Sunday, December 23, 2007

Gut check time on the Klamath

As work activities slow down for the Christmas Holiday, 15 or so of the often-mentioned “26 groups” involved for well over a year in “settlement negotiations” to find “positive solutions” to the Basin’s water management conflicts are debating internally whether or not to sign on to a “package deal” which remains “confidential”[1]

Based on recent revelations about the central component – the proposed Klamath Water Deal - the decision for environmental and fishing groups should be easy. Here are the critical facts:

  • As revealed by the Sacramento Bee, an unreleased scientific review of the proposed Klamath Water Deal commissioned by the Northcoast Environmental Center and paid for in part by the Sierra Club found that the Deal would likely not lead to salmon recovery. Furthermore, the team of specialists noted that beneficial flows for fish specified in the Deal would only materialize in the future and only if Congress grants close to a billion dollars to irrigators and the Bureau of Reclamation for “conservation” and “new storage”.

  • The proposed Klamath Water Deal will have a negative impact on Native American water rights. The treaty rights of the Klamath Tribes and the reserved rights of the Yurok Tribe are likely to be compromised if not extinguished should the Deal become law.[2]

  • The proposed Klamath Water Deal would give a small, select group of Klamath River Basin irrigators, the Klamath Irrigation Elite,[3] unrestricted control of and first priority to a large amount of the Klamath River’s spring and summer flows. The Irrigation Elite, who control roughly 40% of irrigated lands in the Klamath River Basin through a web of corporate and family ownerships and leases of public and private farmland, would be free to use that water for irrigation or to sell it (through complex exchanges with Trinity River Water) to corporate agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley. If tribes, state or federal agencies or fishermen wanted any of this water for fish, they would have to come with dollars in hand to lease that water from the Irrigation Elite. Furthermore, rental payments would have to continue on an annual basis in competition with other buyers, including San Joaquin River Basin corporate farms.

Given this list of likely negative consequences, the decision on whether or not to endorse the Klamath Water Deal would appear to be a no brainer.

But that is not the case. KlamBlog has learned that the Boards of Directors of environmental, restoration and fishing organizations are having intense debates about whether or not to accept a Water Deal which experts say will not lead to salmon recovery. Word on the street is that at least one lead negotiator is urging his organization to endorse the Deal.

Readers may wonder why organizations which have been staunch advocates for Pacific Salmon would consider a Deal that will not lead to Salmon Recovery. There are three major reason; two are substantive and the third is psychological.

1. Many of those involved in the negotiations from the environmental and fishing communities believe they must accept this Water Deal in order to get the four PacifiCorp dams removed.

The necessary connection between a Water Deal and dam removal is an assumption that has been promoted heavily by the propaganda machine operated by Doctor Craig Tucker under the watchful eyes of Troy Fletcher and Leaf Hillman – the men who call the shots on things Klamath for the Yurok and Karuk Tribes respectively. Doctor Tucker has orchestrated numerous protests, press events and videos designed with special attention to promoting the IDEA that removal of the dams and a rapprochement with the Klamath Irrigation Elite are inextricably linked. That IDEA is now accepted as an article of faith by many rank and file Klamath River Basin Native Americans, environmentalists, restorationists and salmon advocates.

Not withstanding the fact that many well intentioned people BELIEVE dam removal requires accepting a bad Water Deal, is this “necessity” in fact true? Here is KlamBlog’s take on that question:

Many months ago when Mr. Fletcher still spoke to us, he told KlamBlog that officials at the Bush Administration’s Interior Department had stated emphatically that unless the Tribes cut a water deal with Klamath Project Irrigators and got the fishermen and enviros to go along, Interior would oppose dam removal. At the time the Bush Administration was still strong, the Republicans controlled Congress and Bush appointees at Interior had not yet been forced to resign under fear of indictment for lawbreaking. Mr. Fletcher was convinced that a deal with the Irrigation Elite was the only way to get the dams out.

Still there were those among the long-strong coalition of tribes, enviros and fishermen who did not share this perspective. The minority argued that the Achilles’ heal of the dams was not salmon but rather water quality; that there was no way PacifiCorp’s dams could be certified by the State of California as complying with long-established and legally unassailable water quality standards designed to protect all the beneficial uses of the Klamath River.[4]

Legal experts on dam relicensing issues involved on the Klamath have affirmed that PacifiCorp can not get around the fact that the dams must be certified by the states of California and Oregon as in compliance with long-established water quality standards under the Clean Water Act before they can receive a new license. These experts know that the Clean Water Act is the trump card assuring that the dams will come out. But even these experts favor a Deal as a means of resolving the dam issue sooner and without the cost of litigation which may be required if the State of California does not follow the Clean Water Act and declare the dams illegal. KlamBlog, however, is among those who think the proposed Klamath Water Deal will delay removal of the dams.

