The Promise of Environmental Water
The promise of “environmental water” is a siren call for many salmon managers. So it is not surprising that the idea of a special “environmental water account” (which biologists and other fish managers control and can order released as needed by fish) is a major component of the proposed Water Deal – the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA). Promoters of the Deal – including fisheries biologists who represent the Yurok Tribe – claim that the INCREASE in the amount of Klamath River water which the Deal provides to Klamath Project Irrigators will not damage salmon and the River’s ecosystem because “water managers” will have access to new “environmental water” and will use that water to address any risks resulting from allocating more Klamath River water to irrigation interests.
One problem with this scheme is that – as KlamBlog has previously pointed out – under the KBRA the first 10,000 acre feet of “environmental water” goes not to the environment but to Klamath Project Irrigators to do with as they please. Another problem is that the decrease in the amount of water allocated to River flows would happen as soon as federal legislation authorizing the Deal passes Congress and well before dam removal. But the promised “environmental water” would only come much later and then only if Congress appropriates the money and a sufficient number of the so-called “Off Project Irrigators” (those who do not get water via the federal Klamath Project) agree to sell their water rights to the US Fish & Wildlife Service.
Some scientists who have studied the KBRA fear that additional major fish kills could take place after Klamath Project Irrigators get more water and before the dams come down. This has become known as the “interim period” and what happens during that period to address the annual die-off of juvenile salmon below Iron Gate Dam and to prevent another major adult salmon kill in the River is a major reason the Hoopa Tribe, North Coast Environmental Center and several other organizations have decided that they can not support the Deal.
As the Hoopa Tribe and other Deal skeptics have pointed out, the extra water for federal irrigators is guaranteed by the KBRA (except if there is a “jeopardy” ESA finding) whereas water for fish depends on future funding and whether those hoped-for “willing sellers” actually come forward. Since opposition to the Deal is fiercest in areas targeted for purchase and retirement of water rights (“Off Project”), some observers question whether many “willing sellers” will actually be found.
To summarize then, once again we find in the details of the proposed KBRA fine words and promises for fish while more of the real water is transferred from the Klamath River to Klamath Project irrigation interests. We are told that this is OK because there will be “new” water coming from “willing sellers”. This “environmental water” will be used to keep bad things from happening to Klamath Salmon.
How has it worked elsewhere?
The idea sounds good but how has it played out in other Basin’s in real time?
The promise of an “environmental water account” first surfaced as part of CalFed – the state-federal partnership announced a decade or so ago to solve irrigation-fish conflicts in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valleys. Through its “Environmental Water Account” CalFed was supposed to reverse the decline of endangered fishes in San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento River while water exports for irrigation were maintained.
The water exports for irrigation continued but the promised “environmental water” never actually materialized. Instead the endangered fish continue to slide toward extinction and conflicts over water in the Central Valley of California have intensified. CalFed is now universally judged to have been a failure. Now the Department of Interior and Klamath Dealmakers want to use the same approach on the Klamath!
Is there reason to believe this failed strategy will be more successful here on the Klamath than it was in the Central Valley of California? KlamBlog does not think so and we hope Congress will recognize that as well. Congress should take the Klamath in a direction that offers more real promise – and real water – to fish.
CalFed’s failure - and that failure’s implications for the future of Klamath Salmon - has either been ignored or has gone unnoticed by those tribal and fishing interests which are promoting the proposed Water Deal – the KBRA. Those promoters includes the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) which should know better since the organization has long been involved in Central Valley water and fish issues and had a first hand view of CalFed’s failure.
The new Klamath Basin dam
So why is the failed CalFed water policy being promoted for the Klamath? Consider the possibility that failure is intended. If “demand reduction” from “willing sellers” fails, the KBRA calls for construction of a new Klamath River Basin dam and reservoir.
A new dam and reservoir paid for by US Taxpayers has long been a cherished dream of Upper Klamath Basin Irrigation Interests. According to their plans, water would be pumped to a new reservoir from Upper Klamath Lake during the winter. That water would then be available for irrigation and other uses during the dry summer.
Here are portions of the final KBRA which advance the dream of Irrigation Interests for a new Klamath River Basin dam and reservoir (emphasis added):
20.2.4. Pursuant to Section 18, the Parties shall investigate and seek to secure additional water storage in the Basin.
If any of the obligations in Sections 18.2.2 through 18.2.4 cannot be met or become technically infeasible or legally impossible, the Parties shall pursue amendment of this Agreement pursuant to Section 7.2 to achieve comparable storage and/or inflows into Upper Klamath Lake.
