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.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

California Water Politics - the Water Buffaloes are back!

California Governor Schwarzenegger wants to build two new dams - Sites and Temperance Flat. They are being sold as necessary to cope with the reduction in Sierra Nevada, Cascade and Klamath Mountains snowpack expected as a result of climate change. New and “enhanced” storage are being marketed by Lester Snow, director of California’s Department of Water Resources (DWR) as part of a "portfolio approach" which, in addition to “enhanced" storage, calls for urban water conservation, better groundwater facilities, improved wastewater processing and research into lowering the cost of desalination. The dams are to provide increased capacity in order to catch earlier runoff that – according to climate change data and predictions - will no longer be held in mountain snowpack.

Schwarzenegger and Snow are counting on the climate change predictions to be fairly accurate. If the actual climate does not follow the predictions, the new and “enhanced’ reservoirs might never fill. Furthermore, increasing surface storage would result in more extensive water loss through evaporation. In 1998 the measured evaporation from Californiareservoirs was about a million acre feet - that's enough water to cover a million acres of land with a foot of water. That’s a lot of water but the amount will rise if new and “enhanced’ reservoirs are developed. Furthermore, if climate change results in higher summer temperatures evaporation from all reservoirs will increase.

The Schwarzenegger/Snow “portfolio approach” ignores the states largest “reservoir” – upland forest soils - and its biggest water user – irrigated agriculture. Let’s look at the forests first.

Upland forest soils in the Sierra Nevada, Cascade and Klamath Mountains are the states largest reservoir. Healthy forest soils are on average about 1/3 empty spaces. In the winter wet season these spaces fill up with water which is released slowly to springs, streams and groundwater during the summer/fall dry season. Road building and logging are known to compact forest soils – reducing their ability to store water.

Increases in flood flows in streams and rivers and a corresponding decreases in base flow as a result of intensive logging are well documented in research and by experience on the ground. But apparently no one in the California state establishment is looking at how upland California forests should be managed to restore the ability of California’s forest soil reservoirs to store water. The state is not even looking at hard research that tells us we can maximize snowpack retention by limiting clearcuts to no more than an acre. The failure to address upland management in the “portfolio approach” may have something to do with the fact that the vast majority of Sierra Forests are owned by Sierra Pacific Industries – a private forest products company that is California’s largest landowner.

The other big California forest “owner” – the Forest Service – has a research focus on climate change that also ignores the forest soil reservoir. Instead Forest Service climate change scientists prefer to look at how climate change may impact fire behavior. Few who know Forest Service’s history and culture are surprised that the agency’s preferred response to climate change is more logging to “fire proof” our forests.

California officials are also ignoring the state’s #1 water consumer – irrigated agriculture. Irrigation engineers tell us that – depending on current irrigation methods used – agricultural operations in Californiacan reduce consumptive water use by 20% to 70% by installing modern irrigation methods and adopting modern irrigation management . This leads one to suspect that California’s water supply “crisis” has been created or exaggerated in order to convince California taxpayers to build new dams and reservoirs. Since California irrigation interests are already leasing water to urban water agencies, they stand to gain billions if new reservoirs are built.

Thus it comes as no surprise that one of the most vocal backers of the Schwarzenegger/Snow “portfolio approach” is the California Farm Bureau (CFB) – an organization that has never seen a dam it did not like. The proposed Sites dam/reservoirs is very near the site of the Paskenta-Newville dam proposed back in the early 70’s when Ronald Reagan was California’s governor. That reservoir was intended as the terminus of a tunnel to transfer Northcoast California water to the Central Valley where it could be used to expand corporate agriculture. Conspiracy theorists will be tempted to see the Sites dam/reservoir proposal as part of a long-term CFB strategy to get a hold of more Northcoast water. If the new reservoir is built but there is not enough water to fill it calls to transfer more Northcoast water south may gain new impetus. And if that happens calls to tap into Klamath River Basin water are likely to be renewed.

In the 1970s Northcoast California leaders rebuffed efforts to send more Northcoast/Klamath water south. In 1982 California voters also defeated an initiative to build the “Peripheral Canal” which was designed to send more water from the Sacramento River south. Voters correctly saw the reservoirs and canal as water grabs by irrigation and other Southern California interests.

One lesson in this history is that corporate agriculture and its operatives in the Farm Bureau Federation and California state government can be beaten back but never defeated. I guess that’s why they call them “water buffaloes”. The water buffaloes are back now riding the climate change wave. It remains to be seen whether California citizens will once again see through the propaganda and defeat the latest effort to move more Northern California water south.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

KlamBlog Correction!

It has been pointed out to us that there was an error in our last blog post. That post - about the underachievement of environmental and fishing groups which claim to be "saving the Klamath River" - contained the following statement:

Will Earthjustice and the Coalition decide not to challenge new biological opinions in order to demonstrate “goodwill” toward irrigators with whom they have collaborated on the proposed Klamath Water Deal?

The statement would appear to indicate that Earthjustice is a party to the proposed Deal. In truth, however, Earthjustice and several other members of the Klamath Basin Coalition are not part of the self-styled Klamath Settlement Group which produced the proposed Klamath Water Deal.

