Monday, August 11, 2008

Appeal Court Decision should kill the Klamath Water Deal - but will it?

The Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) – the organization which represents the Klamath River Basin’s Irrigation Elite - recently lost its latest and likely last effort to convince the courts that PacifiCorp has an obligation to provide them with cheap power. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissed the lawsuit brought by KWUA against the Federal Energy Regulators Commission. The court said the Irrigation Elite lack standing. In other words, the court said that KWUA has no dog in the dam relicensing/dam removal fight.

This decision should be a death blow for the Water Deal which the Irrigation Elite has negotiated with federal and state agencies, tribes, fishing and conservation groups. That Deal would set a dangerous precedent by giving irrigators priority in the allocation of water over salmon and the needs of the Klamath River’s aquatic ecosystems and it would lock in commercial agriculture on Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges for another 50 years.

The entire rational for the controversial Deal was the need to get support for dam removal from the powerful irrigators who receive subsidized water from the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Project. Now with the Irrigation Elite's involvement with the dams rejected by the courts and with the Elite’s Bush Administration supporters due to vacate their Washington offices in January – there is no good reason why these irrigators should be given special access to scarce water supplies, new power subsidies and other taxpayer-funded benefits. There is no good remaining justification for tribes, fishing and conservation groups to favor this one group of irrigators over all other Klamath River Basin irrigators and over the needs of salmon and Klamath River aquatic ecosystem.

So is the controversial Water Deal – the Klamath River Basin Restoration Agreement – finally dead? Unfortunately, the answer is NO. Here are some of the reasons:

The Water Deal was never really only about securing the Irrigation Elite’s support for dam removal. In its 500 plus pages one also finds, for example, subsidies for tribes and establishment of a “restoration program” which lacks standards and accountability. Tribes, irrigators and watershed councils could access the restoration program for projects which range from fish studies and well designed habitat rehabilitation to out and out boondoggles which restore nothing but the bank accounts of those who implement them. Tribes and watershed councils are dependent on restoration funding to maintain staffing levels.

But beyond reasons of direct self-interest, certain national and regional conservation groups support the Agreement because – if it is adopted and funded - they can tell their funders that they have “solved” the Klamath Conundrum. These organizations can then move on to greener (as in money) pastures, i.e. new grants and donations to “save” yet more river basins.

For these reasons look for a renewed push to legislate the Water Deal when the separate Dam Removal Deal is announced. With that push we will see renewed pressure on the Hoopa Tribe, Northcoast Environmental Center and Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermens' Associations which have indicated that they can not support the Deal in its current form. Because Northcoast congressman Mike Thompson is key to securing the billion odd dollars which the Deal would distribute to irrigators, tribes and others, these Thompson constituents are the key to selling the Water Deal. If they continue to withhold support, it is unlikely that Mike Thompson will sponsor legislation to provide the desired federal subsidies.

Those local and regional groups will need strong leaders who enjoy the support and encouragement of their members if they are going to resist the pressure that will be brought to bear on them. But the rewards for continuing to resist the flawed Water Deal will likely be great. If those calling for major changes in the Deal hang tough, they will be well positioned to secure a better deal with irrigation interests – one that does not favor one group of irrigators over others, does not encourage wasteful use of energy, does not give the Irrigation Elite control of water fish will need and does not sacrifice the Klamath’s world class wildlife refuges.


John said...

Your efforts to maintain a consciencious presence on Klamath River issues deserves at least some comment(s) of support.

Some questions from afar (Portland):

What is the considered opinion on salmon ability to reach Williamson and Sprague once the dams are down?

Do Long Lake's retention possibilities effectively supplement the notion of salmon runs to those rivers?

As of this date (9/30/08) anything new?


Felice Pace said...

KlamBlog responds to John:

Salmon should be able to reach the Williamson and Sprague once 4 dams are gone and there is an adequate fish ladder at Keno dam.

But the bottleneck is likely to be Keno Reservoir which has the worst water quality in the entire basin and where no concrete plans to fix that problem are in place.

The proposed Klamath Restoration Agreement, i.e. the Water Deal would cede control of this part of the river to the Klamath Project irrigators which would not bode well for the water quality problems being fixed. We need some water quality lawsuits here (or ESA lawsuits for "take" of endangered suckers) to force restoration of this river section which is possible if former marshes along the river and in the Lower Klamath Lake Area are restored.

Concerning Long Lake: it is unclear if any of its stored water would be allocated for salmon. Remember: a new reservoir does not create any new water.

john denton said...

felice pace:

Thanks for your informed post about water quality issues at Keno. Is that a fatal problem? The run from Keno to Link River doesn't seem that far.

As for Long Lake, remember, water flows are seasonal. Water saved is water gained for when needed. That snowmelt water could be a trade-off for irrigators' later use, to allow more instream flow when fish need it, no? Or is there a timing issue I'm not aware of?