Thursday, March 26, 2009

Politics, Science and the Klamath Water Deal

Promoters of the proposed Klamath Water Deal (officially the "Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement" or "KBRA") are continuing to promote it – and the federal legislation which is needed to finance it – in spite of substantial opposition from inside the Klamath River Basin and beyond.

Recently that opposition has grown. The Industrial Customers of Northwest Utilities (ICNU) represents big industrial power users like the Aluminium and Internet Industries. ICNU recently alerted FERC that it has an interest in the relicensing. On its face that interest is to keep the dams up and producing power. But what is really behind their involvement is the Water Deal which proposes giving Klamath Project Irrigators cheap power from Bonneville. ICNU currently uses a big chunch of that cheap power; if the Irrigation Elite succeeds in getting a piece of Bonneville power for themselves the ICNU members will likely get less.

But the most significant opposition to the Deal could come in the future. The Obama Administration, which has not yet made known its position on the Deal, has pledged publicly to use the best science when making natural resource decisions. And the scientific underpinnings for the KBRA are weak at best. Knowing this to be the case, the Deal’s promoters are doing what they can to ignore and downplay scientific studies and opinions which do not support the Deal. While some scientists in the employ of Water Deal promoters tell us it is based on good science and will allow salmon and other species to recover, no independent scientists have endorsed the KRBA . KlamBlog predicts that no independent scientist will endorse it in the future either. Here’s why:

The National Research Council (NRC) is one of the nation’s most prestigious scientific organizations. Here’s how it describes itself:

The National Research Council (NRC) functions under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), and the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The NAS, NAE, IOM, and NRC are part of a private, nonprofit institution that provides science, technology and health policy advice under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln that was originally granted to the NAS in 1863. Under this charter, the NRC was established in 1916, the NAE in 1964, and the IOM in 1970. The four organizations are collectively referred to as the National Academies.

The mission of the NRC is to improve government decision making and public policy, increase public education and understanding, and promote the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge in matters involving science, engineering, technology, and health. The institution takes this charge seriously and works to inform policies and actions that have the power to improve the lives of people in the U.S. and around the world.

Back in 2003 the federal Department of Interior requested that the NRC review the scientific underpinnings of the Biological Opinions for Coho Salmon, Kuptu and Tsuam (aka Shortnose and Lost River suckers). Subsequently the NRC was also asked to review two Klamath River flow studies that have been completed under the auspices of the Department of Interior.

The first NRC report concluded that the science underlying the biological opinions was weak; the second concluded that the two flow studies are fundamentally flawed and therefore "Not likely to contribute effectively to sound decision making…" The second report in particular – which examined both the Natural Flow Study completed by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Instream Flow Study completed by the Department of Interior (aka The Hardy Study) – has been all but ignored by the press and stakeholders. When a report is ignored there is likely a reason and that reason is usually that folks do not want to know – or for others to know – what it concludes.

KlamBlog believes that when facing important natural resource decisions we ought to consider and evaluate all information and all scientific opinions – not pick and choose based on whether we like the conclusions. So we publicize information which is being suppressed or intentionally ignored. Here then are excerpts from the NRC report which promoters of the Water Deal would rather see forgotten. The report is titled Hydrology, Ecology and Fishes of the Klamath River Basin. The full report can be read on line or downloaded for a price.

The NRC on the BOR’s Natural Flow Study ~
  • The committee concluded, however, that the Natural Flow Study was seriously compromised by several fundamental issues, including its choice of a basic approach for understanding natural flows, choices of the models for calculations, and serious omissions of factors likely to influence river flows at the Iron Gate Dam gauge site.
  • The calculations of the fate of water in the upper basin related to evapotranspiration were not done according to the best current methods, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO’s) version of the modified Blaney-Criddle method. A more serious concern was the model behavior when a sensitivity analysis of its output concerning agricultural land was conducted. The results were not explained, and the apparent anomaly appears to be related to the component of the model that deals with reduction of evapotranspiration in the Upper Klamath Lake marsh when it is converted to agriculture.
  • The Natural Flow Study did not fully address the issue of changes in land use and land cover.
  • The study failed to adequately model the connection between the Klamath River and Lower Klamath Lake.
  • The study did not adhere closely enough to standard scientific and engineering practice in the areas of calibration, testing, quality assurance, and quality control.
  • The committee concluded that the Natural Flow Study includes calculated flows that are at best first approximations to useful estimates of such flows. The present version of the Natural Flow Study is less than adequate for input to the Instream Flow Study Phase II and does not provide enough information for detailed management of flows for the benefit of listed and other anadromous fish species in the Klamath River downstream from Iron Gate Dam.

