Friday, March 6, 2015

Members question Klamath Tribes' vote to approve the Klamath Water Deals

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples   states that before the rights of an Indigenous People can be terminated, the individuals whose rights are affected must provide their free, prior informed consent to the termination. The US Government says it abides by the Declaration. When it comes to water rights deals like the KBRA or the more recent Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement (UKBA), however, the feds don't require that tribal governments honor the Declaration

Of course, free, prior and informed consent is up for interpretation: How much information must a tribe provide its members and how much time must that tribe allow its members to study and debate the proposed deal trading away water rights or the ability to exercise those rights in order to comply with the UN Declaration?

KlamBlog's editor and chief writer, Felice Pace, has suggested that, within the context of a deal in which a tribe gives up water rights or agrees not to exercise those rights or relinquishes the right to have the federal government trustee protect those rights, "informed consent" requires that a cost-benefit analysis to determine the Net Present Value (NPV) of both the benefits a tribe would receive in a water deal and the cost of what that tribe would give up in the deal must be calculated. 

Felice further asserts that the cost-benefit accounting must be provided to tribal members well before any vote on the deal is conducted. Others have suggested that a cultural cost-benefit analysis should be completed by a tribe and provided to its members if and when the tribe is considering relinquishing water rights or the ability to exercise those rights.

Felice has also suggested that, when it comes to water deals in the American West, the feds have not honored their duty as trustee for the tribes but rather have worked during negotiations to keep the water with (mostly white) irrigators and especially with federal irrigation interests. That, in his view, is a fundamental abrogation of the federal government's duty as trustee to look out for and advance the interest of federal tribes. If that interpretation of the federal trustee duty is correct, tribes may have recourse in the future to reverse some of the western water deals in the federal Court of Claims.  

Over 30 western water deals involving tribes have already been approved by Congress and many more, including the KBRA and UKBA, are in the pipeline. Several tribes, including the Nez Perce and Klamath Tribes have approved water deals which trade away or agree not to exercise in-stream water rights which have been granted to sustain salmon fisheries. To date, however, few have questioned the morality of trading the water salmon need for funding and other benefits tribal governments want for their people and their reservations. Should federal tribes have the legal right to trade away water the salmon need? Even if they have that legal right, is a tribal government trading away the water fish need morally correct? As far as KlamBlog can see, these questions have not been raised, much less debated, by the leaders and members of the West's salmon tribes.     

There appear to be a number of members of the Klamath Tribes who agree with Felice's analysis of the Klamath Water Deals. Those members have banded together in the group "Honor The Treaty of 1864" which recently published a press release appearing on the Last Real Indians website. You can read the press release at this link. The Honor the Treaty of 1864 group's press release is also reprinted in full below.  

 Kientpoos Prayer Pole, Captain Jack's Stronghold, Lava Beds National Monument

Monday, January 26, 2015

Trinity Victory not a solution for Klamath Salmon

There was good news in January for those who value and depend on Klamath River Salmon. Lawyers for the Department of Interior released a legal opinion finding that Humboldt County's right to 50,000 acre feet of the water stored behind Trinity Dam is distinct from water designated when the dam was built to sustain Trinity River fisheries. The US Bureau of Reclamation, part of the Interior Department, had claimed the opposite. That allowed them to divert more water from the Trinity and ship that water to corporate farms far to the south in the San Joaquin Valley.

North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman, who had pushed for release of the legal opinion, hailed its release in a special press release
          Humboldt County’s annual right to 50,000 acre feet of water from Trinity Lake is not a close call – it was explicitly guaranteed by statute and in a federal contract six decades ago, but these commitments have been ignored by the federal government....I’m gratified that the Solicitor thoroughly examined this issue and that the Interior Department heeded my requests to publicly release the solicitor’s findings.  The disclosure of the Solicitor’s legal opinion confirms the position I have argued for the past two years and is an important step toward honoring the promise Congress made 60 years ago.

