Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Modoc Nation makes a bid for recognition…and to protect the Modoc Homeland.

A group of about 100 Modoc Indians has broken away from the Klamath Tribes and seeks independent federal recognition. Calling themselves the Modoc Nation, the group has drafted a constitution and established a government structure. The Modoc Nation opposes the KBRA – the Klamath Water Deal – which they say sells out part of their homeland – the Lower Lost River and Lower Klamath Lake areas – to agricultural interests.

As KlamBlog has pointed out, the Water Deal strongly favors those water users who obtain Klamath River water via the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Project. The richest and most powerful of these water users control large acreage in and near the remnant of Tule Lake. This includes land where the main winter village of the Modoc People was located. Farmers still plow up Modoc artifacts in these fields.

According to Modoc Nation Secretary of State Perry Chesnut, the government of the federally recognized Klamath Tribes - which includes members of Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin origin - is dominated by Klamath people whose traditional lands lay to the North of Upper Klamath Lake. Modoc and Yahooskin people are numerical minorities in a tribal government which is one of the main promoters of the KBRA Water Deal.

Chestnut claims that the interests of the Modoc and Yahooskin have consistently been sacrificed by the numerically dominant Klamath members of the tri-tribal government and that the KBRA Water Deal was the last straw. This is why he and other Modocs broke away and formed their own tribal government.

Leaders of the Klamath Tribes negotiated the Water Deal in part in order to obtain federal taxpayer funds to purchase the Mazama Tree Farm which is located above Upper Klamath Lake. These leaders seek an expanded land and resource base for the tribe north of Upper Klamath Lake. The Modoc homeland lies south of Upper Klamath Lake.

It is too early to tell what impact this revolt will have on the Klamath politics. If they are able to secure federal recognition, the Modoc Nation could block key elements of the KBRA including those impacting Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges. Several environmental groups think the refuges will suffer continued dewatering and other negative impacts as a result of the KBRA Water Deal. 

Tribal issues can be complex and confusing. There are currently 6 federally recognized tribes in the Basin – the Yurok, Hoopa, Karuk and Klamath Tribes, the Resighini Rancheria and the Quartz Valley Indian Reservation (QVIR). Other Indigenous groups – including at least two groups claiming to represent the  Shasta people – also seek recognition as federal tribes. Only three of the currently recognized federal tribes have signed the KBRA; the Hoopa Tribe and Resighini Rancheria oppose the Deal; the QVIR has not taken a position on it. According to the Hoopa Tribe, the KBRA attempts to involuntarily terminate tribal claims to Klamath River water originating in Upper Klamath Lake and the Upper Basin generally.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Along the Klamath: PR is no substitute for fair and honest dealing

Two of the chief promoters of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement –the KBRA or Klamath Water Deal – are calling for a public relations offensive. Craig Tucker, who works for the Karuk Tribe, and Glen Spain, who represents commercial salmon fishers, want to improve the image of the Deal and of the Klamath Basin Coordinating Council (KBCC) which was established by the Department of Interior to implement it.

Tucker and Spain presented the proposal at a meeting of the Council held recently in Redding California. The Capital Press, which reported on the meeting, quoted Tucker on the purpose for the charm offensive:
           The emphasis is on sharing with the public what it is we're doing and allowing the public to provide feedback….We also want to take head-on some of the myths about who we are and what we're doing.

KlamBlog is skeptical. If this group really wanted feedback it would have released for comment the draft Drought Plan they have negotiated behind closed doors; or better still, they would develop that plan from scratch in public.

In the same interview in which he called for better communication, Tucker labeled those who do not support the Deal as opposed to compromise. That is precisely the sort of “gotcha” rhetoric which alienates those who honestly do not believe the Water Deal and the restoration arrangements embedded within it provide a real or durable solution to the Basin’s water conflicts. This is not new; for years now Tucker has been attacking anyone who does not fall into line with the Water Deal he supports.

