Friday, August 28, 2009

Good Science, Bad Science and the KBRA

Promoters of the proposed Klamath River Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) both within and outside the federal government claim they’ve used the best available science to fashion proposed water allocations and river flow schedules. They point to how they used the natural flow record from the Williamson River to adjust Klamath flow needs from those prescribed in the current Biological Opinions prepared for threatened Coho Salmon and endangered Kuptu and Tsuam (aka Lost River and Shortnose sucker species). They also claim that the ESA flow regime is focused on only a single species – Coho – while the KBRA proposed flows will be good for all species.

Opponents of the KBRA claim that it ignores the best available science by – among other things - determining the proposed flow regime based on what is left after irrigators in the Klamath Project get a legislatively guaranteed allocation off the top. These critics point out that the proposed flows are lower than those in the Biological Opinion for Coho Salmon in many months and year types including ALWAYS being lower in October when Chinook salmon are migrating. Critics also point out that the KBRA ignores the recommendations of two National Research Council panels – the only independent scientific assessments of Klamath science. Among other criticisms, the second NRC report said that the flow studies which have been done on the Klamath treat the River Basin like “the Upper Basin and a gutter to the sea.” These scientists recommended a “basin-wide” flow assessment as the proper tool to use when setting river flows and water allocations.

The promoters’ claim that their flow recommendations are multi-species is also challenged by critics. What promoters really did, critics say, is substitute Chinook for Coho as the focal species for flow allocation. The KBRA proposed flows may be better for Chinook; but they are not based on multiple species’ flow needs. So claim the critics.

So who is correct? Who is using “good” science and who is employing “bad” science?

Unfortunately there is no correct answer to these questions. That’s because science does not provide absolute answers. What science does is collect data, study data, develop hypotheses and then test those hypotheses. When models are used they too are tested against available data; they never fit the data perfectly but as more data is incorporated good models get better. There is always more data to integrate, new models and methodologies and new experiments and interpretations of data. Therefore the “truth” that science provides is not static and eternal but provisional… Scientists tell us what they have learned and the conclusions this knowledge indicates….until they learn more or understand the data better.

The KBRA seeks to lock in what its promoters call “good science” via federal legislation. This approach is not “bad” science but it is fundamentally unscientific. Legislation implementing the KBRA would cut short the scientific process and declare that we know all we need to know – and all we will ever need to know – in order to set and lock in water allocations for irrigation and river flows for the River via federal legislation. A scientific approach would use the KBRA proposed flows as a hypothesis to be tested, not as a conclusion to be locked in via legislation.

KBRA promoters also invoke adaptive management and hedge their bets by saying that – once the KBRA is locked in via legislation – they will complete drought and climate change plans in order to provide more water if the River needs it during a future drought or a future dryer Klamath River Basin.

There are problems with these approaches. First, while adaptive management began as a scientific construct, it has since been politicized. In practice adaptive management has been used to sweep issues under the rug where they tend to remain. Second, once an allocation to the irrigators is locked in via federal legislation the only way to get more water in the River will be to buy that water from those who have a legislative right to it – the sub-set of Upper Basin irrigators who get irrigation water via the federal Klamath Irrigation Project.

Buying water for fish is not unscientific but KlamBlog agrees with those who say it is bad policy and a bad precedent. Water needed to support Public Trust Resources like salmon must take precedence over irrigation; otherwise irrigation will eventually suck up all the water and our rivers will be summer-dry flood water conveyances. As a matter of fact that is exactly what is happening right now on the Shasta River, the Scott River, the Eel River, the Russian River and numerous other streams and rivers across the West.

There is also the very unscientific – but relevant – question of whether, if the KBRA becomes federal law, the money will be there to buy the water fish need. We can look to the Trinity River for an indication. In spite of federal legislation which authorizes adequate funds for Trinity River restoration, neither Congress nor various administrations have sought or provided the funds the original legislation says are needed and would be forthcoming.

Could this happen on the Klamath? You bet your boots it could!

