Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Does no Dam Removal Agreement mean no Water Deal?

The Yurok Tribe, Karuk Tribe, Trout Unlimited and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermens Associations (PCFFA) are among those who have most loudly insisted that if there is no deal to remove four PacifiCorp Klamath River dams the proposed Water Deal also known as the Klamath River Basin Restoration Agreement will not be completed. Do they mean what they say? If the press asks the right questions, we may soon know.

At this point the answer to the question is unclear. All four of these organizations joined the Bush Administration, Governor Kulongoski and Governor Schwarzenegger in a joint press release praising the Agreement in Principle on the dams. But does that Agreement constitute a commitment to remove the four dams? Not if you believe PacifiCorp.

On December 12th the Siskiyou Daily News reported on a presentation by Dean Brockbank, PacifiCorp’s vice president and general counsel, to the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors. The Siskiyou County Supervisors – who govern the county where three of PacifiCorp’s five dams are located - have been among the loudest opponents of both dam removal and the Water Deal that irrigators who get water from the federal Klamath Project, three federal tribes as well as some environmental and fishing groups have promoted. Mr. Brockbank was unequivocal: “The AIP is not a dam removal agreement," Brockbank asserted. "There are many conditions that have to be met before we can arrive at a Final Agreement."

While some press releases have muddied the water, the language of the Agreement In Principle (AIP) is quite clear: it says that a decision whether or not to remove the dams will be made by the federal Interior Department in 2012. The AIP also says that decision will be based not on the dams’ environmental performance but rather on a “Cost Benefit Analysis” or CBA.

CBA has been used by the Bush Administration to avoid actions to protect and restore the environment. In a CBA the future benefits of salmon restoration will be deeply discounted and may not equal the power benefits which the dams produce in the present. CBA is notoriously subject to political manipulation. For example, the Bush Administration recently lowered the dollar value of a human life in order to produce CBAs that favor industrial interests like coal fired power plants which produce pollution that kills people.

Will the promoters of the Water Deal be willing to wait until 2012? Or will they interpret the Agreement in Principle as sufficient and move to finalize the Water Deal, draft federal legislation to implement it and get Congress to appropriate the billion dollars in subsidies and other payouts which would be necessary to implement the Deal?

We should soon know the answer. If the priority is dam removal, organizations will not endorse the Agreement In Principle because it not only is not an agreement to remove the dams but actually makes dam removal less likely. If the priority, however, is the Water Deal organizations will call the AIP “a sufficient step forward” and will move to finalize the Water Deal and draft federal legislation.

Where will the members of the Klamath Settlement Group come down? Is dam removal only a flagship for the Water Deal or is dam removal their top priority? We should soon know although it may be necessary to debunk the spin that will be woven around the decisions these groups make. KlamBlog will attempt to do just that.

Meanwhile an Ag Alert issued by the California Farm Bureau in late November revealed one likely reason the Siskiyou County Supervisors oppose the Water Deal. Siskiyou County Farm Bureau Past-President Mike Luiz was quoted in the Alert: "Siskiyou County Farm Bureau is concerned that in dry years, such as this year and last year, the Klamath will dry up in spots and the government will be looking to the Scott and Shasta rivers to make up those flows."

This aspect of the Water Deal debate has not been covered by the press in spite of the fact that KlamBlog identified the issue when the proposed Water Deal was first announced last January. The Deal would give first priority for water to irrigators within the federal Klamath Project solidifying their standing as the Basin’s Irrigation Elite. It would also set Klamath River flows. The Deal is silent on flows from other rivers and streams including the Shasta, Scott and Trinity Rivers which are also heavily used by agriculture. Instead it relies on a flow needs assessment which independent scientists with the National Research Council have identified as deeply flawed because it treats the Klamath “like the Upper Basin and a gutter to the sea.”

The independent scientists called for a basin-wide flow assessment to determine flows needed from tributaries – including the Shasta and Scott – as well as from the Upper Klamath. In the absence of such an assessment, the Shasta and Scott will be the first place regulators, tribes and fishermen look for more water in drought years. Pressure on the Shasta and Scott will be particularly strong if federal funds are not available to lease water for fish from the Irrigation Elite whose massive taxpayer-financed pumps mine water from the California portion of the Lost River Basin. That groundwater has been utilized by the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Water Bank to meet ESA mandated flows and lake levels while maintaining full irrigation deliveries. The US Geological Service has called the pumping and the water bank “unsustainable”.

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