A film about the Klamath River made the tour of the Northcoast recently. We caught up with River of Renewal in Crescent City where Steve Most’s award winning documentary was sponsored by Friends of Del Norte.
Steve Most’s film is a sensitive and inspirational look at the long struggle of Lower Klamath River Indigenous Peoples to continue the core of their cultural, economic and spiritual connection to the River and the salmon. And while Most has a tendency to romanticize his subjects, his film captures quite a bit of the spirit and personal dimensions of the long struggle. The film also does a fair job presenting the history of Klamath salmon and water conflicts. Understanding this history will no doubt help a new generation of Native and Non-Native leaders better understand the true nature and subtle dimensions of that struggle. This is a valuable service in a society in which historical perspective is rare indeed.
You can read a synopsis of the film, contact the film makers and check on future showings at the Terrapin Films web site. The film is also available on DVD for purchase.
At the Del Norte showing, those attending were also treated to a short film by Northcoast photographer and filmmaker Thomas Dunklin. Cedar Creek Fish Passage Restoration is the clearest and most visually pleasing presentation of an actual restoration project that we can remember seeing. Dunklin is a prolific photographer of the Klamath, other western rivers and salmon. You can check out his photographs and contact Thomas via his web site.
After the film showings, Troy Fletcher was invited by producer Most to make a short presentation on contemporary Klamath River issues. A fisheries biologist and former tribal executive, Fletcher represents the Yurok Tribe in Dam and Water Deal negotiations and is widely recognized as one of the main architects of the scheme to have popular dam removal carry a controversial Water Deal full of special interest subsidies and other controversial provisions. Fletcher’s comments reveal quite a bit about the Dam and Water Deals and about the thinking and strategies of those who are promoting linking them together.
Troy Fletcher was well aware that the Crescent City showing’s sponsor – the Friends of Del Norte – has serious concerns about the Dam and Water Deals. Perhaps this explains why he began his presentation by telling the 80 or so folks assembled what the Deals are not.
According to Fletcher the Dam and Water Deals are “not a silver bullet” which will fix the Klamath’s problems but rather a big step in an ongoing process of restoration. He then acknowledged that the Deals “are not a basin-wide approach.” This is a significant admission. For over a decade a coalition of environmental groups, fishing organizations and tribes have had as a core objective advancing “one basin management” for the Klamath River Basin. This goal has been deemed necessary in order to end treating the Klamath as if it were not one but two basins – an Upper Basin where most of the river’s summer and fall flow is diverted to serve irrigated agriculture and a lower basin which must make due with river flows which are insufficient to provide for the needs of salmon and aquatic species and are of such poor quality that much of each year’s young salmon perish in water-quality related disease epidemics before reaching the ocean. The Water Deal’s critics claim that it is a step back toward managing the Klamath as if it were not one but two basins.
Mr. Fletcher then engaged in a critique of the federal Endangered Species Act which Klamath watchers would have found familiar. In fact, in 2004 Fletcher criticized the ESA at a congressional hearing in Klamath Falls. Because it was designed by the Republican House Majority to trash the ESA, Democratic members of Congress and environmentalists boycotted those hearings. The Northcoast Journal reported on them, including on Fletcher’s testimony. Many environmentalists felt at the time that Mr. Fletcher was spectacularly unappreciative of the ESA which is the only way (so far) that more water has been wrested from the hands of irrigators and returned to the Klamath River for fish. Contrary to what many folks believe, it was environmentalists and fishermen who brought that lawsuit and who deserve the credit for securing more water for salmon. The Yurok and several other tribes intervened in the lawsuit but they did not shoulder the expense and work needed to bring the issue to federal court. The much-maligned environmentalists are also responsible for securing protection for key Klamath salmon watersheds – those Klamath streams whose high quality waters play a crucial role in keeping our salmon from going extinct.
Acknowledging that they were controversial, Fletcher predicted that there will be litigation over the Water and Dam Deals. He suggested that litigation along with time to complete needed studies are why we will have to wait until 2020 at the earliest for dam removal to begin. Actually, however, the 2020 date is necessitated not by the need to do “studies” (these could be completed by 2014) or to resolve litigation (an unknown) but rather by the controversial plan for dam removal financing which is now before the Oregon Legislature. You can read the latest on that bill at Oregon Live.
Concerning the studies and engineering needed before dam removal can begin; the California Coastal Conservancy has already conducted or has in process no less than 24 separate studies or assessments related to Klamath dam removal.
Mr. Fletcher also said that projections which have been done for drought years indicate that water to meet the Klamath River flows which the Water Deal prescribes for fish would have to be purchased on an annual basis from Upper Basin Irrigation Interests. He was asked whether this was sustainable since it would require federal taxpayers to foot the bill. Fletcher responded that this sort of thing was already happening in other river basins as well as in the Klamath. Here he was referring to Klamath and other so-called “water banks” which the Bush Administration used to reduce irrigation demand in order to meet requirements of the ESA. These schemes were not true “water banks” (which are water marketing arrangements) and – in the case of the Klamath – the BOR was not buying water for fish but rather reducing irrigation demand so that it could meet a range of other obligations. Fletcher did not address the sustainability question.
The proposal to give irrigators the first call on Klamath Water via legislation (THE ONLY WAY IRRIGATORS WHO GET WATER VIA A FEDERAL PROJECT CAN GET WATER AHEAD OF ESA LISTED FISH) is one of the most controversial provisions in the proposed Water Deal. Deal critics – including KlamBlog – believe that such legislation would set a dangerous precedent, undermine the Public Trust Doctrine and that the approach is not sustainable. Think about it this way: how much would taxpayers need to pony up on a regular basis to buy water for fish in the Columbia, Klamath, Sacramento, San Joaquin and Colorado Rivers? And what if we add in tributaries like the Shasta, Scott, John Day and Deschutes Rivers?
The flows which the Klamath River would receive under the proposed Water Deal have also been widely criticized. According to respected fisheries biologist Bill Trush the scheme does not provide enough in the way of “good” flow years, that is, years in which flows are sufficiently robust in quantity and quality to result in high salmon production and high survival of young salmon on their journey to the sea. The Hoopa Tribe has also been critical and has pointed out that Klamath River flows under the proposed Water Deal would be lower in some months than the flows which are currently mandated to comply with the Endangered Species Act. If the Hoopa are correct (and KlamBlog has seen documentation indicating that they are) then Troy Fletcher’s complaints that the ESA does not provide enough water for salmon ring hollow.
Water Deal flows have also been criticized (including by KlamBlog) because they ignore good science. Specifically, the National Research Council – one of the nation’s most prestigious scientific bodies – has criticized the flow assessments on which the Water Deal’s allocation of water is based. Independent NRC scientists who reviewed Klamath flow assessments indicated that salmon needs and river flows could not be properly assessed and prescribed using studies which they compared to treating the River as if it were “the Upper Basin and a gutter to the sea.” NRC scientists called for a basin-wide flow needs assessment before in-stream flow requirements and water allocations are finalized. No such study is called for or contemplated by the proposed Water Deal.
Troy Fletcher deserves high marks for his candor and for being willing to engage with members of the Friends of Del Norte and others who are concerned about the Dam and Water Deals. For filmmaker and author Steve Most that is what it is all about – dialogue. In conversation with KlamBlog Most emphasized that his hope is that River of Renewal will create opportunities for discussion and contribute to creating a public space where Klamath River Basin residents can come together, recognize their mutual interests, gain mutual respect and achieve a lasting accommodation.