Science is, of course, silent on these policy issues.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Shasta and Scott are going dry – Will anyone take action?

At the mouth of the Klamath River Fall Chinook salmon have arrived and with them the sport and tribal fishermen who fuel the economy. But unless rain comes soon and in quantity most of the Chinook salmon currently migrating to the Shasta and Scott Rivers will not be able to reach their spawning grounds. Coho migration could also be delayed.

The Shasta and Scott are spawning grounds for most of the Fall Chinook produced in the Upper Klamath River watershed; the Scott has the most Coho. If spawners do not reach their natal streams, Klamath River salmon production will be low and the impact on tribal, commercial and sport fishing – and related economic activity – will be great.

Here is flow data for the Shasta from the US Geological Service ~
  • Early on October 11th Shasta River flow declined to nearly 6 cubic feel per second. The flow then became too low to measure for several hours.
  • The minimum daily flow recorded during the 2008 water year was 14 cfs.
  • The lowest minimum mean flow during August for the period of record (1934-2008) was 8.35 in 1939.
From this data we conclude ~


Precipitation at Yreka in the Shasta River Valley during 2008 was 77% of long-term mean annual precipitation. This is a dry year but not a drought.

The flow situation in the Scott is just as bad or worse ~
  • On August 14th flow at the Scott River gauge operated by the USGS was less than 2 cubic feet per second (cfs).
  • The lowest mean flow for the period of record during August was 5.52 cfs in 2002. The lowest daily mean flow in August was 3.4 cfs also in 2001.

From this information KlamBlog concludes ~


Here’s a photo of what the Scott River looked like on August 8th ~

Scott River at Quartz Valley Road, August 8, 2009

This is not the way it is supposed to be. In 1980 the Scott River Adjudication awarded a water right to the US Forest Service for flows to support salmon, other fisheries and recreation. It varies by season; during August the right is 40 cubic feet per second measured at the USGS flow gauge.

USGS gauge records document that the Forest Service water right is not being met during the late summer and fall in most years. Ken Maurer – a member of the Scott River CRMP – used USGS data a decade ago to demonstrate that Scott River flows have been falling decade by decade since World War 2.

A recent peer reviewed study funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that half the reduction in Scott River flows since WW II can not be explained by variation in precipitation and snow pack. A doubling of irrigation water use was identified as the most likely causes for the lower flows. Here’s a quote from the study’s abstract:

Base-flow decline in the Scott River was larger than that in all other streams and larger than predicted by elevation and latitude. Irrigation withdrawal in the Scott watershed has doubled since the 1950s, and the amount of ground water withdrawn has increased from 1 to 50 Mm3/yr. Water use changes have been minimal in the other (5) watersheds. We estimate that half of the observed 10 Mm3 (8000 acre- feet) decline in July 1-22 October discharge in the Scott River is due to changes in irrigation use. Returning to pre-1970 irrigation patterns in the Scott Valley could potentially increase streamflow by an average of 0.5 m3/s (17 cfs) over the July 1-October 22 period.

In recent dry years Fall Chinook salmon have not been able to reach spawning grounds in the Scott watershed due to low flow barriers to migration far down in the Scott River Canyon (Thompkins-Kelsey Reach). Unless there is major precipitation soon, this will occur again this year. Coho migration has also been delayed by low flows in some years and could occur this year.

Meanwhile the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) joined other agencies responsible for Klamath Salmon in announcing a new program to restore Klamath Coho. Along with PacifiCorp the agencies will spend $500,000 per year to “restore” Coho. Two of the four projects announced in July are located in the Scott; the other two are in Seiad Creek – another dewatered stream. The Scott projects will screen an irrigation ditch and fund other “diversion improvements”. There are no projects to improve flows in either the Scott or the Shasta Rivers. Apparently CDFG and the others want to protect farmers and ranchers – not fish or flows.

