Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Klamath Water Deal to be Released - Watch it Spin!

The long-hyped Klamath Water Deal (actually it is called a “Restoration Agreement”) will be released any day now – maybe even today. Look for lots of spin in the press release which will accompany the release and in the statements of irrigation and tribal leaders which will key to that release.

That spin will indicate broad support for the Deal. In one sense the support is broad. Most representatives of the 26 agencies, tribes, fishing and conservation groups who have been meeting behind closed doors for over two years are so conditioned to the “group think” process that they have been rendered incapable of opposition. Some of the more liberal members apparently cannot bring themselves to oppose Yurok and Karuk leaders who – along with the lawyer for the Klamath Water Users Association and Bush Interior Department officials – have dominated the negotiations by controlling the agenda as well as press releases issuing from the confidential deal making.

Support for the Water Deal does appear to be broad but that support also appears quite shallow. And the support that is there is slipping. KlamBlog can now confirm that a growing number of participating conservation and fishing groups and at least one tribe are likely to reject the Water Deal. These groups may have been influenced by the recently released second report by a National Research Council panel of independent scientists. The new NRC report criticizes the piecemeal, fragmented and political manner in which water issues have been approached in the Klamath River Basin and calls for a comprehensive, basin-wide approach to assessing flow needs and managing competing demands for water. The report itself and summaries of it can be viewed on-line or downloaded at: http://dels.nas.edu/dels/rpt_briefs/klamath_river_basin_final.pdf.

The proposed Water Deal clearly takes a fragmented approach to water management by carving out an accommodation between one small but powerful group of water users – those who get subsidized irrigation water from the federal Klamath Project – while ignoring or giving short shrift to non-federal irrigators in the Upper Basin, Shasta and Scott Rivers as well as to the entire Trinity River system – a major tributary from which water is exported to California’s Central Valley. If the Water Deal is enacted into law (which would require both federal and state legislation and appropriation of close to a billion dollars in taxpayer funds) the non-federal irrigators - those who have been excluded from the Water Deal - are likely to be required to bear the impact of any new calls for irrigation curtailment that result from court-ordered endangered species assessments or as a result of climate change. In other words, the proposed Water Deal is all about winners and losers.

Also important in convincing some participating organizations to reject the heavily-promoted Water Deal has been an independent review by well respected scientists commissioned by the Northcoast Environmental Center with support from other groups including the North Group Sierra Club. That independent review concluded that the Water Deal will not lead to recovery of Klamath River Salmon.

This year’s Klamath River salmon run has not met the MINIMUM or “floor” number of spawners needed to sustain future abundance for the third straight year. In fact, the spawning run has been miserable – one of the worst on record. This is likely to trigger further restrictions in the number of salmon which will be made available for native subsistence, commercial and sport salmon fishing.

But none of this will be mentioned in the press release that will accompany release of a Water Deal that is well over 100 pages in length not counting its numerous appendices. The release will also not mention that key provisions of the proposed Water Deal have yet to be finalized. This includes language which will determine the extent to which those tribes which hold water rights on the Klamath – the Klamath Tribes at the headwaters and the Yurok Tribe at the Klamath’s mouth - will be ceding forever their peoples’ water rights in order to secure the Deal. Instead, the Klamath Water Users Association’s spin machine will be at work trying to convince reporters and the public that this agreement will save Klamath’s salmon because it will lead to removal of four Klamath River Dams.

The assertion of a connection between the proposed Water Deal and dam removal, however, has been debunked. In fact, because of its high price tag, the heavily promoted Water Deal could make dam removal LESS likely. That is because the two separate deals – one to benefit certain irrigators and certain tribes and the second dealing with PacifiCorp and dam removal – will have to compete for increasingly scarce federal funds. In fact, congressional budget rules require that those who are promoting new federal spending identify where they want to cut spending in order to pay for the new spending. Those promoting the Water Deal have given no indication of whose budget they would like to cut to divert those funds to funding the Deal. More importantly, reporters have failed to ask this critical question. One of the prime candidates for cuts to pay for the proposed Water Deal will likely be the BIA budget – which provides for the needs of over 100 tribes just in California alone – as well as the budgets of other federal agencies already at work in the Klamath River Basin. Since the proposed Deal claims it will save the salmon, for example, it would be logical to cut staffing and budgets at National Marine Fisheries Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service offices in Arcata, Yreka and Klamath Falls.

As the Klamath Political Dance continues, the ultimate fate of the proposed Klamath Water Deal appears to be increasingly uncertain. Until recently the spin has been all positive. But as more details have leaked out it has become clear that neither the Press not the People of the Klamath River Basin have been told the whole story. This is about to change. Once the proposed Water Deal is actually released a healthy debate will begin. KlamBlog will be in that debate; we will not only analyze the proposed Deal in detail; we will also continue to debunk the spin that is put on it by those who stand to gain from the Deal at the expense of other interests. We will also point out where the Deal departs from what independent scientists are telling us must happen if we are going to reverse the decline of Klamath River Salmon.

So stay tuned and…..


1 comment:

Felice Pace said...

I have been forwarded an AP article from 1/11 indicating that - according to the California Department of Fish and Game - returns of Klamath River Fall Chinook salmon exceeded the natural spawner "floor" this year for the first time in the last 4 years.

This is good news but surprising because the reports from the tributaries were that they were not seeing many spawning salmon. So we will have to wait for the final spawning figures which will be released in February.

One possible explanation is that the early reports on spawning were bleak because the Fall Chinook run came into the river so late this year. Or it may be that there were a sufficient number of spawners but they were concentrated only in certain watersheds while others had few spawners. It often happens that the bulk of so-called "natural" spawning Fall Chinook are found in the watersheds very close to Iron Gate hatchery.

It should also be noted that Fall Chinook are the only Klamath run that is systematically surveyed basin-wide. But we should be seeing reports this winter on the Coho run in the Scott River. Spring Chinook returns to the Salmon River remain low this year and it has been reported that there are few wild Steelhead in the Klamath River and tributaries this winter.