Before becoming an elected official, Congressman Huffman was an environmental lawyer at the NRDC where he specialized in water law. 


Ich (Gill Rot) Disease 

If followed by the US Bureau of Reclamation, the legal opinion should make more water available to prevent unnatural die-offs of Klamath-Trinity Salmon. But using Trinity water to mitigate for inadequate flows and terrible Klamath River water quality is not a solution. Trinity River water enters the Klamath low in the watershed at Weitchpec. Increased Trinity water releases can help prevent adult salmon die-offs in the Lower River but will not prevent juvenile salmon migrating through the mid and upper Klamath River from contracting fish diseases which are related to poor water quality and low river flows.

Scientists and government reports confirm what has been hidden from most citizens: In 2014 up to 100% of the juvenile Chinook salmon monitored while migrating down the Klamath River were found to be diseased. High disease rates occur in every dry year as flows are cut and always poor water quality gets even worse. Biologists tell us these fish may or may not die as juveniles but are significantly less likely than healthy salmon to survive long enough to return, as adults, to spawn in Klamath tributaries.

Algae clogs the River starved of flows to maximize irrigation water delivery

Why is it that the yearly tragedy of Klamath River juvenile salmon disease and mortality is not reported in the media? And why is it that the self-proclaimed defenders of Klamath Salmon - the Yurok and Karuk Tribal Governments - whose leaders have claimed that for their peoples "salmon is everything" are not bringing this information out and taking action to address the Klamath's salmon-killing flows and terrible water quality?

In essence, the Yurok and Karuk Tribal Governments have become docile in the face of ongoing Klamath outrages because they agreed in the 2010 KBRA Water Deal to support the Bureau of Reclamation's management of Klamath River water. Reclamation manages Klamath water to maximize diversion and delivery of irrigation water. Under the KBRA the Klamath River gets minimum flows barely sufficient to prevent ESA listed Coho salmon from going extinct and a promise of higher spring flows when and if there is water in excess of irrigation demand.

These tribes have also become increasingly dependent on funding from the US Bureau of Reclamation to run their fisheries and restoration departments and projects. If these tribal governments were to anger Reclamation managers that funding could and would be cut off. In essence, it is jobs and government funding which help make Karuk and Yurok leaders docile in the face of ongoing threats to salmon. 

To make matters worse, the Upper Basin's Klamath Tribes recently agreed to give up their claim to Klamath River flows for salmon below Upper Klamath Lake if the federal government comes up with money to buy land and for economic development projects. The Klamath Tribes' leaders want to get into the timber business and they are willing to give-up their right to Klamath salmon flows if the feds will finance their business plans.

Are the Yurok, Karuk and Klamath tribal governments selling out Klamath salmon? Each person must judge for herself. KlamBlog takes note, however. that humans are adept at rationalizing their decisions. It is thus likely that tribal government leaders truly believe they are acting in the best interest of the River and Klamath Salmon. Like many other tribal governments across the West, most restoration organizations and even some environmental groups, these leaders have bought the idea that funding for "restoration" can substitute for the river flows needed to restore salmon to abundance.  

Where they have water rights related to fisheries, federal tribes have a right to river and stream flows sufficient to restore fisheries to the point where they can provide a moderate living for the tribal folk who depend on them. Across the West, however, the right to restoration flows is being negotiated away by tribal government leaders in exchange for funding for tribal programs, infrastructure and "restoration".

Historians will look back at these water deals as the second great rip-off of the American West's Indigenous natives: first they took the land and tried to "exterminate" the people; now, with the acquiescence of tribal governments, they are taking the water for the modern equivalent of a fistful of beads. History will not look kindly upon tribal government leaders who made these Faustian water deals. 

History will also make clear that the idea we can substitute "restoration" for the water flows a river needs is hogwash. Unfortunately, by then it will likely be too late for Pacific Salmon.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

There's a new PacifiCorp-Reclamation Water Deal - will salmon pay the price next spring?