A Water Deal which requires costly new spending at a time of massive federal debt, which is opposed by environmental groups with power and influence in DC, which excludes certain Klamath River Basin tribes, counties and irrigators from generous “benefits programs” (i.e. the cold cash which will be collected by four of the Basin’s tribes, counties and irrigators if the Deal becomes law ) - such a Deal is likely to stall out in Congressional committees where it will languish far beyond the delays normal in election years.

The highly promoted BELIEF that dam removal requires a Klamath Water Deal that will not lead to salmon recovery has been further weakened by several additional developments.

First, the Democrats took over Congress. They quickly reinstituted pay-as-you-go budget rules which require that legislation which proposes new or increased spending must also specify where cuts will be made to fully offset the new spending. Where do the promoters of this Water Deal think those cuts should come? Have they even thought about that key issue? Shall we fund this Deal by closing down the USFWS offices in the Basin, the NMFS office in Arcata? Where else will the necessary budget “offset” be found? Furthermore, a very expensive San Joaquin water deal has already been introduced into Congress. Because enviros hold a court decree over that deal, however, it will continue to be a much higher priority than the proposed Klamath Water Deal.

With a Californian as leader of the House of Representatives, the increased power of Northcoast Congressman Mike Thompson and California’s two Democratic Senators, KlamBlog believes that a revived and revised Klamath Basin Coalition – made up of tribes, environmentalists, fishing groups, restorationists and progressive farmers – could do much better than pushing an expensive Water Deal which will not lead to Salmon Recovery and which reinforces rather than eliminates the inequities in our communities. So much could be accomplished if and when our leaders wake up and get out of those back rooms!

If our leaders had vision and boldness we could write and pass legislation that would make the Klamath River a model for social and environmental justice. Such legislation would not be aimed at creating winners and losers and would not reinforcing the power of the Irrigation Elite. Instead, a real solution to the Klamath Water Wars would write a new Law of the River – a federal, state, tribal and county compact that would usher in a new era in which irrigation interests and those who depend on a healthy River work together as equals – not as “haves” and “have-nots”.

A new and permanent Klamath Basin Commission charged with restoring our River, coordinating water management with respect for all rights and all interests and strengthening our communities through socially just and equitable policies would not need to depend on taxpayers to solve our water management problems. We would not need to stake the future of Klamath River Salmon on development of mythical “new water”.

Second, the National Academy of Sciences came out with a new report on Klamath flow and water supply modeling that strengthens the calls of fish advocates for increased Klamath flows. Like the Biological Opinion before it, the new NAS study indicates that, in order for salmon to recover, the Klamath needs more water than could eventually be provided under the proposed Klamath Water Deal.

Third, the Bush Administration in general and Bush’s Interior Department in particular have been weakened by scandal; the lame duck Bush Administration is not in a position to pressure Congress to get the proposed Klamath Water Deal passed, nor is it one of the Administration’s top priorities.

Fourth, a new, soon to be published, peer-reviewed study of Lower Klamath rivers, streams, precipitation and snow pack finds that Climate Change is already affecting the flow in Lower Klamath River Basin rivers and streams. Lower Basin rivers and streams depend on snow pack to sustain base flows through the dry summer and fall months. According to the new study, snowpack since 1977 has declined significantly, especially at lower elevations. This has resulted in reduced summer and fall flows even in rivers and streams that do not have dams or significant human water use.

To sum up then: Orchestrated propaganda not withstanding, the proposed Klamath Water Deal is not needed to get the dams out. Even the assumption that a deal gets the dams out sooner dries up when one considers the multi-billion dollar price tag on the deal and the virtual impossibility that these dams could be certified as complying with water quality standards.

2. The dominant promoters of the Water Deal want certain “benefit programs” that address desires which have little or nothing to do with restoring the Klamath River.

