Saturday, March 29, 2008

Federal Officials, the Bush Administration and the proposed Klamath Water Deal – Who is telling the truth?

US Fish and Wildlife Service manager Phil Detrich has been spending a lot of time on the road lately. Detrich, a career federal employee, supervises the Yreka California office of the US FWS; he is listed on that office’s web site as both “Field Supervisor” and “Klamath Issues Coordinator”. Detrich is also credited (or reviled depending on who you talk to) as one of the main architects of the controversial Headwater's Deal which protected ancient redwoods while providing millions of taxpayer dollars and an ESA "take permit" to Pacific Lumber and its parent company, Charles Horwitz's Maxam Corporation.

According to an article in the March 26th edition of the Mt. Shasta Herald, Detrich has already made 10 major presentations on the controversial 550 plus page proposal which was developed for over 2 years behind closed doors and only released to the public in January. According to the Herald, about 30 people listened to Detrich “extol the plan’s virtues” in Dunsmuir.

Detrich and other federal officials deny that the Bush Administration orchestrated efforts to tie the controversial proposal to negotiations over the fate of 6 dams owned and operated by PacifiCorp as part of its Klamath Hydroelectric Project. In fact, word from inside the still-secret meetings of the Klamath Settlement Group is that the feds are now saying that they will not actually sign the Agreement. This is in spite of the fact that lobbyists for the Yurok Tribe and Klamath Water Users Association already told members of Congress that the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service are among the “24 groups” they claim have “signed on” and fully support what Hoopa Tribe Chairman Lyle Marshall has called “an Old West Water Deal”. Phil Detrich's boss, career bureaucrat Steve Thompson, chaired negotiations of the self-styled “Klamath Settlement Group” for most of the 2 plus years the group – made up mostly of federal, state and tribal bureaucrats - met behind closed doors.

But, if those who implement the Bush Administration’s Klamath River Basin policies are simply fair and disinterested parties why is Detrich spending so much time making presentations clearly aimed at building support for the Deal? If the feds were indeed neutral wouldn’t they be providing a more balanced view or simply staying home and managing the offices they supervise?

So what has been the role of the Bush Administration and the federal career bureaucrats who implement the Administration’s Klamath policies?

Those who run public relations for the Karuk and Yurok Tribes and the Klamath Water Users Association (the group which represents the powerful irrigation interests who would benefit most from the proposed Deal) have repeatedly claimed that the Klamath Settlement Group switched negotiations from the dam issue to what has become a controversial and expensive Water Deal because irrigation and tribal leaders realized that they needed to reach an accommodation and bring peace to the river basin.

But other Klamath insiders insist that the Bush Administration orchestrated what has become a strong political alliance when they told tribal leaders that, if they wanted federal government support for dam removal and funding for their fisheries and other programs, they would have to “take care of” the irrigators who receive water through the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Project.

We may never know who is telling the truth in this regard. One thing is crystal clear, however. The proposed Klamath Water Deal definitely takes care of that one group of irrigation interests. Those interests – which operate about 40% of total Klamath River Basin irrigation including water delivery to a golf resort and several timber products companies – will receive a guaranteed water allocation if the Deal becomes law as well as $204,000,000 in direct subsidies and an estimated $30,000,000 in indirect subsidies financed by federal and state taxpayers.[1]

Favoritism for the so-called “federal irrigators” has not escaped the attention of other Klamath River Basin irrigators, including those in the Shasta and Scott Sub-basins and above Upper Klamath Lake. Many of these irrigators oppose the proposed Water Deal in part because they recognize that taxpayer subsidies will give the “federal irrigators” a distinct competitive advantage over them.

Meanwhile KlamBlog expects Phil Detrich to continue to make presentations promoting the Water Deal while he and other federal officials continue to deny that they have orchestrated it.

Detrich’s Dunsmuir presentation was sponsored by the Upper Sacramento River Exchange which, according to its website, “promotes healthy watersheds in Siskiyou County through stewardship, restoration, education, and community involvement.” Opponents of the proposed Klamath Water Deal have requested that the River Exchange also sponsor a presentation by one of the organizations which do not believe the proposed Deal is in the interest of salmon, a healthy Klamath River and “healthy watersheds”.

How should community-based organizations respond when Mr. Detrich – or other Water Deal promoters - contacts them about sponsoring a presentation? The fair response would be to insist that Detrich and other promoters agree to present along side one or more of those entities which do not believe the proposed Deal would be in the interest of the Klamath River and its communities. That’s the way we should operate in a democracy.

[1] The figures are derived from “Cost Estimates for Settlement Measures and Commitments” in Appendix B2 of the proposed Water Deal (

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