamath farmers.

How does a legitimate Biological Opinion include water that naturally would have never even existed?

Letís not forget that in natural conditions, prior to the construction of the Klamath Project in the early 1900s, there were two large lakes here that evaporated over 2 acre-feet per acre. The Project reclaimed that land, and allowed the water to be stored behind dams and managed for beneficial uses. My farm, like many on the Project, was developed on land that was under 10 feet or more of water until that time. Now, we are told that there isnít even 0.5 acre-foot available for that same acre.

The Lower Klamath River isnít the only place there are irrational decisions being made. Upper Klamath Lake (UKL) is being held at a higher level than necessary, purportedly to allow sucker populations in UKL to access spawning habitat.

Unfortunately, for the past 20 years, agency-imposed higher and higher UKL levels have contributed to a whopping 0% survivability. You read that right. Not 0.01% or 0.001%. ZERO. Does it seem rational to continue to ruin the economic base of the Klamath Basin in order to save zero fish?

The salmon of the Lower Klamath River and the suckers in UKL are in bad shape. Iím not denying that it is a dire situation that we need to address. Klamath Project farmers have always tried to find ways to help the communities that depend on those fisheries. We know firsthand what itís like to see a ruined community. It happened in 2001 to our communities, and unfortunately itís going to happen again in 2020. But, continuing to double down on what HASNíT worked doesnít seem like a solution to me.

Albert Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Truly, we are living in insane times.

I hope and believe that the Trump administration is coming to understand what a mess it inherited. We urgently need a fix.

Ben DuVal is a Klamath Project irrigator in Tulelake, Calif.





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