Monday, August 19, 2019

They're back at it: KBRA 2 aims to trade water for restoration funding

Written by Felice Pace, KlamBlog editor

KlamBlog has learned that some of the same characters who brought you the first Klamath River Basin Restoration Agreement, KBRA 1, are at it again; they are even calling their effort KBRA 2. But this time is a bit different. Not only are those folks once again negotiating to limit Klamath River flows in order to maximize federal irrigation deliveries, it now appears, based on documents leaked to KlamBlog, that “relief from regulatory burdens” of the Clean Water Act may also be on the KBRA 2 table.

Documents sent to KlamBlog are a window into the agendas of many of the Basin's interests. For example, they suggest that the wealthiest of the Klamath's federal irrigators, those who control the Tulelake Irrigation District (TID), want to take more Klamath River water during wet winters in order to store it in the ground. TID could then extract the water at a later date to use or sell to other irrigators and thirsty nearby towns. With the help of lobbyist Dan Keppen, TID irrigators recently secured a provision in the federal America's Water and Infrastructure Act of 2018 which allows them to use federal irrigation canals and other federal infrastructure free of charge to deliver the water they sell. Wealthy irrigators have now becoming wealthier water brokers at taxpayer expense.

One of the pumps TID uses to sell water. Six irrigation wells, pumps and other infrastructure  were gifted to the irrigation district as part of the 2002 California Budget Deal in order to secure Republican votes needed to pass the budget.

Going back to the Kuchel Act of the 50's, TID irrigators have been working the federal system in diverse ways to their great benefit. That's a big part of how they became the Klamath River Basin's Irrigation Elite. TID and its irrigators are a fascinating study in how federal irrigators, federal agencies, lobbyists and Congress interact. KlamBlog's report on the Klamath River Basin's Irrigation Elite can be found at this link.  

Welcome to KBRA 2

The buzz on the River and leaked documents taken together make it clear that an effort is underway to persuade Klamath River Basin federal tribes and salmon fishing organizations to join the Trump Administration's Coalition of the Willing, which is tasked with forging a new Klamath water deal. Advocacy for KBRA 2 is coming from staff within some tribes who long to become “water managers” and from at least one private, grant-and-corporate-funded organization, Sustainable Northwest. Sustainable Northwest employs Suits and Signs, an organization based in McKinleyville, California, to make their pitch to tribes and salmon fishermen. Suits and Signs is Craig Tucker's consulting firm. When he was employed by the Karuk Tribe, Tucker was a major promoter of KBRA 1.

It should not surprise anyone familiar with Klamath River Basin politics and players that a number of interests and entities are trying to leverage “the largest dam removal project in history” for their own advantage and their own ends. After all, that is exactly what KBRA 1 was about: using the promise of irrigator support for dam removal to leverage a variety of benefits and subsidies for federal irrigators. It turned out irrigator support was not needed to secure dam removal; something KlamBlog maintained all along. But the demise of KBRA 1 did not end those efforts. Some of the same actors are at it again!

A dangerous proposal 

For example, on May 17th Craig Tucker, representing Sustainable Northwest presented a “Communication Plan” to leaders of many of the Basin's tribes and fishing organizations. The plan calls for tribes and fishing groups to tell the public that taking out four PacifiCorp dams will mean “fewer regulatory burdens for farmers and ranchers.” In other words, Tucker and Sustainable Northwest want tribal and fishing leaders to suggest that dam removal and the “restoration” that will follow will make enforcement of Clean Water Act and other environmental laws unnecessary. 

The Tucker Communication Plan is dangerous. If it is followed it will commit tribes and fishing leaders to supporting “regulatory relief” for irrigators in the Upper Basin, Shasta and Scott once the four dams are out. KBRA 1 contained 17 pages of “regulatory relief” for federal irrigators; it appears some interests are attempting to set up KBRA 2 to do even more for irrigation interests.
These pumps move highly polluted agricultural wastewater from irrigated fields onto the Tule Lake Wildlife Refuge and thence to Klamath River. If irrigators gain relief from "regulatory burdens", this pollution will not be cleaned up.

