Friday, July 18, 2008

NEC assumes leadership role on Klamath River issues

Most readers are aware that the Arcata-based Northcoast Environmental Center (NEC) has undergone a series of changes over the last several years. First the Centers long-time home in downtown Arcata burned to the ground. Then the long-serving editor of the ECONEWS, Sid Dominitz, resigned that position[1]. And in July 2006 the NEC lost its long-term director when Tim McKay passed away suddenly.

The triple whammy hit the Center hard but KlamBlog is pleased to report that the NEC is making a strong comeback. The ECONEWS has an energetic, young editor in Erica Terence, a native of the Salmon River Country, and executive director Greg King has come up to speed quickly on the issues and appears ready to provide leadership within the Northcoast’s environmental community. NEC has also increased the size of its board of directors and has established a conservation committee to guide its activist work.

Over the past year King and the NEC have placed special emphasis on Klamath River issues, something which we believe Tim McKay would heartily approve. First the Center raised the funds for an independent scientific review of Klamath River flows specified in the proposed Klamath River Basin Restoration Agreement – a controversial Water Deal being promoted aggressively by the Klamath Water Users Association and the Karuk Tribe[2]. One would have thought one of the national environmental groups involved (American Rivers, Trout Unlimited) or the Klamath Basin Coalition would have commissioned this review but these groups did not; the NEC stepped into the void.

Here’s what NEC contract hydrologist Greg Kamman said about the Deal’s proposed Klamath River flows:

As a hydrologist, the focus of my review of the assumptions integrated into the WRIMS modeling was on the accuracy and feasibility of water supply and demand expectations. The areas of greatest concern to me relate to the ability of the project to actually achieve: the 100K AF expansion of water storage within and around Upper Klamath Lake; the 30K AF augmentation of inflow to Upper Klamath Lake (UKL) associated with agriculture retirement in the upstream “out-of-project” area; and reliance on groundwater supplies to augment project wide water demands during interim and drought periods and the reliability of 1961-2000 period to represent baseline hydrologic conditions.

The issues Kamman raised have never been adequately addressed by the proponents of the Water Deal. For example, KlamBlog has called for the Deal’s proponents to produce the Drought Plan which is mentioned in the proposed Deal but not included in it. KlamBlog believes the Drought Plan would reveal that under the Deal it would be necessary to lease water from irrigators and to mine Lost River groundwater in order to supply river flows which by Public Trust Right belong in the river. KlamBlog opposes paying anyone for the Public Trust Water fish need to thrive.

Hydrologist Kamman later stated in a letter that he now believes tribal and federal managers can be trusted to do the right thing in the Klamath River Basin. But his scientific critique remains substantially unanswered. You can read the NEC-commissioned scientific reviews at the NEC’s web site. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the links.

More recently, the NEC, along with Klamath Riverkeeper, has moved strongly to mobilize citizen participation in the State Water Resources Control Board’s consideration of whether PacifiCorp’s Klamath River dams can be certified as complying with the Northcoast Basin Plan and the Clean Water Act. And when PacifiCorp withdrew its certification request, the NEC quickly distributed a citizen alert complete with a sample letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) calling on that body to immediately impose requirements on the company’s Klamath River operations to address ongoing water quality issues - including threats to salmon and humans resulting from toxic algae produced in the reservoirs and discharged into the Klamath River.

Once again the NEC stepped into a void. Neither the national groups involved on the Klamath, nor the California Hydropower Coalition, nor the Klamath River Basin Coalition have taken steps to mobilize citizen pressure on FERC to impose conditions on PacifiCorp’s current Klamath operations.[3]

Lack of efforts by the environmental community to educate, mobilize and involve citizens has been one of the changes KlamBlog has observed in recent years on the Klamath along with an increased amount of secrecy. It appears that most of the environmental groups now involved in Klamath River issues prefer to take an “insider” approach which locks the public out of deliberations in favor of back room deals with irrigators and federal agencies. This mirrors what is happening nationally – many mainstream environmental organizations seem increasingly interested in making deals with polluters and less interested in mobilizing citizen pressure on the despoilers of nature. KlamBlog is thrilled to see the NEC break this pattern by devoting time and resources to citizen education and involvement. We hope other environmental groups involved on the Klamath will follow the NEC’s lead by devoting time and resources to informing and mobilizing citizens.

If you like what’s happening at the NEC, take the time to thank them for their efforts and encourage them to continue focusing on citizen education and mobilization. Unlike many environmental organizations, the NEC still provides staff contact e-mail addresses on their web site.


[1] Sid is still volunteering lots of time at the NRC as proofreader, ECONEWS contributor and advisor.

[2] You can read KlamBlog’s evaluation of the proposed Water Deal in our January 29th post, reactions to the Deal posted February 1st and about impacts on Klamath refuges in the March 16th post.

[3] KlamBlog checked web sites for American Rivers, Trout Unlimited, Friends of the River, the California Hydropower Coalition and the Coalition for the Klamath River Basin. None of their web sites contained a citizen alert prompting involvement in the SWRCB water quality certification or to pressure FERC to impose conditions on PacifiCorp’s current Klamath River operations in order to address water quality problems. The Klamath Basin Coalition website’s “Action Center” contains this message: “This page is under construction. Check back frequently. Last updated 5/20/03.”

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