So, for the record, members of the Klamath Basin Coalition are:
American Rivers, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Friends of the River, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Klamath Basin Audubon Society, Klamath Forest Alliance, National Center for Conservation Science and Policy, Northcoast Environmental Center, Oregon Wild, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Sierra Club, Klamath Riverkeeper, The Wilderness Society, Trout Unlimited, and Waterwatch of Oregon

Of these organizations the following are part of the Klamath Settlement Group:
American Rivers, Friends of the River, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Klamath Forest Alliance, Northcoast Environmental Center, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, and Trout Unlimited

Oregon Wild
and Waterwatch of Oregon were originally part of the Group but were engineered out when they would not go along with the approach to "settlement" promoted by the Bush Administration.

Of those Coalition members who did stay in the Group after Oregon Wild and Waterwatch were kicked out,
American Rivers and Trout Unlimited have indicated that they will support the proposed Water Deal if a dam removal agreement with PacifiCorp is achieved. The Institute for Fisheries Resources, Klamath Forest Alliance, Northcoast Environmental Center and Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations have indicated support for the process but have stated that they need specific changes in the Deal before they would support it. It is not clear where Friends of the River or the Ashland-based National Center for Conservation Science and Policy stand on the proposed Water Deal. KlamBlog has calls in to these two groups to ascertain their positions but so far the calls haves not been returned. FOR has been a major advocate for removing the Klamath River Dams.

KlamBlog regrets the error in our last post, We invite any encourage members of the Klamath Basin Coalition and members of the Klamath Settlement Group to use this space to explain their organizations' positions on the Water Deal and to tell readers what else they are doing to "Save the Klamath River".

Monday, May 5, 2008

Underachievement on the Klamath: Environmental and fishing groups collect big bucks, get little done!

There are 16 national, regional and local environmental and fishing organizations in the Klamath Basin Coalition. The following organizations are members: American Rivers, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Friends of the River, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Klamath Basin Audubon Society, Klamath Forest Alliance, National Center for Conservation Science and Policy, Northcoast Environmental Center, Oregon Wild, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, Sierra Club, Klamath Riverkeeper, The Wilderness Society, Trout Unlimited, Waterwatch of Oregon.

The Coalition’s website ( lists its mission as “conserving and restoring the biological resources of the West's once-great Klamath Basin”. It has been in operation for a dozen or so years. Most of the members receive foundation funding and individual donations for work in the Klamath River Basin; some have been receiving funding to “Save the Klamath” for over two decades.

Judging from the condition of the Klamath River, the River’s aquatic resources and its salmon stocks the Coalition has been a failure. During the time it has been in operation water quality in the Klamath River and several tributaries has deteriorated. Significant tributaries like the Shasta and Scott continue to be progressively dewatered. In watersheds which once were and could again be the Basin’s “breadbasket” for salmon production, Spring Chinook have been extirpated and Fall Chinook can no longer make it to the best spawning grounds even in “average” water years. Klamath River Fall Chinook salmon stocks are predicted at the lowest level since predictions began more than two decades ago and wild Spring Chinook salmon survive at the brink of extinction. If the Klamath Basin Coalition were judged on performance – like America’s schoolchildren are judged – it would be assigned a failing grade.

But judging the Coalition and its members by the state of the resources it strives to “conserve and restore” is a bit unfair. After all, these organizations do not make the decisions; they are advocacy groups, not resource management agencies. But we can judge the Coalition on the actions they have and have not taken. Let’s look at that:

The Klamath Basin Coalition receives high grades for acting to make sure that biological opinions for Kuptu and Tsuam (sucker species) and for Coho salmon utilize the best available science and take the actions needed to avoid jeopardy to these ESA listed species. This has been done through litigation by a sub-set of Coalition members lead by Earthjustice.

But even when we consider the Kuptu, Tsuam and Coho the Coalition comes up short. Why have they not sued to force the feds to complete recovery plans for Kuptu and Tsuam? Why are they allowing the dire condition of these species in the Lost River sub-basin to go unaddressed? And why have these environmental and fishing groups ignored the well documented “take” of Coho salmon in the Scott River?

It also remains to be seen whether the Coalition will continue to challenge Biological Opinions which do not adequately provide for Coho, Tsuam and Kuptu. A new Biological Opinion has been issued for Kuptu and Tsuam and one is expected soon for Coho. Will Earthjustice and the Coalition decide not to challenge new biological opinions in order to demonstrate “goodwill” toward irrigators with whom they have collaborated on the proposed Klamath Water Deal?

The new biological opinion for Kuptu and Tsuam does not find that the Klamath Project will cause “jeopardy” to these endangered fish – a first since the two species were listed under the ESA. Is that judgment based on science or politics? And if the Opinion is based on politics will the Coalition look the other way because its members don’t want to offend their new friends in the Klamath Water Users Association whom Coalition members want to support dam removal?

