Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Public support for Klamath Deals wanes as the political show kicks off in Portland

As this KlamBlog is posted a big media show is about to begin in Portland Oregon. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar will be joined by Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the President of PacifiCorp and a bevy of tribal, fishing and irrigation officials along with assorted politicians.  There will no doubt be plenty of fawning.

The dominant message of this media show is that an unprecedented and historic agreement has brought together adversaries and will usher in a new era of collaboration and compromise in order to save Klamath Salmon, promote agricultural stability and benefit just about everyone. It is unknown whether actual apple pie will or will not be served at the event.

We know that “Peace on the River” will be the message because that message has been repeated ad museum over the last two years. We also know that will be the message because that is the best way to provide cover for what is at its core a sweetheart deal for Warren Buffet, his PacifiCorp co-shareholders and a small group of privileged and politically connected irrigators, a golf and country club and other non-agricultural water users who get water via the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Project.

As was revealed not too long ago by Jeff Barnard of the Associated Press, the Deal was actually cut in West Virginia and just by the big four - Salazar, Kulongoski,. Schwarzenegger and PacifiCorp/Buffett. The other folks are in Portland essentially as window dressing. Their pronouncements will not be news - but they will be reported as news.

The real news these days is that more and more individuals and organizations are coming to the conclusion that the Deals (the proposed Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement) are not in the interest of Klamath Salmon, Klamath Wildlife Refuges and Klamath River Communities. The more folks learn the details, the more they conclude that implementation of these Deals will not only not lead to restoration of the Klamath River but actually may preclude real river restoration.

These conclusions are being reached not only by groups that were locked out of the “confidential” negotiations which led to the Deals but lately by several of the organizations which were involved in the deal making beginning to end  -or nearly so. First to break with the pack was the Northcoast Environmental Center (NEC) . recently joined by the Hoopa Tribe and Friends of the River. There is also rumor that another locally-based organization which participated in negotiations beginning to end – the Ashland-based National Center for Conservation Science & Policy – will not sign the Deals – although this is not evident by perusing their web site
The NEC has also joined with Oregon Wild, Water Watch, Friends of Del Norte and other conservation groups to form a new coalition – Klamath Conservation Partners – which is working for a dam removal deal that is certain, soon and unburdened by the controversial and costly Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA).

Water Watch and Oregon Wild were kicked out of Klamath negotiations because they would not agree to continuation of commercial farming on Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges. These are the only federal wildlife refuges in the country that allow commercial agriculture. Commercial agriculture on the Klamath Refuges does not maximize wildlife benefits.

But disillusionment with the Klamath Deals is not coming just from tribes, fishermen and conservation organizations. Recent letters to the editor and comments on Klamath news reports in local and regional newspaper web sites indicates that and increasing number of everyday people – both within the Klamath Basin and beyond – are coming to the conclusion that Deals which sound too good to be true are indeed not what was promised and what is being advertised.  Below this report is reprinted one such commentary which appeared recently in the Capital Press regional agriculture weekly.

While disillusionment grows among the people, politicians appear headed in the opposite direction. North Coast Congressman Mike Thompson, for example, is believed to be interested in sponsoring legislation for the deal makers. California Senator Diane Feinstein also is reportedly interested in sponsoring the federal legislation needed to seal the Deals - Feinstein has a history of supporting Big Ag in water disputes. And recently Oregon’s newest senator – Jeff Markley – has declared his support. KlamBlog would not be surprised if one or another of these politicians turns up on the podium in Portland today.

Meanwhile the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has awarded an $843,000 contract under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to the Research Triangle Institute of North Carolina. The contract is for scientific investigations “to evaluate the economic potential for advancing fisheries restoration by removing four dams, and whether it is in the public interest to do so.”

While the BOR has spurned local and regional firms that could have done this work, the hiring of a major environmental study contractor does indicate that the Department or Interior is eager to see these Deals come to fruition. This should not be surprising since the Deals not only serve the interest of the rich and well connected but also put the BOR - and those to whom it supplies Klamath River water - into the driver’s seat when it comes to the future of Klamath River water. 

