Friday, January 25, 2008

Humboldt County Supervisors consider proposed Klamath Water Deal – exaggerated claims debunked by Deal detractors

On Tuesday January 22nd the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors heard three hours of presentations on the proposed “Klamath River Restoration Agreement”. Recently released after over two years of development behind closed doors, the complex 256 page proposal would require federal and state legislation and about a billion dollars in new federal and state spending.

Although it is termed a “restoration” agreement, the core of the proposal is a water deal which would give a small group of wealthy irrigators – those who get subsidized irrigation water from the federal Klamath Project – first call on a big chunk of Klamath River water to meet their irrigation needs. Currently endangered fish and tribes have first rights to the River’s water. Under the deal those tribes with water rights would also agree not to ever sue the federal government to secure their water rights. Making sure tribal rights are honored by the states is currently a federal government requirement because legally the federal government is the trustee for federal tribes.

Humboldt County supervisor Jill Geist led off the presentation. Although it is not part of the Agreement she was presenting, Ms. Geist and several other presenters talked mostly about the effort to remove four PacifiCorp dams. She did also mention the Klamath Wildlife Refuges two of which would benefit if the agreement becomes law. However, Ms. Geist claimed that the refuges do not have water rights. In actuality, they do but these rights are junior to those of the irrigators who surround the refuge land and farm on some refuge land commercially.

Representing the Karuk Tribe, Craig Tucker followed Geist. Tucker also spoke mostly about dam removal, reinforcing the idea that the water deal is necessary to take out the dams. This connection has been challenged including by KlamBlog (see December 23rd KlamBlog post).

Tucker made several extravagant claims. Most significantly he asserted that all that would be accomplished through the dam licensing process is “fish ladders” on the dam. In reality in order to get a license for the dams PacifiCorp would be required to fix their water quality problems. This would likely include building a sewage treatment plant at Iron Gate dam to clean the discharge to the River and other costly actions to address poor water quality and toxic algae in the reservoirs. KlamBlog believes PacifiCorp will agree to remove the dams because the high cost of meeting water quality requirements in addition to the cost of fish ladders makes the dams uneconomical.

Tucker also misrepresented history claiming that the tribes approached the Irrigation Elite about a water deal in exchange for dam decommissioning support. The truth is that officials at the Bush Administration’s Interior Department told Yurok and Karuk leaders that they would have to “take care of the irrigator’s demands” or else Interior would oppose dam decommissioning.

Fisheries biologist Mike Belchik represented the Yurok Tribe. No Yurok officials were in attendance presumably because they were in DC with the Irrigation Elite explaining to Congressional folks why the cash strapped federal government should give them and a couple of Upper Basin counties close to a billion dollars in special interest subsidies included in the proposed Water Deal.

Belchik also claimed that “We win the lawsuits but that doesn’t get us enough water.” KlamBlog wonders what Mr. Belchik is thinking. The Yurok Tribe has never filed a lawsuit to get more water into the Klamath. The only lawsuit that has resulted in more water in the Klamath for fish is an ESA lawsuit filed by commercial fishermen and environmental groups pursuant to the federal ESA. The Yurok Tribe did intervene in that lawsuit but Yurok tribal officials have been hostile to the ESA including testimony their top administrator delivered at anti-ESA hearings a few years back in Klamath Falls. Those hearings were organized by Republicans who wanted to trash the ESA. It was boycotted by Democrats and many salmon advocates but the Yurok Tribe delivered what the Republicans wanted – a condemnation of the federal Endangered Species Act.

California Fish & Game official Greg Horner also made an appearance. He offered no substance but gushed on about how well the group who met for two years behind closed doors had “bonded”. Horner did not mention the Shasta and Scott where for years his agency has allowed illegal diversion and dewatering in violation of state law; nor did he mention why the fish and game agency supports giving the Irrigation Elite an exemption from the state’s endangered species law.

In what may have been the shortest presentation but one of the most effective, Hoopa Tribe Chairperson Lyle Marshall said the Hoopa Tribe would not agree to waive their water rights as demanded by Bush’s Interior Department. He then ticked off the reason’s the proposed Deal is bad for salmon and the river. Among the Chairman’s points were that the agreement offers water “assurance” for the Irrigation Elite but no assurances for river flows and salmon.

Marshall also said the restoration provisions lacked standards and therefore would not be effective. The Klamath Forest Alliance had offered language in the negotiations that would have required restoration standards designed to prevent boondoggles including requiring that stream projects restore streams to “properly functioning condition.” This once was the standard California Fish & Game officials used but that state agency dropped restoration standards years ago in favor of “social criteria” for restoration funding. The language which would have made restoration responsible was not included in the Deal as currently written.

Speaking on behalf of the Klamath Forest Alliance, Felice Pace said the group was still studying the proposal but had serious concerns – including the fact that key provisions were still being drafted. Speaking for himself Pace then made the case that this Deal was not needed to get the dams out and actually might get in the way of dam removal. Pace claimed that the cost of securing a license to operate the dams would include expensive water quality fixes that – together with the cost of fish ladders - would make operation of the dams uneconomical. Apparently the only PacifiCorp “ratepayer” in the room, Pace said the cost of dam removal should not be passed on to ratepayers – something some tribal officials have suggested. Many members of the Yurok Tribe also receive electric service from PacifiCorp and would pay more for electricity if decommissioning costs are passed on to ratepayers.

The final speaker was respected North Coast professor Bill Trush who conducted an independent review of the river flow schedule proposed in the Deal for the Northcoast Environmental Center and North Group Sierra Club. Professor Trush explained that the reason the Klamath historically had such prolific salmon runs is that it had more “good” water years than other rivers due to snowpack-backed spring run-off and the year-around-producing volcanic springs of the Shasta River and Upper Basin. Trush said the flows proposed in the Deal would not lead to salmon recovery because there would not be enough “good” water years to produce “good” runs of salmon.

While their organizations have not yet made final decisions, Trout Unlimited, California Trout and the Pacific Federation of Fishermen’s Associations are among the groups issuing or participating in recent press releases supporting adoption of the Water Deal. KLAMBLOG CAN NOT HELP BUT WONDER HOW ORGANIZATIONS WHOSE MISSION IS TO PROTECT TROUT OR WHOSE MEMBERS DEPEND ON RECOVERY OF KLAMATH SALMON CAN SUPPORT A WATER DEAL THAT WILL LOCK IN MANAGEMENT THAT EXPERTS SAY WILL NOT LEAD TO RECOVERY OF KLAMATH SALMON. Will members of these organizations revolt once they learn that the deal their leaders have endorsed shortchanges salmon while guaranteeing water for a select group of irrigators? We hope so.

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