Monday, August 3, 2009

Klamath under-reported again – Media silence does not reflect reality

Judging from media reports and with the exception of the suction dredge mining issue, one would think that everything is quiet on the Klamath and that various interest groups are waiting for the next action to emerge from Klamath Dam negotiations. But such a judgment would not be correct. In reality there is much brewing this summer which could impact the future of the Basin but not much of it is being reported by local, regional or national news media. Here then is a quick review and links to where you can learn more.

Klamath irrigation deliveries delayed – the media ignores it!

Back in March the Bureau of Reclamation issued a press release announcing that – due to low inflow to Upper Klamath Lake and ESA requirements for Coho Salmon, Kuptu and Tshuam (sucker species) irrigation deliveries to Klamath Project Irrigators would be delayed.

In past years such an action would have been greeted by loud denunciations from the Irrigation Elite, their principle political organization, the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA), and by calls for repeal of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). But KWUA’s press release responding to the delay was mild and not one mainstream media outlet reported the delay.

The non-attention to this story likely has to do with Irrigation Elite's desire not to appear anti-environmental at a time when they hope for a legislative water guarantee, an ESA sweetheart deal and loads of new subsidies. We also suspect that Water Deal promoters do not want the public to realize that it would be Coho, Kuptu and Tshuam which would be facing inadequate water supplies if the guaranteed allocation to Klamath Project Irrigators in the proposed Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) were law while federal irrigators would be enjoying a congressionally guaranteed irrigation water supply.

Why has no media outlet disclosed what would be happening this year if the KBRA were in place? This is a question readers may want to pose to local and regional reporters and editors who cover Klamath issues.

The Obama Administration and the Klamath

Klamath watchers have been on the lookout to determine what impact – if any – the change in federal administration will have on the fate of PacifiCorp’s five Klamath River dams and on the proposed Water Deal (Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement). While Water and Dam Deal promoters’ spin suggests Obama Administration support, KlamBlog thinks the jury is still out.

Obama’s Interior issued a press release at the end of June extending the “deadline” for completing the Dam Deal until September. Many close to the negotiations believe this “deadline” will slip again. And while Secretary Salazar’s press statement about the Dam and Water Deals was positive, we think the delay suggests that the Obama folks may be negotiating changes which were not previously gaining traction.

The Obama Administration’s Klamath River Basin lead at Interior is Associate Deputy Director Laura Daniels-Davis, who previously worked for Congressman Mark Udall of Colorado. Daniels-Davis’ boss is Dennis Hayes, the second in command at Interior. Here’s a link to Hayes’ official biography.

Those who wish to contact Mr. Hayes or Ms. Daniel-Davis can use the following contact information:
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington DC 20240
Phone: 202-208-6291

Will Suction Dredge Mining be banned statewide?

The long running battle between recreational suction dredge miners and the Karuk Tribe appears to be peaking with a recent court decision enjoining the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) from issuing new suction dredge permits. The Karuk Tribe’s efforts to reign in recreational dredging has been supported in recent years by Klamath Riverkeeper.

The California Legislature has also passed legislation which would ban suction dredge mining in California until DFG completes an Environmental Impact Report and develops regulations for the activity. The bill is on the governor’s desk; it is unknown whether he will sign or veto it.

Never friendly, the conflict over suction dredge mining on the Klamath has turned ugly. If you read comments on the Siskiyou Daily News article to which we have linked above you will see examples of subtle and not so subtle racism. The racism was clearly overt, however, in a commentary by Dave McCracken, president of the New Forty-Niners recreational mining company which was reprinted by Klamath Basin Crisis.

In the article McCracken denies that the miners who swarmed over Northern California in the last part of the 19th Century attempted genocide on local Indigenous groups. But, as KlamBlog pointed out in a prior post, the historical record clearly documents both organized and ad hoc attempts at genocide in various Northern California locations in the late 19th Century including several in what is now Siskiyou County. The early miners and settlers feared that reservations would be established and figured if they wiped out all the Indians there could be no reservations.

KlamBlog questions whether recreational mining should enjoy the privileges afforded to real miners by the 1872 mining law. If recreational mining on public land and waters was managed as recreation rather than as mining, it would be much less of a threat to fish and water quality. For example, recreational miners can and do camp for free all summer on public lands – often next to stream where they store gasoline and other toxic chemicals. Recreational public land users are not allowed to camp next to streams and their is a limit on how long they can camp for free.

Yurok biologist: the Northcoast Environmental Center has “misused” science

Mike Belchik is a senior fisheries biologist in the employ of the Yurok Tribe. Belchik is widely recognized as one of the scientists most knowledgeable about Klamath River fish and water conditions; he has been closely involved in the design and conduct of Klamath River flow studies which have been completed by Dr. Thomas Hardy under contract to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Reclamation.

In recent weeks Belchik has been observed in two meetings where he claimed that the NEC is wrong to critique the science behind river flows which the KBRA would lock in. He backs up this criticism by pointing out that both the hydrologist the NEC hired to review KBRA proposed flows and Doctor Hardy had recanted their prior criticism.

During his NEC critiques Belchik fails to mention that one of the nation’s most respected science bodies – the National Research Council – has strongly criticized the flow studies on which KBRA proposed river flows are based. One of the few independent reviews of Klamath science, the second of two NRC Reports describes the flow study approach implemented on the Klamath as treating the River as if it were “the Upper Basin and a gutter to the sea.” NRC scientists recommend a basin-wide flow assessment as the proper way to determine flows which fish need. Belchik and other supporters of the KBRA have ignored this recommendation.

Mike Belchik also fails to mention that Doctor Bill Trush – one of California’s most highly respected river ecologists who was also hired by the NEC to review the KBRA – refused to recant his criticism of KBRA prescribed flows.

Belchik helped organize a closed-door “science meeting” which appears to have been designed specifically to get the NEC’s contract hydrologist, Doctor Hardy and Doctor Trush to recant KBRA criticism. Closed door, invitation only science meetings appear at odds with the spirit of scientific inquiry which encourages openness and impartiality.

The NRC also completed an earlier Klamath science review which was critical of the manner in which science is being used on the Klamath. As a leader of the Basin’s scientific establishment, Belchik has been openly critical of both NRC reports which call into question some of the policy decisions he recommended.

Belchik’s criticism of the NEC follows closely upon the organization’s decision that it could not support the KBRA and that it was withdrawing from negotiations because it saw no interest among other negotiators in fixing KBRA problems identified by the NEC and others. Because Northcoast Congressman Mike Thompson is seen as critical to any Klamath River Basin legislation, the NEC’s withdrawal from negotiations and rejection of the KBRA is seen as especially significant. The NEC is one of the leading environmental organizations in Congressman Thompson’s district.

The Yurok Tribe reacted to the NEC decision by inviting the organization’s Board of Directors to meet with the Yurok Tribal Council. A several hour meeting was held last month; no reports on what was discussed have been forthcoming.

It should not surprise us that “science” on the Klamath has become politicized. Almost every environmental issue in the country is characterized by disputes over who has the “good science” and how that science informs government decisions. That is precisely why the National Research Council is called in to assemble panels of independent scientists to conduct reviews like the two completed for the Klamath. Both the First and Second NRC Klamath Science Reviews can be read on line.

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