The messages Craig Tucker wants tribes and fishermen to use in public statements, memes and hashtags are supposedly based on focus groups held in Klamath County, Oregon and Siskiyou County, California where most citizens do not support dam removal. Tucker wants tribal and fishing leaders to believe that a public relations campaign promising cleaner water, more fish and “fewer regulatory burdens” will result in more support for dam removal in Klamath and Siskiyou Counties.

The idea that a public relations campaign will change the positions of those folks in Klamath and Siskiyou Counties who oppose dam removal is ludicrous; it also illustrates just how profoundly Craig Tucker misunderstands what motivates those folks. Opposition to dam removal in Klamath and Siskiyou Counties is part of the culture wars: reaction to the social and cultural changes taking place across the USA. 

For our local Trump People dam removal is an indicator of cultural decay and the rise of people of color; no amount of “messaging” is going to change that belief. On the other hand, if Tucker and Sustainable Northwest can sell tribal and fishing leaders on their Communications Plan, they stand to profit handsomely while advancing their anti-regulatory agenda.

Combating insanity 

Whether or not most folks in Klamath and Siskiyou Counties support dam removal is irrelevant: in today's USA no government is going to force a major corporation backed by prominent investors to retain an asset (in this case the four dams and powerhouses) that will loose money year after year. One way or another, sooner or later, the dams will come out because it is in the interest of a well-connected corporation that they come out.

It would be foolish to bestow more taxpayer-funded benefits on the Irrigation Elite when we don't need their support for dam removal. It would be insane to compromise enforcement of the Clean Water Act in exchange for “restoration” and, KlamBlog predicts, that too will prove to be unnecessary.

Taking out four dams will help the River and Klamath Salmon substantially; but it will not restore them. In order to complete the job, the Clean Water Act must be firmly and consistently applied to the #1 source of the poor water quality preventing recovery of Klamath Salmon: agricultural pollution. 

Those who truly understand what is needed to restore the Klamath and Klamath Salmon must oppose the Tucker/Sustainable Northwest “Communications Plan” and the “regulatory relief” that is their ultimate objective. KBRA 1 taught those who chose to learn from the experience that trading away the water rights fish need is always a bad deal; during KBRA 2 we must make sure that schemes to trade away effective enforcement of our bedrock environmental laws also fail.

 Proper enforcement of the Clean Water Act is essential to cleaning up not just irrigation wastewater but also hundreds of on-stream feedlots in the Upper Basin, Shasta and Scott Basins. This feedlot is on Soap Creek in Scott Valley.

Promoting democracy 

Meanwhile, the people of the Klamath River, tribal and non-tribal, are not being properly informed or provide forums where they can learn about what's on the table and debate the pros and cons. That's another reason KlamBlog is stepping up. We will attempt to do what I believe the Basin's tribal and other governments, as well as our community-based restoration groups, should be doing: keeping those who live on the River and will be most affected by KBRA 2 informed about what is going on, while fostering deep conversations and healthy debate.

The River belongs to all of us; negotiations over its fate should be public. In order to keep River people properly informed, KlamBlog needs whistleblowers inside the Basin's agencies and governments. Send us the documents which leaders seek to keep hidden when there is no good reason for secrecy. Help foster healthy debate about the future of our River. Help KlamBlog keep the people informed. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Irrigation Elite and Klamath Tribes are still working to secure KBRA benefits

The Klamath River Basin's Irrigation Elite, which includes rich and politically well-connected federal irrigators in the Lower Klamath and Tule Lake Areas and a handful of rich cattlemen whose operations are above Upper Klamath Lake as well as in California's Central Valley, have not given up trying to obtain the water certainty and subsidies which their lawyer wrote into the KBRA Water Deal. Instead those rich and dominant irrigators are now looking to a Republican-controlled Congress and the Trump Administration to obtain advantages, subsidies and what they most desire, to keep the Upper Klamath River Basin a place where the federal Endangered Species Act is not enforced with respect to agricultural operations.

The Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) represents those members of the Irrigation Elite who get cheap federal water subsidized by US taxpayers. The Klamath Falls Herald and News reported recently that, with the help of Oregon's two senators and California's Diane Feinstein, KWUA has secured provisions in federal legislation recently introduced in the Senate which, if the legislation becomes law, will:
  • Permanently authorize the marketing of federal irrigation water with receipts going to irrigators rather than the federal treasury,
  • Transfer millions of dollars in flume replacement cost from federal irrigators to taxpayers,
  • Direct the U.S. Department of the Interior to reduce power costs for irrigators in the Klamath Project, and
  • Eliminate requirements for using federal canals, pumps and other facilities to convey groundwater that irrigators want to sell on the open market.
One of several wells and large pumps right on the Cal-Oregon border 
which California taxpayers provided to Tule Lake Irrigation District in
a political brokered budget deal. TID now markets water pumped from 
these wells and seeks legislation to make those sales more profitable.

All American Agriculture is heavily subsidized; but the Klamath Basin's federal irrigators have been extraordinarily successful in obtaining benefits and subsidies worth tens of millions that are not available to most other agricultural operations. Democratic and Republican members of Congress alike appear eager to do the bidding of these rich growers. Generous political donations fuel that eagerness in a country which has the best government that money can buy.

Klamath Tribes lobby Trump appointees

Meanwhile the Klamath Tribes have been meeting with Interior Secretary Zinke and other Trump appointees in hopes of securing a deal that trades the Tribes' hard won in-stream fisheries water rights for funds to purchase land.  The tribal government's agenda has long been to get back into the timber business which ended when the Tribes' reservation was terminated in the 1960s. The former reservation became the Winema National Forest so that it would not be necessary to pay the Tribes for the timber.

Comprised of three tribal groups united in one tribal government, the Klamath Tribes are also considering getting into the marijuana business.

Fight over Klamath Refuges heats up

The Klamath's federal Irrigation Elite has long controlled what does and does not take place on the Klamath River Basin's federal wildlife refuges. They pulled off a coup in the 1960s with passage of a special law that made Tule Lake and Lower Klamath Refuges the only federal wildlife refuges in the country on which commercial agriculture is allowed.

Because it provides very little benefit to wildlife, most of the conservation community has longed to get commercial agriculture off the two refuges. With passage of the National Wildlife Improvement Act in 1997, conservationists believed they had the means to get that job done.

The Act specifically requires that activities and land uses on federal wildlife refuges must deliver the most advantages and support to wildlife; commercial agriculture on Lower Klamath and Tule Lake NWRs clearly does not. The Act required development of refuge management plans; but Oregon Wild (OW) and Water Watch (WW) had to sue to get the feds to develop plans for Klamath River Basin refuges.

Finally, early in 2017, the Comprehensive Management Plan for the Klamath Refuges was released. It did not transfer water rights from federal irrigation to refuge purposes as OW and WW had hoped and continued to allow the use of toxic pesticides on refuge land leased for agriculture. The two groups promptly sued the feds claiming that the Plan does not comply with requirements of the Refuge Improvement Act.

But the Irrigation Elite also sued, claiming that the new management plan would subject growers operating on the refuge to "numerous stipulations, such as prohibitions on post-harvest field work and genetically engineered crops" as well as restrictions on "alfalfa harvests....and disallow hazing of waterfowl during tilling and planting in late winter and early spring"

And so the long simmering conflict over whether it is OK to manage national wildlife refuge lands as industrial-style agricultural fields is once again heating up.

Lower Klamath Lake is the real solution

Completely lost in the conflict is a potential win-win. Farmlands within the bed of the former Lower Klamath Lake, once even larger than Upper Klamath Lake, were created by draining and shrinking the lake in the early 20th century. But the land is salty and so it can only be used to grow grain or for pasture, two agricultural activities that do not produce the high yields and income row crop growers in the bed of the former Tule Lake obtain.