While the details remain protected by a “Confidentially Agreement” (which increasingly looks like it was designed to prevent the People of the Klamath River Basin from learning the details of the Deal until after their leaders agree to it) KlamBlog and others who know what is going on can affirm that the Deal includes several additional costly “goodies” (inside the confidential negotiations these “goodies’ are referred to as “Christmas Ornaments”) including a Tribal Benefits Program and payoffs for counties. These benefit programs are designed to secure taxpayer funds to underwrite tribal and county government bureaucracies – including the tribes’ fisheries departments.[5]

Thus, when one strips away the propaganda hype, the proposed Klamath Water Deal looks a lot less like something needed to get the dams out than an attempt to use the dam issue to pursue other agendas which have little to nothing to do with Salmon Recovery and Klamath Restoration. Salmon may well be the “only thing” for the Indigenous Natives of the Klamath River; but the tribal governments which represent those Natives have other agendas that have nothing to do with Salmon Recovery.

3. The basic psychology of humans creates a nearly irresistible urge to conform to the group mind and the group agenda. For those who have been together in those conference rooms for so long and who have invested so much personal time and effort, the compulsion to go along with “The Group” (no matter what rational self-interest and fidelity to the interest one serves indicates to the contrary) can be overwhelming.

Given that the proposed Klamath Water Deal will not lead to salmon recovery, will not institute a just and equitable approach to whole basin water management, is not necessary to get the dams out;[6] and is unlikely to get the dams out quicker than staying focused on PacifiCorp and the relicensing process…. Why are so many good enviros and salmon advocates willing to sign on?

The answer lies in the basic psyche of our species.

Unlike most of the enviro, agency, county and tribal participants in the Settlement Negotiations, KlamBlog’s principle writer has been in this sort of situation before. In the late 1980s, the Klamath Forest Alliance had the Forest Service and timber interests over a barrel. We had a good lawsuit that would block salvage logging on the entire Salmon River. So the industry and agency invited us to a “mediation group” to seek a “solution”. To make a long story short, KFA was going to give away the store until a hard nosed negotiator from The Wilderness Society arrived to save the day. The result: protection for riparian and roadless areas in exchange for logging going ahead in other areas. We did agree to one road being built in one roadless area.

Again during the Forest Wars, KlamBlog’s principal writer helped negotiated a deal with the Clinton Administration to release a few timber sales from the Northern Spotted Owl no-logging injunction we held with other forest groups from throughout the Northwest. Tagged “The Deal of Shame” we were attacked for allowing Old Growth logging. Those of us who made the deal point to the Aquatic Conservation Strategy and other Northwest Forest Plan protections which we subsequently gained from the Clinton Administration. But others still say we bowed unnecessarily to political pressure from our friends in the Clinton Administration. KlamBlog knows only one thing for sure – the internal and external pressures to go along with the deal were intense.

Finally, at home in Siskiyou County, KlamBlog’s principle writer and colleagues were invited to cut a deal with the timber industry that promised an end to the threats, intimidation, physical attacks and blackballing of self, wife and children that were the true cost of fighting the Timber Wars while living in a anti-environmental timber county. All we needed to do was agree to stop litigating over logging. The pressure to agree was intense; we walked away.

In each of these situations and in several others, KlamBlog’s principle writer has experienced the overwhelming pressure to conform to group norms, adopt the group’s perspectives and myths and go along with the “program” demanded as the price for acceptance by the group and all the good feelings that go along with that acceptance. Never has the main pressure come from the outside; the main pressure always comes from within.

For most of its existence, the human species has lived in small groups. Within these communities the dominant social glue has been the innate desire in each individual to be part of the group, to be accepted and loved.

Through much of our species’ term on Earth conforming to the group mind has been necessary to avoid personal and group annihilation. Struggling to survive in a harsh and unforgiving world; conformance to group norms has been a key to our survival as a species. Because of its survival value, the internal compulsion to conform to the group mind has become a basic human trait.

And so it should come as no surprise that activists and leaders who have worked long and hard for the Recovery of the Salmon and the Restoration of our River would now feel compelled to accept a Deal that, when looked at logically and in the light of all the facts, is neither necessary nor beneficial.

Knowing whence the strong internal compulsion to go along with the group comes, it is possible to resist, to stand back and get perspective, and to fight the compulsion to go along when the interest for which you stand is not served. It IS possible to JUST SAY NO to a bad deal!

KlamBlog is betting that in the final analysis those who carry the mantle of the Salmon and the Environment, and those who truly serve the People of the Klamath River, will recognize that the Klamath Water Deal is neither necessary to get the dams out nor in the interest of those who depend on the River for their well being and livelihood. KlamBlog knows these leaders and representatives well and believes they have the courage which is required if only they will turn away from the Group Mind and listen instead to the River as it speaks to their hearts.


