Friday, September 5, 2008

What’s wrong with this picture? - How enviros, fishermen and tribes lost control of the fate of the Klamath River dams and how they can reclaim it

It just doesn’t add up. Why would environmental and fishing organizations which appeared to hold several trump cards in the formal system of dam licensing (see Klamath Dams Trump Cards section at the end of this post), decide to go outside that formal process and into a secret negotiation with Klamath Dam owners (PacifiCorp) over the dams’ fate? And why would they continue with that strategy even after they have been totally excluded from those secret negotiations at the insistence of PacifiCorp?

The answer to the first question is no secret: enviros and fishing organizations were urged to negotiate with PacifiCorp outside the formal dam licensing process by representatives of Trout Unlimited and American Rivers who had entered the Klamath scene as part of the California Hydropower Coalition. Those from local and regional groups who had long been involved in Klamath issues accepted this strategic advice because they assumed those who had dealt with other dam licensing issues on other rivers knew the best way to proceed. AR and TU representatives argued that negotiating early and outside the process would lead to a dam settlement much more quickly than proceeding with the formal process. That was three years and three temporary one-year licenses in the past and well before PacifiCorp’s insistence that tribes, enviros and fishing organizations be excluded from the secret negotiations.

Answering the second question – why enviro and fishing groups meekly accept exclusion – is more difficult to answer. Members of the organizations involved are encouraged to ask the leaders of the organizations to provide answers.

But one set of possible justifications for inaction do not hold up and should not be accepted. The organizations which want the dams out are not limited to setting up front organizations (who is the Klamath Justice Coalition really?) to protest at PacifiCorp HQ in Portland on September 18th. Here’s what they can – and some would argue should – be doing either individually or collectively to regain the initiative and thereby assure that “dam settlement” does not turn out to be a sweetheart deal for PacifiCorp which produces unintended and unwanted consequences further down the road:

  • Enforce the Clean Water Act now!

While some of the organizations are pressuring the California Water Quality Board to insist that clean water (401) license certification hearings proceed for the dams, no one is taking action to force an end to current ongoing violation of water quality laws by the dams and in the reservoirs. Violations of water quality laws occurring now include impacts below Iron Gate Dam, in Iron Gate and Copco Reservoirs and violations in “Lake Ewana” – the reservoir behind Keno dam which extends almost to Klamath Falls. Please note that this is not about toxic algae which is not formally listed as a Klamath pollutant but rather violation of legal standards for temperature, dissolved oxygen and nutrients. This illegal pollution is killing fish each and every year not just below Iron Gate but in the Keno Reservoir (“Lake Ewana”) as well.

The Klamath Forest Alliance organized Klamath Riverkeeper because these water quality violations were not being addressed. KFA wanted KR to force the responsible agencies to address water quality violations in the Klamath, Shasta and Scott Rivers. Now independent, Klamath Riverkeeper boasts about its funding and clean water lawyers (including KR president Daniel Cooper of San Francisco) but it has not challenged well-documented existing water quality violations in the Klamath, Shasta and Scott.

If you want to ask Klamath Riverkeeper why it is not taking action on these and other existing water quality violations click here.

  • Challenge the granting of temporary dam operating licensees to PacifiCorp now!

Can the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission legally grant temporary licenses year after year for PacifiCorp to continue operating the dams as they please even though the dams are clearly and by admission violating existing laws? Even if FERC can legally grant the licenses is it not required by law to modify operations to lessen the resulting illegal impacts? Why hasn’t the California Hydropower Coalition or one of the other Klamath dam opponents taken action to force FERC to either stop granting these “temporary” licenses or at least to modify dam operation to minimize negative impacts? And what about NEPA? Has FERC complied with NEPA when it granted these temporary licenses?

  • Enforce the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) now!

The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) is one of the laws to which PacifiCorp must comply. Studies conducted as part of PacifiCorp’s Klamath dam license application found that the Klamath River is a “cultural landscape” which qualifies for protection under the NHPA. The evidence is clear that PacifiCorp’s operation of the dams negatively impacts the Klamath Cultural Landscape but no one is taking action to force compliance with NHPA.

These are three avenues which dam opponents could use to push for positive change, regain the initiative and force PacifiCorp to negotiate directly with them. There are other methods to do these things as well.

Why are those organizations collecting millions of dollars to “Save the Klamath” not doing these things? What exactly are they doing instead and why? If you ask them about these approaches they will likely venture the opinion that such challenges might not succeed. But this is true of all advocacy. Will the protests later this month in Portland sway PacifiCorp? There is no way to know. But when one is truly dedicated to change – and especially when one is well funded to produce that change – is it not your responsibility to give it your best shot?

Is the current performance of the enviro and fishing groups funded to “Save the Klamath” up to snuff? Not by KlamBlog standards. To meekly accept exclusion from negotiations, to fail to utilize existing laws to change the situation, to fail to take action to save fish now – not those mythic future fish but real fish living in the Klamath River today – is not acceptable. If they can’t do better than this, those organizations funded to “Save the Klamath” and its salmon should send the money back now!

If you agree with KlamBlog that the dozen or so enviro and fishing organizations funded to “Save the Klamath” should be doing more now let them know what you think. They all have websites which provide contact e-addresses and telephone numbers. Just use your search engine!

Klamath Dam Trump Cards include:

· The Clean Water Act as implemented through Oregon water quality standards and California Water Quality Standards as well as through 401 certification.

· The National Historic Preservation Act

· The National Environmental Policy Act

· The Public Trust rights of people and salmon

· Tribal water rights

Are you aware of other Klamath Dam Trump Cards? Share them – and your other thoughts – by filing a KlamBlog comment here. Just click on “comments” in the white section below this post.

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