Sunday, December 12, 2010

Armstrong v Pace - Myth and Reality in the Scott River Basin

Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors chairperson Marcia Armstrong represents western Siskiyou County. This is a rugged country dominated by the deep canyons and rugged peaks of the Salmon Mountains. But some residents of the Klamath, Salmon and Scott River Canyons – which make up the bulk of Armstrong’s district – may wonder if the former Farm Bureau operative understands and represents their interests.

Armstrong typically acts as if she is the supervisor only for the Scott River Valley where she resides. She has been a vocal and consistent champion of agriculture, mining and logging. But Armstrong is never fiercer than when she is defending Scott Valley irrigators. In her weekly column in the Siskiyou Daily News she claims regularly that she is just telling it like it is in a world in which those who honestly work the land are mercilessly and unjustly attacked by those who hate and want to destroy agriculture, logging, mining and with them the best American traditions.

Armstrong is a fierce defender of what she identifies as the “traditional custom and culture” of Siskiyou County. But her love of tradition apparently does not extend further back than the 1850s when European Americans first penetrated the Northwest California “wilderness” to establish "civilization". Armstrong appears particularly hostile to local Indigenous life ways and to the federal Indian tribes which during the last 30 years or so have pushed their claims to the bounty of a river which for uncounted generations provide their ancestors with salmon, lamprey, mussels and a cornucopia of other foods and fibers.  

In her most recent Daily News column  (titled simply “Scott River”) Armstrong claims to deconstruct “old myths about the impact of agricultural irrigation on the Scott River” and to provide in response “the facts”. This Armstrong column from the December 9th edition of the Siskiyou Daily News is reprinted below. It is followed by a letter to the editor from the same newspaper which challenged Armstrong’s “facts”. That letter is by KlamBlog’s chief author, Felice Pace. Pace – who for many years directed the Klamath Forest Alliance -  lived in the Scott River Valley from 1975 until 2002 and he still owns a home there.

The two reprints speak for themselves. Together they tell a story of a river basin in which two diametrically opposed visions compete and contend. In one vision agriculture, mining and logging are the highest and best use of the Scott River and its water; in the other it is the natural capital of the basin – clean water, salmon, old trees – which matter most.

Which vision do you trust and why? Reader comments are just as important here as the reprints….maybe more important. Please share your views on the two Scott River visions and on the conflict of cultures which they represent.  

Here are the column and letter to the editor:

Ridin' Point: Scott River
By Marcia Armstrong

Siskiyou Daily News
Posted Dec 07, 2010 @ 09:18 AM

Scott Valley, Calif. —

A recent regional fisheries column has once again dragged out the old myths about the impact of agricultural irrigation on the Scott River. Here are the facts:

As a tributary, the Scott River provides only about 4 percent of the full natural annual flow to the Klamath River. According to the Siskiyou County Annual Crop Report, the Scott Valley experiences 22 inches of annual precipitation (30 inches of snowfall). This can vary widely, with the east side averaging 12-15 inches and the southern mountains receiving as much as 60-80 inches.

The Scott River has no dams or reservoirs. Historically, there was storage of cool water in 28 high mountain lakes located on the Klamath National Forest. As many of these are now located in Wilderness, they have fallen into disrepair as functional storage structures.

With 292 acres of surface, one foot of additional water storage in these lakes could provide 5 cfs of instream flow for a 30-day period in the summer. Storage for summer flows in the Scott is primarily in the form of natural snowpack. Snow can hold the water into late spring, when it melts to feed the streams.

Summer and fall flows in the Scott vary from year to year, but are largely controlled by the precipitation and snowpack of the prior 12 months (Drake, Tate and Carlson). From 1951-1998, there has been a decrease in the water content of the snowpack in the area, particularly in the western mountains. There has been a correlating decline in fall river flows over time.

The number of irrigated acres in Scott Valley has not changed substantially since 1950. (It was 34,100 acres in 1988 and 31,800 in 2000. The total watershed is 520,968 acres, so irrigated agriculture represents only 6 percent of the land.)

Methods of irrigation, (flood, wheel lines, pivot wheels,) have changed over the years. In 1968, when water was more commonly diverted for flood irrigation, 86 percent of irrigation was through diversion of surface water, 2 percent groundwater and 12 percent mixed. In 2000, 48 percent was surface water, 45 percent groundwater and 7 percent mixed.

Understanding the effects of irrigation on flows is complex. Flood irrigation diverts water directly from the stream. Other methods rely on water pumped from the wells. Summer in Scott Valley can see ambient air temperatures in the 90-100 degree Fahrenheit range. Different methods of irrigation can affect the amount of water consumed through evaporation, plant transpiration and how much is returned to the soil to feed subsurface flow and to recharge the aquifer.

For instance, pivot wheels are thought by the state of California to be the most efficient method of delivering irrigation water. They can have a high evaporation rate, while less-efficient flood irrigation returns water not directly consumed in evapotranspiration to the streams as tailwater. Groundwater use, although not taking water directly from the stream, can intercept subsurface flows.

Photos are often cited as documentation that irrigators are “sucking the river dry.” In many areas of the valley, heavy gravel sedimentation has raised the bed of the tributaries above that of the mainstem Scott. In some areas, historic mining has caused buildup of  gravels. In Kidder Creek, a historic fire upstream caused mass erosion, resulting in gravel deposits. In such cases, water passing through seeks its own level. The river will flow through the gravels where it has accumulated and resurface on the other side.  