Once the noise from Portland has died down, the focus of Klamath River politics will shift to Washington DC. The Klamath Deals – which seek to burden taxpayers and electricity customers with the full cost of dam and powerhouse removal – appear to conflict with President Obama’s plan to freeze discretionary federal spending - except for the war machine. Whether the Klamath Deals can overcome this newest hurdle and others it will face in Washington DC remains to be seen.

KlamBlog will be there reporting what others do not dare to report; stay tuned.

Klamath agreement fails to meet needs of American people

For the Capital Press

The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement has something for everyone to dislike. From the dynamics of dam removal to the development of an unelected bureaucracy positioned to manipulate and manage our natural resources, it contains issues certain to upset anyone from Miller Lake to the mouth of the Klamath River.

The KBRA was created by a huge bureaucracy without fair and equitable representation. It charts a direction that intentionally limits the choices of our communities and governments. It is full of deception and is packed with unfunded mandates that will lead to conflict. It is not a program of self-determination for water, power and regulatory assurances. The communities that the agreement was alleged to embrace have been left hopeless and vulnerable. The proponents of the KBRA appear to be either part of the deception or victims of the process.

The KBRA leaves very important Klamath Basin issues unsettled. The agreement is not based on current legal authority, but rather on a complex web of administration that must rely upon new legal authority that has not yet been legislated.

A true water settlement must be founded on the Klamath River Adjudication. The adjudication process has been upheld by both the Oregon and the U.S. Supreme Courts. Our communities cannot move ahead with a legally binding direction for our future until the basis of water allocation has been established by law. Our state and county governments must assume the leadership role in charting this direction. They can lead us toward true self-determination and away from the growth of federal agencies and bureaucracies.

The KBRA is dependent on $1 billion of unappropriated federal funding. This proposal is a major federal action in need of a reality check. The only money now on the table is provided by PacifiCorp ratepayers in Oregon for dam removal that is not included in the billion-dollar price tag. We should not expect those dollars to come from the federal coffers, with our national treasury in the weakest shape in memory.

Moreover, redirecting funds from existing budgets is equally problematic. Imagine the outrage when existing USDA programs in Madras, Medford, Arizona or Iowa lose funding to this new project. More likely to occur is a marginalized budget that will funnel funds to the most influential parties of the KBRA. This will further divide our communities.

Today we have the final KBRA document in hand to examine. We are told we must sign on before Feb. 9. This date appears to be determined by potential photo-opportunity dates for officials. However, the federal parties to the agreement will not sign on until after legislation is passed.

The question is "do we sign on to such an ill-conceived direction and trust the bureaucrats? There are at least three good reasons not to sign at this time.

First, the required legislation may transform the KBRA into a process that we do not recognize.

Second, the KBRA may be transformed by the imminent Oregon and EPA release of the total maximum daily loads for the Klamath and Lost rivers. These documents may castrate our communities' abilities to address priorities in our watersheds.

Third, and most importantly, as our water year shapes itself, the Bureau of Reclamation has shown its inability to manage water storage. There is discussion of a zero allocation of water for irrigation from the Klamath River this year. Remember 1991 and 2009 when irrigation was terminated from the Lost River? Remember 2001 when irrigation was terminated from the Klamath River? If the bureau has failed to manage for irrigation from Klamath Lake this year, why would we expect it to care for our irrigation communities in any year?
Frankly, I do not trust our federal agencies. Every party at the KBRA table has been mistreated by the federal agencies. True stakeholders have been ignored, discredited and turned away. It makes no sense to get further in bed with the same agencies that terminated the tribes, terminated irrigation and terminated natural resource management in the Klamath Basin.

This is the time for our communities to join together to move the inept federal agencies out of our basin and embrace each other with hope and vision and true self-determination.

Should we sign the KBRA at this time? The answers are no and hell no!

Bill Kennedy is a natural resource producer in Klamath County, both on and off project. The private lands he manages and irrigates have been dedicated wildlife refuges since 1975.

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