18.3. Future Storage Opportunities
18.3.1. Technical Investigation
Pursuant to the Klamath Basin Water Supply Enhancement Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-498), and given sufficient appropriations identified in Appendix C-2, Reclamation shall work diligently to complete appropriate studies for off-stream storage projects. Reclamation will provide a progress report to the Parties every six months after the Effective Date. The Parties shall continue to support ongoing investigations and acquisition of additional storage.
Consistent with Reclamation planning directives, policies and standards, and NEPA, Reclamation shall not determine the specific design, beneficiaries, etc. of such projects before completion of a NEPA decision document. Reclamation shall identify the range of alternatives identified in the Feasibility Study to enhance water management flexibility in providing for irrigation, fish and wildlife purposes, as well as the furtherance of Reclamation’s tribal trust responsibilities.
Subject to Reclamation’s and OWRD’s reservations of responsibilities and obligations, the Parties shall support use of water from these facilities in accordance with this paragraph.
i. Such water will be a resource to be employed as needed to achieve the objectives of this Agreement as related to fisheries.
ii. When first available, such water will be used to realize the increase in diversions to the Klamath Reclamation Project as described in Section 15.1.1 and provided in Appendix E-1, if that increase has not otherwise occurred.
iii. Water will be used to implement the provisions of Section 19.2.2.B.ii.
iv. Water may otherwise be used in accordance with recommendations of the TAT and decisions of the Klamath Basin Coordinating Council.
v. In addition, the TAT may recommend the use of any such water for Klamath Reclamation Project irrigation and/or Wildlife Refuges if circumstances so warrant. In that circumstance, an increase in water diversion as a result of such storage could not occur merely because additional storage has become available and there would be transparent public processes prior to any increase.
These provisions make it clear that those who most vocally condemned PacifiCorp’s Klamath dams – including the Yurok Tribe, the Karuk Tribe, PCFFA, Trout Unlimited, American Rivers and the Salmon River Restoration Council (SRRC) – have now committed their organizations to supporting a new Klamath River Basin dam and reservoir. Of course, we are told that this will not be one of those old “bad” dams but rather a new sort of dam that will be good for the environment, the River and Klamath Salmon.
Is there a Good Dam in the house?
While dams that are “good” for the environment have been promised before, KlamBlog knows of no dam that is currently being used successfully to restore a river. But let’s take a closer look at the pump-storage dam operation envisioned by the KBRA. Could such a facility be used to provide the cold water needed to mitigate the salmon diseases destroying Klamath Salmon?
The idea is to divert water from the Klamath in winter when – according to promoters – too much water is wasted because there is no place to store it. This reminds us that at one time the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) considered all water which reaches the ocean was “wasted”. We have since learned (even the BOR!) that rivers actually need water in order to be rivers. So the focus of the Bureau - and other “water buffalos” - has shifted to high winter flows. Surely, the buffalos tell us, these flood waters must be surplus and therefore subject to appropriation!
In recent years, however, respected salmon and restoration biologists like Bill Trush and Peter Moyle have documented the fact that rivers need flood flows in order to renew themselves – including providing what salmon and other fish need. The two pioneering scientific papers pointing to the need for a wide variety of flows – including flood flows – in order to sustain dynamic river ecosystems were authored by N. Leroy Poff and his colleagues. Both (Paper 1 and Paper 2) are available on line.
The State of Oregon has taken this science seriously. They recently passed a law requiring that high flow needs must be assessed and quantified BEFORE new winter diversions from rivers are authorized. It is unknown, however, whether this law would apply to a new dam/reservoir project in the Klamath River Basin built by the federal government.
KlamBlog also wonders whether a new reservoir – like all present reservoirs in the Basin – would become a breeding ground for toxic algae. The new reservoir would, of course, be receiving the same water that now goes to Iron Gate - water that is super loaded with the agricultural pollution in which toxic algae love to multiply.
Will a future generation of Indigenous Klamath River Folk find it necessary to fight for removal of yet another toxic dam from the Klamath River Basin? A stranger twist of fate would be hard to imagine. And yet that future is one distinctly possibility for the Klamath River Basin if the KBRA is locked in via federal legislation.