Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Letter to EcoNews and NEC members

In his “At the Center” commentary in the November edition of EcoNews Northcoast Environmental Center Executive Director Greg King makes it clear that decision time is near in Klamath Settlement Negotiations. King and NEC’s Klamath Coordinator Erica Terrence deserve praise for raising the funds for a peer review of the water supply and flow models that the negotiators are using to formulate recommendations on a water deal involving mainly those irrigators who get subsidized irrigation water from the Federal Klamath Project.

These NEC leaders have also promised to meet with NEC members before deciding whether or not to endorse the final Settlement Proposal they and 26 other agencies, tribes and private interests have negotiated. Bravo again!

In his commentary Greg King asks: “Can the two goals coexist?” He is referring to the demand by Klamath Project Irrigators for a guaranteed allocation of Klamath River water and whether that is compatible with healthy Klamath Basin Wildlife Refuges and sufficient water for fish.

It is clear that in past drought years these “goals” have not been compatible. Before the fishermen/enviro Klamath Coalition won injunctions reallocated Klamath River water, federal irrigators regularly dewatered the Refuges (which host 80% of Pacific Flyway birds) and cut flows in the River in order to give the federal irrigation elite all the water they desired.

But the question about whether the water models being used to develop the Negotiators’ water division proposals are “realistic” – especially in light of global warming impacts – is only one critical question. NEC members should also wrestle with other important questions as we consider whether to endorse the Settlement Proposals. Those other questions include:

¨ Should we support a Settlement Proposal that relies on leasing water from irrigators during drought years? Paying irrigators for water which by Public and Tribal Trust ought to be left in the River would be a significant precedent. Does it make sense to do this and is it sustainable?

¨ Should we support a Settlement Proposal that depends on pumping unregulated groundwater that the US Geological Service has stated clearly in a report is “not sustainable” and which is dewatering municipal and domestic wells?

¨ Should we support a Settlement Proposal that restores the Klamath Project Irrigators (who represent 40% of ag water use in the Basin) to the position of a privileged elite who enjoy water supply guarantees and a power subsidy at the expense of other Basin interests including the 60% of farmers and ranchers who do not enjoy guarantees and subsidies?

¨ Should we support a Settlement Proposal that is silent on the Shasta and Scott Rivers where the State of California – a party to Settlement Negotiations – is complicit in “take’ of Coho salmon and is allowing the progressive dewatering of these rivers which – according to the National Research Council – are key to the survival and restoration of Coho salmon in the Klamath River Basin?

And there is the most important question of all: Is such a deal necessary in order to get the dams removed?

The gag order that the Negotiators imposed on themselves was probably necessary but it has also stifled debate about what is really in the Settlement Proposal being negotiated. The veil will soon be lifted. NEC members and the People of the Klamath River Basin need at least two months of open education and study to explore what are guaranteed to be complex proposals.

Taking out the dams is an important goal but it is not sufficient to restore the Klamath River. NEC staff and members should remain vigilant to assure that in our push to remove the dams we do not agree to deals that create unintended consequences not in the interest of the Klamath River, Klamath Refuges and the People of the Klamath River Basin.

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