The Coalition has also failed to take any action to protect Klamath River Spring Chinook. Where is the petition to list this species, where is the challenge to the Pacific Fisheries Management Council’s failure to develop a management plan for Spring Chinook as required by law? And where is the challenge to the fact that the California Fish and Game Commission continues to allow take of wild Klamath River Spring Chinook in the lower river? Ironically, the Klamath Basin Coalition has failed to protect the very Spring Chinook stock that it says it wants to restore to the Upper Basin once the dams are out. At the rate things are going there will be no Spring Chinook stock left in the Klamath River to restore when the dams finally come down a dozen or so years from now.

On the other hand, many Coalition members are involved in efforts to decommission four of PacifiCorp’s five Klamath River dams. Trout Unlimited deserves special recognition here for creating the TANGO group which linked tribes, agencies and NGOs (environmental and fishing groups) in efforts to build a common perspective on dam impacts and decommissioning as the best course for the River. But TU, American Rivers and several other Coalition members abandoned good science, failed to support the Public Trust Doctrine and ignored recommendations of two National Research Council reports on the Klamath when they endorsed the proposed Klamath Water Deal. In a weak negotiating position because of the Water Deal and desperate for a dam removal agreement these organizations may now be poised to provide PacifiCorp with a sweetheart dam removal deal at the expense of the American Taxpayers.

Turning to water quality, Klamath Riverkeeper deserves high marks for being the only group involved in the Klamath willing to file lawsuits to challenge water quality in the Klamath River which is killing most of the juvenile salmon produced in the mainstem and many salmon produced in tributaries. KR has done this with financial resources which are far below those being collected from foundations for Klamath work by the larger environmental and fishing groups.

But so far Klamath Riverkeeper has failed to take on what at least one of its founders had hoped it would focus on – poor water quality in the Klamath River’s two top salmon producing watersheds – the Shasta and Scott. Deteriorating water quality in the Shasta – and especially in the Scott – is related to the progressive dewatering of these basins which has proceeded based on flaws in the water rights adjudications for these sub-basin’s. Yet Klamath Riverkeeper has not only failed to take on the adjudications it has also failed to challenge inadequate pollution clean-up plans adopted by the Northcoast Water Board. And, under pressure from the Karuk Tribe, KR continues to fail to do anything about the toxic algae and mercury pollution found in Dwinnell Reservoir on the Shasta River.

Allowing the destruction of the Shasta and Scott – the Klamath River Basin’s top salmon producers – constitutes a major failure of the Klamath Basin Coalition and a situation the Coalition and its members show no indication they will correct anytime soon. How can environmental and fishing organizations which are collecting millions to “conserve and restore” the Klamath River Basin and its fisheries justify ignoring the Shasta and Scott? The answer is that they cannot justify this gross negligence but they can get away with it because no one is raising objections.

Some would argue that the Klamath River Dams issue is so big that even with 16 member groups the Klamath Basin Coalition can not take on other issues no matter how serious. But the truth is that most of the 16 members do no real work on the dam issue – they simply sign-on to the work of others – collecting money for the work others do.

Finally, there are the Klamath Basin’s national wildlife refuges which Klamath Basin Coalition members’ web sites correctly identify as among the nation’s most important habitats for water birds and water fowl. The Coalition initially formed because the refuges were being dewatered and because the needs of wildlife were being sacrificed in order to serve the needs of commercial agriculture operating on the refuges. But, while the rhetoric about the importance of the refuges has been retained, neither the Coalition nor any of its members has taken any substantial actions in recent years to restore the refuges or to challenge commercial uses which are damaging wildlife. In fact, those Coalition members which have endorsed the Klamath Water Deal have agreed to water management that will result in “take” of Bald eagles which winter on the refuges. This “take” should be the subject of a lawsuit but instead the Coalition and its members are allowing it to go unchallenged.

The “underachievement” of the Klamath Basin Coalition and its sixteen members is, unfortunately, not unique. Rather it is symptomatic of an environmental movement which has become too professionalized, too close to power, too polite and too willing to compromise fundamentals which should not be compromised. In fact, the “environmental movement” is not a movement at all but rather a set of corporations more concerned with money and power than with the fate of the Earth and its biological resources.

The environmental establishment in this country needs a shake up and so does the Klamath Basin Coalition. We need the folks who are getting funded big time to fix our River to get off their collective butts and take on the other real and pressing issues that have nothing to do with the dams but everything to do with whether we are going to end the downward slide of Klamath Salmon, Kuptu and Tsuam and the aquatic ecosystems on which they depend. If you are a member of one of the organizations listed above a call or e-mail to the organization’s president should be considered. You can find contact information on the organizations web site and you can demand that your message be delivered to the organizations CEO and Board of Directors.

Until the members on which these environmental and fishing organizations depend demand better performance the current level of “underachievement” – compromising good science and the fate of our rivers and ecosystems - will continue.

If we can’t get them to begin taking on the issues which need to be addressed, Klamath River Basin residents need to consider forming a new organization to do the work which the Klamath Basin Coalition and its 16 member groups refuse to do. Or we may need to invite into the Basin organizations which are not currently involved but which have a record of non-compromise when it comes to science and defending species and ecosystems. If those who say they are working to “conserve and restore the biological resources of the West's once-great Klamath Basin” can not or will not get the job done - if they continue to underachieve – those who live in the Basin can and will find or create other organizations willing to do the work which is needed!