Friday, May 23, 2008

Klamath Science Summit raises more questions than it answers

No sooner had the much anticipated “science summit” on the proposed Klamath Water Agreement been completed than proponents of the proposed billion dollar Deal were in the public arena claiming that the objections of scientists who had previously expressed concerns about the Agreement’s impact on Klamath River salmon had been resolved. A careful reading of letters issued by reviewing scientists, however, reveals that once again the spin meisters are misrepresenting what actually took place.

In fact, the science summit now appears not to have been only about clarifying scientific questions but rather an event orchestrated to convince skeptical scientists to swallow their concerns and rely instead on their colleagues in the federal agencies to do right by the river and the salmon.

This reliance on trust is necessary because, as the Hoopa Tribal Fisheries Department pointed out in their report on the meeting, “no enforceable flow assurances are provided through the (proposed) Agreement.” What this means is that all claims being made about benefits that will accrue to the environment if the proposed Deal is implemented depend on the good will of the federal bureaucrats who will be in charge of water management if it is adopted. For example, we are being asked to trust that the federal government will provide the funding required to implement the proposed Deal. However, as the Hoopa Tribe has already pointed out, funding which under the proposed Agreement was supposed to come in 2008 has so far not materialized. Already the proposed Agreement is failing to deliver what it has promised.

One of the scientists who has now retracted his concerns about the proposed Deal is Dr. Thomas Hardy, the scientist who has been under contract to the Department of Interior for many years to model Klamath River flow needs. One of the concerns Dr. Hardy had expressed was about the still unwritten “drought plan” which we are told will supply the missing water needed to meet the proposed Deal’s flow targets during very dry years. But in his post-summit letter Doctor Hardy indicates that he is now convinced that the still-unwritten drought plan will be adequate.

Hardy also had concerns about groundwater impacts which he says have now been addressed. But careful reading of the summit’s meeting notes indicates that Dr. Hardy was not given complete information about potential groundwater impacts. Specifically, Hardy was given the impression that Oregon law was sufficient to protect groundwater; he was not informed that California law is radically different, i.e. that pumping on the California side of the border is totally unregulated. In this regard it should be noted that the vast majority of the water supplied to the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Water Bank has come from wells in the California portion of the Lost River Sub-basin. Doctor Hardy was apparently not informed about the complete absence from the Agreement of any groundwater monitoring in that sub-basin. But this is precisely where most of the water for the unwritten drought plan will likely come and it is also where the USGS has declared that groundwater pumping levels are “unsustainable”.

It is unfortunate that – because participation in the “science summit” and its agenda were strictly controlled - Dr. Hardy and other participants did not have the opportunity to learn “the rest of the story” including information like that provided above about groundwater impacts. Nevertheless, Deal proponents now have convinced him to support their position.

Another scientists who had expressed concerns about the proposed Deal’s impacts is hydrologist Greg Kamman. From Mr. Kamman’s post-summit letter it is obvious that he was persuaded to drop his concerns and instead rely on federal managers to do the right thing. Here, for example, is how Mr. Kammen reports his change of heart on one of his prior recommendations:

Prior recommendation: “Develop more detailed, verifiable and enforceable drought emergency response and adaptive management plan language for the Settlement Agreement. Ensure that there are triggers in place that allow participants to revisit and modify operations if egregious allocations result during droughts or other situations.

New position: Section 18 of Draft 11 of the SA appears to have evolved along these lines, at least to the best as possible until the Drought and Emergency Response Plans and Climate Change Assessment are initiated.”

Apparently Mr. Kammen is now convinced that we can rely on the unwritten “drought plan” and yet-to-be-initiated “climate change assessment” to take care of salmon during the driest years. Like Doctor Hardy, Mr. Kammen is suggesting that all we need to do is trust the federal managers to complete these missing pieces and then do the right thing!

Kammen goes on in his letter to conclude:

“It is my opinion that as it is currently written, there is an imbalance in stated goals in Draft 11 of the SA, such that a layperson reading it could perceive that there are more benefits and guarantees being provided to irrigators versus fish. Having attended the Klamath Science meeting, I’ve been fortunate to learn more about the history, study focus and commitment of resource managers to improve fish habitat. A lay person reading the Agreement for the first time, however, will not gain this perspective. Therefore, I believe that stating more definitive goals for fish habitat improvement will benefit the Agreement and address the perceived imbalance. If asked if I would support the Settlement Agreement as currently written, I would do so.” (emphasis added)

It appears that Mr. Kammen has been persuaded to support the proposed Agreement because of the “commitment of resource managers.” The “commitment of (Klamath) resource managers” is not a scientific concept and would not be a key topic at a true science meeting. It is also a topic about which Mr. Kammen has no history or specific expertise on which to base a judgment.

While what is reported above raises grave concerns about the integrity of Klamath science – especially as practiced by federal agency scientists – of even greater concern is the fact that the “summit’ ignored the best independent science available on Klamath River fish and water conditions. The two National Research Council reports on Klamath science were not even discussed; as a result the fact that the proposed Deal ignores the recommendations of the nation’s most prestigious science body never came up! The approach taken at the summit appears to have been: when the best science contradicts what you want to see just act like that science doesn’t exist!

The summit also apparently failed to adequately investigate what may be the most critical science question associated with the proposed Deal – the accuracy of the models government scientists are using to project or estimate “benefits” to the environment which will likely result from implementing the Deal. One key question that was not asked is about the “sensitivity” of the models. Model sensitivity is a mathematical concept. Basically, the greater the number of factors in the model for which values must be estimated the greater the possibility that the “answer” which the model spits out might be wildly off base. Sensitivity analysis does not tell us whether a model is “right’ or “wrong” but rather how much potential a model has to generate errors. In very complex models like those used on the Klamath, small errors in multiple factors can combine to produce a large error in the model’s result. Sensitivity is a measure of the potential for this sort of cumulative error. (You can learn more about model sensitivity at Wikipedia).

The manner in which the science summit was controlled and manipulated strongly indicates that Klamath River science has now become highly politicized. Science is supposed to be an open process of inquiry. But on the Klamath – like everything else – it is now conducted behind closed doors with the public excluded and with invitations and agendas tightly controlled. In the opinion of KlamBlog this kind of behavior is an example of how the Bush Administration’s Interior Department throughout its tenure has scorned open, democratic process and sought to manipulate science for political purposes. The Klamath Science Summit was just another in a long list of Bush Administration outrages.

1 comment:

Dave, CA said...

I find it interesting when people are willing to believe scientists, just so long as those scientists agree with them. The "politicization" of science has been created by the selective belief crowd, which includes the author of this blog. He seemed fine with believing the scientists when they agreed with him, but now that minds have changed, they are considered to be wrong. Ultimately, it is hard to determine which studies are truly representative of real-life experience and which are not, and what goals the scientists performing them had in mind when they set out to prove something. I find it even more interesting that proponents of dam removal have produced scientific studies supporting their position, but opponents of removal have only offered the pseudo-science of guessing at what dangers may lurk ahead without any substantial scientific basis for the claims. Ultimately, it is saddening that the many sides on the issue are so blinded by their own views that it has become virtually impossible for them to work together to meet halfway. Shame on you, people of the Klamath-this is supposed to be a civilized society capable of real discourse and not childish bickering coupled with stubborn indignation preventing real progress that is good for humans and nature.