[1] It has now come to light that the federal agencies which – along with Yurok and Karuk representatives – have been driving the push for a Klamath Water Deal, will not be signing the Agreement. They are rightly concerned about a little item known as FACA – the Federal Advisory Committee Act – which requires that the public be allowed in whenever a federal agency is taking advice from any corporation or interest group. Oregon Wild –engineered out of the “Settlement Group” because they would not go along with the deal making – has already raised FACA as an issue. KlamBlog expects OW to sue (and win) a FACA challenge if the proposed Deal goes forward. Assertions by Deal promoters that OW might “stand aside” are beyond wishful thinking, they don’t pass the laugh test.

[2] In alphabetical order the six federal tribes are: Hoopa, Karuk, Klamath, Quartz Valley, Resighini and Yurok. The Klamath Tribes (made up of Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin, descendants) have water rights guaranteed by treaty and affirmed by the US Supreme Court. The Hoopa, Quartz Valley and Yurok Tribes have water rights based on the establishment of their respective reservations on the Trinity, Scott and Lower Klamath River respectively. Experts in Indigenous Water Rights believe that the proposed Klamath Water Deal would negatively affect water rights of the Klamath Tribes and the Yurok Tribe.
There are also ‘tribes” in the Klamath River Basin that are not ‘recognized’ by the federal government. These include the Shasta Tribe and the Hayfork Band of Nor-El-Muk Wintu Indians. There are currently 43 California Native American organizations which have petitioned for federal regulation as tribes (see:

[3] The Klamath Basin’s Irrigation Elite control about 40% of Klamath River Basin irrigation. They receive subsidized water from the Bureau of Reclamation. The affluence of this elite is based on leasing vast amounts of land at low prices. Most of this land is held by older former farmers and homesteaders who can no longer make a living on farms that average less than 150 acres in size. According to the Bureau of Reclamation “the project irrigates over 200,000 acres on about 1,400 farms.” This yields an average farm size of about 143 acres. Farms of this size became uneconomical in the 1980s due to changes in markets, labor, input and transportation costs. The Irrigation Elite also has access to almost 23,000 acres of National Wildlife refuge lands which are leased for commercial agriculture under terms of a controversial federal law from the 1960s. Those Klamath Project farmers and homesteaders who live in or near poverty are in this state at least in part because the Irrigation Elite conspires to keep land lease rates extremely low as compared to similar lands with similar access to water anywhere else in the Western US. Ironically, it is these poverty stricken older farmers who were used as the “poster children” for the 2001 “Klamath Water Crisis”. Meanwhile the Irrigation Elite amassed the largest government subsidies ever recorded in the Klamath River Basin for their 2001ag operations which were sold to the public as a “disaster”.

[4] Troy Fletcher, the ‘consultant’ who directs the Yurok Tribal Council’s Klamath policy, is a fisheries biologist. He has little experience with the system by which the State of California implements the Clean Water Act. When Mr. Fletcher was executive director of the Yurok Tribe he ordered the Tribe’s EPA director to suspend efforts to secure recognition of the Tribe by the federal government as the equivalent of a state for purposes of the Clean Water Act. If the Yurok Tribe had that recognitions now it would be in a position to block certification of the PacifiCorp dams without litigation.
The Hoopa Tribe does have federal recognition as the equivalent of a state for purposes of Clean Water Act enforcement. Because a corner of the Hoopa Reservation crosses the Klamath River
above Weitchpec, the Hoopa Tribe is the sole Klamath River Basin tribe in a position to stop relicensing of the dams through its own regulatory action. Too bad the Yurok Tribe did not pursue obtaining this key regulatory power.

[5] This makes KlamBlog wonder whether some tribal biologists are constrained as much by organizational interest as by loyalty when they remain silent on a deal fellow scientists whom they respect say won’t lead to “salmon recovery”. If these good scientists actually believe the Water Deal is the best thing for the River and the Salmon they should tell KlamBlog and the People of the Klamath River why this is their considered scientific opinion.

[6] PacifiCorps will ultimately agree to go along with dam removal because that is what is in the economic interest of its owners. They will, of course, play the game in such a way that the financial cost of dam removal is passed on to taxpayers. But the core reason they will cut a deal for dam removal is that – should the relicensing actually play out and the license to operate them not be granted because the dams can not be certified as complying with water quality standards – PacifiCorp would be solely responsible for removing the dams and mitigating all related impacts. This is a chance that PacifiCorp’s owners have no intention of taking. They will settle and get out with minimum losses. When that happens, not even KlamBlog will complain about them getting a free ride out of the Klamath River Basin!