Restoring Lower Klamath Lake would provide wildlife benefits, including expanding scarce stopover habitat for Pacific Flyway birds, and would clean the Klamath Irrigation Project's highly polluted agricultural waste water before that water reaches the Klamath River. Restoring the Lake would also provide additional winter water storage and help eliminate deficits in water supply that have plagued the Klamath River Basin for decades.

Sunset at Lower Klamath Lake

In recent years the lack of flushing spring river flows and poor water quality produced epidemic outbreaks of naturally-occurring fish diseases in the Klamath River. Those epidemics killed most juvenile salmon migrating down the River before they could reach the ocean. With Lower Klamath Lake even partially restored, Upper Klamath Lake water now used to flush disease organisms from the River's bed could be devoted to irrigation instead. Restoring Lower Klamath Lake is the best means to reduce or even eliminate conflict over who gets Klamath River Water water in dry years.

But for now at least, win-win solutions are not on the table. Instead environmental groups, the Irrigation Elite and Klamath River Basin tribes are each independently maneuvering, with the help of politicians, to extract what they most desire from federal bureaucracies, federal judges and the federal budget at the expense of taxpayers. As our president might say: "sad".   

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Groundwater Planning comes to the Klamath River Basin: Are You Ready?

Groundwater planning is getting underway in the Scott Valley, Shasta Valley, Butte Valley and Tule Lake Basin. The groundwater management plans developed for these groundwater basins may well determine the future of the Klamath River and whether Klamath Salmon, and in particular Klamath River Coho Salmon, will survive. Because this planning is critical, all those who care about the Klamath River and Klamath Salmon should participate in developing at least one of the four groundwater management plans.

The Scott River's dewatered bed near Fort Jones with irrigation via groundwater extraction
in view. If done properly, groundwater management plans should end stream dewatering. 

The plans are being developed pursuant to California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). As is its right under SGMA, Siskiyou County Government has taken the lead in developing the plans and the agencies that will do the planning. Other potential players (including tribes which manage water) have apparently not chosen to seek seats on the planning bodies, known as Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs).

Because of the work of clean water, streamflow and river advocates, including the work of Klamath Riverkeeper, SGMA includes provisions which, if properly implemented through locally-developed groundwater management plans, will protect streamflows and fisheries from the "undesirable results" of groundwater extraction. But Siskiyou County can not be counted on to protect these Public and Tribal Trust Resources. Therefore it will be up to citizens to assure that the provisions of SGMA are properly implemented in and through the groundwater management plans for Scott Valley, Shasta Valley, Butte Valley and Tule Lake Basin. Especially if the tribes do not get seats at the planning table, citizens must be involved if Public and Tribal Trust Resources are going to be protected and sustained. 

While organizing and coordination by Klamath Riverkeeper and others is expected, KlamBlog urges all those who care about the Klamath River and Klamath Salmon to prepare to participate in at least one of these planning efforts. A good way to begin is to attend the webinar titled:

Beginner's Guide to Groundwater Planning

Sponsored by the Clean Water Fund and conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the webinar is being offered first on Thursday May 18th from noon until one PM. Register at this link:
SGMA contains strong provisions assuring the public's right to participate. To recieve notices about the Siskiyou County led SGMA plans you want to track as they are developed, send an email message to Siskiyou County's Resource Specialist Elizabeth Nielsen <>. Tell Elizabeth which groundwater plans you would like to be informed about and ask her to notify you of all opportunities for public input. You do not need to be a Siskiyou County resident to participate in these planning efforts. 
The recent history of the Klamath River demonstrates once again that, while tribal governments and salmon fishermen will do some of the work, independent river citizens must be vigilant and involved if we are going to be sure our River and Klamath Salmon survive and recover. All governments need citizen oversight to keep them on the right road and none more than Siskiyou County Government. Please decide now that you are going to participate in at least one of these groundwater planning efforts. And to prepare please register for and attend the webinar.
The dewatered mouth of Shakleford Creek. If done properly, groundwater 
management plans should make it possible for salmon to access 
spawning grounds in creeks like this each and every year.