In many areas of the state “conjunctive use” is the method of water storage. This is where water is injected or percolated down into the ground in concentration in order to recharge the aquifer as a storage receptacle. According to a presentation by Dr. Thomas Harter, the average annual discharge in the Scott Valley watershed is 615,000 acre feet of water. This is more than the groundwater basin can hold (400,000-acre-feet capacity – U.S. Geological Survey). Of this, the Department of Water Resources has estimated that agriculture uses only 70-90,000 acre feet annually. In general, any groundwater loss is recharged within a year.

It is reasonable to expect better system responses with a more sophisticated understanding of the groundwater in Scott Valley, renewed use of the historic mountain lakes, and downstream movement of some of the gravel buildup.

Scott Valley farmers and ranchers have been working on salmon “restoration” and conservation projects for decades. The Northern California coastal coho salmon is listed both on the federal and the state level as a “threatened species.” Preliminary Department of Fish and Game Spawning Run Estimates for coho from 2006/07-2009/10 illustrate that run counts in Scott Valley are, by far, among the highest in the state. Our farmers and ranchers are obviously doing something right.
                           Copyright 2010 Siskiyou Daily News. Some rights reserved


Armstrong's claims disputed
By Felice Pace

Daily News
Posted Dec 09, 2010 @ 08:52 AM
Klamath River —

Dear Editor,

Marcia Armstrong’s Dec. 7 column claims to dispel old myths about Scott River flows. That’s the pot calling the kettle black all right! Marcia’s column trots out the old myths and deceptions trumpeted here and across the state by Marcia’s previous employer – the Farm Bureau.

Let’s look at Marcia’s claims:

Claim #1: “Scott River provides only about 4 percent of the full natural annual flow to the Klamath River.”

This one may actually be true but it is irrelevant. Most of the Klamath River’s run-off is in winter, so using annual statistics is deceiving. If we look instead at the period of time when there is not enough water – late summer and early fall – we see that the Scott River is much more important.

Also, Marcia may be mixing apples and oranges. Notice that she compares Scott flows to “natural annual flow” of the Klamath. But is she using the natural unimpaired flow of the Scott or the impaired Scott flow? Comparing an impaired flow to an unimpaired flow is mixing apples and oranges. Mixing apples and oranges is a standard technique for those who practice deception.

Claim #2: “The number of irrigated acres in Scott Valley has not changed substantially since 1950.”

Marcia does not disclose where she gets her figures but they appear to be bogus. For example, prior to the ’60s all of the valley from Fort Jones north was dry-farmed. Now it is all irrigated. Where are these acres that once were irrigated but now are not irrigated? In truth there has only been a relatively small increase in the number of acres farmed, but the crops grown have shifted to more water-intensive crops – generally from grain to alfalfa – which use much more water. Did you notice that we even have a rice grower now?

Groundwater pumping has more than doubled since the 1950s – a fact that Marcia chooses not to mention. Did I mention omitting key facts as one of the tools of deception?

How much land area is in ag is irrelevant, Marcia; the issues are the amount of water used by irrigation per acre and in total!

Claim #3: “Summer and fall flows in the Scott vary from year to year, but are largely controlled by the precipitation and snowpack of the prior 12 months (Drake, Tate and Carlson).”

The study that Marcia is referring to by Drake, Tate and Carlson is a decade old and has been subsequently shown to have used improper mathematical regression calculations. Nevertheless Drake et al found that 20-25 percent of the decrease in Scott flow could not be explained by precipitation and snowpack. Nevertheless these ag advisors concluded that irrigation was having no substantial impact of flows – that’s why Marcia likes that study. I guess 20-25 percent is not substantial to farm advisors.

Marcia apparently does not like the more recent, peer-reviewed science study (Van Kirk and Namen, 2008), which you can read on-line.

Using superior mathematical techniques, this study found that over half of the decrease in Scott River flows since 1977 cannot be explained by changes in precipitation and snowpack and are most likely related to the doubling of irrigation pumping from groundwater since 1960, as documented by the California Department of Water Resources.

Marcia does say that “Understanding the effects of irrigation on flows is complex,” and here I can agree with her. I would only add that the complexity makes it easy for someone to either fool themselves or to fool other people about Scott River flows.

The bottom line is that fish need water. When the salmon come to the Scott in the fall there is often not enough water for them to make it to their spawning grounds. As Jim Denny pointed out in the 1970s, the Scott River is being destroyed. Marcia and her ilk remain in intentional denial.

Back in the early 1990s I went to the Siskiyou RCD and suggested that pressure for reform was coming with the decline in salmon stocks and that we needed to pull together in Scott Valley to proactively address the legitimate need for sufficient water of good quality to be left in stream. I told them we needed to work together to end the dewatering and destruction of the Scott River. The RCD and other leaders (supervisors) decided to take salmon restoration money but not to work on the flow problem.

Now the chickens are coming home to roost. The ag community has had 25 years and at least $25 million from taxpayers to make the changes needed to provide for the legitimate needs of salmon and the folks who depend on them. They took the money but did almost nothing to leave more water in the river. Instead, developments like those greenhouses near Fort Jones, the rice farm and all those new areas brought under irrigation – you know, the ones that Marcia can’t see! – have further depleted Scott River flows. And THAT basic breach of trust is why folks who really care about fish are no longer willing to work with the Scott River Basin ag community. Until they get themselves out of denial and decide to really address the legitimate needs of others, what is there to talk about?

Hey Marcia, what part of this don’t you understand?

Copyright 2010 Siskiyou Daily News. Some rights reserved

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