The NRC on the Hardy Report ~

  • As a general perspective, the Instream Flow Study Phase II followed steps outlined in the Instream Flow Incremental Methodology (IFIM), which has seen wide application in studies of this type. The authors of the Instream Flow Study Phase II applied the IFIM properly. They also used bioenergetics and a fish-population model to test their results, and they tested model output by comparing observations of fish with predicted fish locations.
  • Despite these strengths, the committee found important shortcomings in the Instream Flow Study Phase II and its use of various models and data. Two major shortcomings—use of monthly data and lack of tributary analyses—are so severe that that they should be addressed before decision makers can use the outputs of the study to establish precise flow regimes with confidence……the shortcomings resulted from constraints imposed by the US Bureau of Reclamation, which indicated that lack of time and resources prevented them from providing additional calculations that would produce daily flows for the ecological modeling.
  • The elimination of consideration of tributary processes apparently resulted from an agreement reached by basin managers not to include tributary processes in the habitat studies to simplify the engagement of stakeholders in the process. Since only the main stem of the Klamath River was subject to analysis, stakeholders with interests in tributary locations would not have to deal directly with the study.
  • The Klamath River is not a confined gutter for rainwater, and therefore analyzing the river without considering its tributaries is akin to analyzing a tree by assessing only its trunk but not its branches. In addition, the study did not include important water-quality attributes, such as dissolved oxygen levels, nutrient loadings, contaminants, and sediment concentrations, although each has important implications for the vitality of the fish populations of the Klamath River. Second, high flows are especially important to the physical and biological processes of the Klamath River, and further analysis of their frequency, duration, and timing is essential in understanding the dynamics of the river’s hydrologic, geomorphologic, and ecological processes. Reliance on monthly flow data, as outlined above, made analysis of high flows impossible within the scope of the study.
  • There are three major shortcomings in the experimental design of the Instream Flow Study Phase II: a fundamental beginning assumption about limits on salmon habitat, a lack of thorough assessment of the representativeness of the reaches used for detailed study, and the statistical approach to analyze the calculated set of instream flows did not use normalized data and did not have provisions for identifying serial autocorrelations.
  • Despite these limitations, and in the absence of any better information currently available, the committee concludes that the recommended flows resulting from the Instream Flow Study Phase II probably represent an improvement for the anadromous fishes in the Klamath River over the current flow regime.
  • To the degree that the studies conclusions are followed, it should be on an interim basis, pending the improvements the committee outlines below and a more comprehensive and integrated assessment of the science needs of the basin as a whole.

The NRC on Implications for anadromous fishes in the Klamath ~

  • The internal workings of the model in the Natural Flow Study include several computational shortcomings that limit its use. These issues imply that the natural flow model produces results that probably cannot be used as a precise replication of natural flows and that the individual numbers generated by the study are not firm, irrefutable values. The study’s shortcomings imply that managers of the biological resources of the basin may use the results of the model in a general way as a form of guidance for the broad characteristics of the natural flow regime, but they cannot use the exact values produced by the study as a template for developing a flow regime with much confidence.
  • The model does not treat the tributaries of the Klamath River, although they are and have been an essential part of the environments of the anadromous fishes. Without understanding the ecological and hydrological condition and dynamics in the tributaries, it is not possible to understand the ecological and hydrological condition and dynamics of the river.
  • The most important outcome of the Instream Flow Study was that it indicated that increases in existing flows downstream from Iron Gate Dam probably would benefit fish populations through improved physical habitat associated with more water and through reduced water temperatures. If these conclusions were borne out by studies incorporating experimental flows and monitored responses, managers would be able to have greater confidence that decisions to increase flows would have a beneficial effect on anadromous fishes in the lower river.
  • Despite various concerns about the study, it is extremely unlikely, in the committee’s judgment, that following the prescribed flows of the Instream Flow Study Phase II would have adverse effects on any of the anadromous fish species. Based on general principles and the information developed in that study, following its prescribed flows probably would have some beneficial effects on the suite of anadromous fishes in the Klamath River considered as a whole, although not necessarily for every species.

The NRC on what needs to happen now ~

  • The committee found that science in the basin was being done by bits and pieces, sometimes addressing important questions, but not linked to other important questions……The committee found that the most important characteristics of research for complex river-basin management were missing for the Klamath River: the need for a "big picture" perspective based on a conceptual model encompassing the entire basin and its many components. As a result, the integration of individual studies into a coherent whole has not taken place, and it is unlikely to take place under the present scientific and political arrangements.
  • To address science and management in the basin, the committee first recommends that the agencies, researchers, decision makers, and stakeholders together define basin-wide science needs and priorities. One method of achieving success in this effort would be through the establishment of an independent entity to develop an integrated vision of science needs. The body that defines this vision must be viewed by all parties as truly independent for it to be effective.
  • The Trinity River basin experience, despite some difficulties, provides a good example to follow in many aspects of the overall basin-wide effort.
  • Connecting effective science with successful decision making for delivering water to users, sustaining downstream fisheries, and protecting the populations of protected species has been problematic in the Klamath River basin. The Natural Flow Study and the Instream Flow Study Phase II are not likely to contribute effectively to sound decision making until political and scientific arrangements in the Klamath River basin that permit more cooperative and functional decision making can be developed.
  • The employment of sound science will require: A formal science plan for the Klamath River basin that defines research activities and the interconnections among them, along with how they relate to management and policy; An independent mechanism for science review and management that is isolated from direct political and economic influence and that includes a lead scientist or senior scientist position occupied by an authoritative voice for research; A whole-basin viewpoint that includes both the upper and lower Klamath River basins with their tributary streams; A data and analysis process that is transparent and that provides all parties with complete and equal access to information, perhaps through an independent science advisory group; An adaptive-management approach whereby decisions are played out in water management with monitoring and constant assessment and with periodic informed adjustments in management strategies.
  • The committee recommends that the researchers, decision makers, and stakeholders in the Klamath River basin emulate their colleagues in the Trinity River basin in connecting science and decision making and that the two units coordinate their research and management for the greater good of the entire river basin.

Those who crafted the proposed Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (aka The Water Deal) used flawed studies to develop recommendations for Klamath River flows, ignored calls by independent scientists for a whole basin approach and did not propose using the sort of independent science process that the National Research Council recommended. Essentially the proposed Deal seeks to substitute its political calculations for good science. Klamath history teaches that when good science is ignored bad things happen. That may be the future to which the Klamath River Basin is headed if promoters of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement get their way.

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