The flow situation in the Scott and Shasta and the likely impacts to Klamath Salmon should be big news in the region. But KlamBlog is breaking the story. We were already planning to write about the Scott after a recent visit there. These conditions are, after all, out there to be seen.

We learned about the situation on the Shasta via an anonymous whistleblower. Apparently the agencies responsible for Klamath Salmon are not concerned enough to approach the media. Or is this yet another instance of the approach to Klamath River Basin issues promoted in recent years by the self-styled Klamath Settlement Group (KSG). The KSG has demonstrated it’s preference for keeping issues and information away from the public and for making decisions that should be public behind closed doors. CDFG is a major KSG player.

KlamBlog has a few questions about this situation:






The flow situation in the Shasta and Scott – and especially the failure of state and federal agencies, tribes, fishermen and environmental organizations to do anything about it - or even to take notice publicly – is bound to spur on those who are preparing a petition to list Upper Klamath-Trinity Chinook Salmon under provision of the federal Endangered Species Act. But frankly, more than that is needed. Recent years have seen direct action on Klamath issues come down from the trees and extend to Iowa and even Scotland. The Shasta and Scott are not that far upstream. Do any direct action Klamath folk know the way?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Klamath Riverkeeper steps up dam removal efforts

Klamath Riverkeeper Erica Terence appears to be hitting her stride, assuming an important role in Dam and Water Deal debates and navigating the difficult waters of Klamath River Basin politics. Below is a commentary by Ms. Terence which was published by the Redding Record Searchlight. And below that is KR's most recent press release on Klamath River issues wherein the organization lays out the changes it would need to see in order to support the proposed Dam and Water Deal. - Printer-friendly story

Speak Your Piece: The gravy train is leaving; where's Siskiyou County?

By Erica Terence

Sunday, June 28, 2009

While rural residents struggle to stay afloat during a national recession and California's enormous budget crisis, Siskiyou County leadership is fighting the largest economic boon the county may ever see: dam removal and Klamath River restoration.

Even if the current settlement agreement hits stumbling blocks, the dams will come down via the relicensing process simply because they cannot meet basic clean water standards. Let's not forget that PacifiCorp, the company that owns the dams, wants them to come down. Backed by science, economics and broad political support, the tracks have been laid for dam removal. In fact, the train is ready to leave the station.

Siskiyou County supervisors would do well to step aboard and start making sure the project puts Siskiyou County to work, rather than spreading misinformation about dam removal.

It is certainly the job of the supervisors to make sure the county's interests are represented in the ongoing dam removal negotiations. Before one bit of concrete is removed, the entire dam removal plan will have to pass the muster of the National Environmental Policy Act and a host of other federal, state and local laws. The supervisors are right to make sure this happens, and it will. Misrepresenting the truth about dam removal does nothing to help the county or its people regain economic strength or restore an iconic river.

The supervisors do Siskiyou County a disservice by not recognizing the exceptional benefits that dam removal and river restoration provide to the county and its workforce. The Klamath Hydropower Agreement and the related Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement will point hundreds of millions of dollars of work at Siskiyou County and will create hundreds of good paying jobs.

The county hasn't seen this kind of work project since Interstate 5 was built 40 years ago.

What's more, restoration jobs will continue after the last dam has come out and provide a lasting source of income for many people in the county.

Then there are the economic and public health benefits that come with a cleaner Klamath, free of the toxic algae pollution that plagues the reservoirs and river every summer. (Agencies have already posted the reservoirs as toxic this summer.) Dam removal is the first step in returning a strong fishing, tourism and recreational economy to Siskiyou County, centered on this amazing, newly restored river and its vastly improved water recreation opportunities.

The choice is clear. Siskiyou County supervisors can stick their heads in the sand and let outside contractors take 10 years of family-wage construction and restoration jobs, or they can start tooling up for the hundreds of millions of dollars that will be invested in our local economy and insist local businesses are first in line for the gravy. So why are the county's leaders failing to lead us toward the biggest economic boon in decades?

Erica Terence is Klamath Riverkeeper's riverkeeper.

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.