Flows in the Klamath River will likely be lower next spring because of a short-term water agreement between utility PacifiCorp and the US Bureau of Reclamation. Under terms of the deal, PacifiCorp is drawing down its Klamath River reservoirs this fall to meet ESA flow requirements in the Klamath River. Reclamation will return the water to PacifiCorp's reservoirs sometime after November 1st.

Drawing down PacifiCorp's reservoirs to meet minimum river flows will allow Reclamation to divert more water from Upper Klamath Lake to the irrigators it serves in California and Oregon. According to officials at the Tulelake Irrigation District, ninety percent of the highest yielding agricultural lands within the 210,000 acre federal irrigation project - those located within the bed of the former Tule Lake - are receiving full irrigation water delivery this drought year.  

 90% of the former Tule Lake has been drained, diked and converted to agriculture.

High spring flows help juvenile salmon survive poor water quality and predators; consequently more salmon reach the ocean and more return 3 and 4 years later. Klamath fisheries managers also want higher spring flows to flush fish parasites from the river, reducing disease morality. 

Higher spring flows are one of the "bargained for benefits" which helped persuade the Yurok and Karuk Tribes to sign the long-term KBRA Water Deal. However, in spite of the fact that higher spring flows have not materialized, the two tribes continue to support the KBRA.

If a series of big storms come soon to the Upper Klamath River Basin, or if the coming winter's precipitation is well above average, spring flows may not be cut. However, the federal Drought Monitor operated by NOAAi forecasts below average precipitation in the Upper Klamath River Basin through March of 2015. If the forecast turn out to be accurate, spring flows will be cut to the minimum and more young salmon will die before reaching the Pacific Ocean. Once again Klamath Salmon will have been sacrificed in order to maximize water delivery to federal irrigators, the Basin's Irrigation Elite

Meanwhile, the self-proclaimed defenders of Klamath Salmon - the Dam Slayersii - have neither condemned nor questioned the deal. One of them, California Trout, even claims on its website that the draw-down of PacifiCorp's reservoirs is being done "to protect" Klamath salmon! KlamBlog can't tell if Cal Trout is naive, confused or intends to mislead visitors to its web site.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Wyden's Klamath Bill: More welfare for the Irrigation Elite


One would have thought that benefits conferred on federal irrigators - and their captured agency, the US Bureau of Reclamation - by the the two Klamath Water Deals (The older KBRA and newer Upper Basin Agreement) would have been enough. After all, not only has Reclamation already used taxpayer funds to implemented many of the costly "benefits" for federal irrigators included in the KBRA, but Congressional backing for the Deals would essentially insulate federal irrigation, the growers it serves and 40% of the total diversions from the Klamath River Basin from tribal water rights claims. Additionally, if Wyden's Bill were to become law, the Klamath Tribes' claim to flows in the Klamath River would be relinquished. That claim is the only practical path to achieving restoration flows in the Klamath River.

Senator Wyden apparently did not believe the Deals benefited the Irrigation Elite quite enough, however. And so he added a new special interest tax break to the legislation he authored. Tacked on at the end of Wyden's Senate Bill 2727, the Klamath Basin Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act of 2014, is a section titled "MODIFICATION OF TAX EXEMPTION REQUIREMENTS FOR MUTUAL DITCH OR IRRIGATION COMPANIES." That part of the bill would amend Section 501 of the Internal Revenue Code; section 501 is the part of the Code which defines which organizations "shall be exempt from taxation under this subtitle."
Here the substance of the new tax break:
           "In the case of a mutual ditch or irrigation company or of a like organization to a mutual ditch or irrigation company, subparagraph (A) shall be applied without taking into account any income received or accrued (I) from the sale, lease, or exchange of fee or other interests in real property, including interests in water, (II) from the sale or exchange of stock in a mutual ditch or irrigation company (or in a like organization to a mutual ditch or irrigation company) or contract rights for the delivery or use of water, or (III) from the investment of proceeds from sales, leases, or exchanges under subclauses (I) and (II),..."