If those agencies and interests pushing the KBRA really want to engage their critics, they should reach out one to one – not rely on a PR campaign. Tucker’s sound bite claiming that those who support the Water Deal represent the “radical center” of Klamath politics is yet another roadblock to real dialogue.

The Coordinating Council should hold its meetings within the Basin where most of its critics reside. Instead - like many important meetings impacting the Klamath in the past - the meeting at which Tucker and Spain made their PR proposal was held in Redding, California in the Sacramento River Basin. This is apparently to accommodate agency bureaucrats and others from places like Sacramento, Portland and Eugene.

A majority of those who negotiated the Water Deal do not reside within the Klamath River Basin; as KlamBlog has pointed out, the KBRA is really an agency initiative – not something which emerged from the grassroots.

That may have been appropriate for dealing with PacifiCorp’s dams. But a Klamath-centered effort to manage the Basin’s water and resolve conflicts over it would surely meet in the Basin where residents and local leaders could more easily participate. Such a process would not be dominated by agency bureaucrats and corporate lawyers flying in for meetings and then leaving just as quickly.

The restoration arrangement which Tucker and Spain want to promote is not based on science but on politics. It was negotiated in meetings from which key interests were excluded. It is not a plan but rather an agreement about where in the Basin to spend restoration money the deal-makers want taxpayers to supply.

Those who negotiated the Water Deal set up the so-called plan so that most restoration funding will flow to the tribes and interest groups which signed it. As KlamBlog has point out in the past, a Deal which in substance favors some water users, tribes and environmental interests over other water users, tribes and environmental interests - can only serve to exacerbate – not resolve - conflicts.

KBRA critics want a real restoration plan based on restoration science, developed in the light of day with the participation of ALL interests. Until they accede to that reasonable demand, all of the PR in the world will not improve the image of the Klamath Basin Coordinating Committee or of the Klamath Water Deal.

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

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The KBRA did not end Klamath Water User Litigation

Klamath River Basin citizens and others who pay attention to Klamath water issues continue to grapple with the controversial Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) also known as the Klamath Water Deal.  So many claims and counterclaims have been made about the complex Deal that even those who signed it sometimes appear confused about its provisions.

One of the claims most often made by Water Deal promoters is that those who have reached agreement have buried the hatchet and will no longer engage in litigation. Many in the media picked up on that assertion. For example, the widely-read High Country News magazine featured the KBRA in a front page story declaring “Peace on the Klamath”.

So it may come as a surprise to some that those irrigators who most support the Water Deal continue to seek money damages as compensation for the federal government cutting water deliveries in 2001 in order to protect Coho salmon and other endangered fishes. And while it is no longer covered by Klamath River Basin media outlets, Klamath Irr. Dist. v. United States continues to work its way through the courts. How that lawsuit is finally resolved may significantly impact the durability of the Water Deal.

The Klamath water users’ lawsuit could be precedent setting - which explains why it is being watched closely by those who follow western water law. If the irrigators win the case, it would be necessary to pay those holding federal water delivery contracts whenever water they ordinarily use is needed in stream to sustain fisheries and keep aquatic ecosystems healthy.

That likely explains why those in the fishing and environmental community who support the Water Deal are also still involved in the litigation. One of the chief promoters of the Water Deal – Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association’s Glen Spain – is the main spokesperson for those opposing money damages for the irrigators.

Here is how Todd True – the Earthjustice lawyer representing environmental and fishing interests – characterizes the litigation’s importance:
          Most people think the water flowing in our rivers belongs there and enough of it should be kept there to keep our rivers healthy and sustain wild salmon and other fish and wildlife. The irrigators in the Klamath Basin have a different idea. They think the water is theirs even if the river dries up and all the fish die. They want the government to pay them for the water it kept in the Klamath River in 2001 to ensure the survival of wild salmon and other fish. We think the law is clear and the government is not required to pay private parties to sustain our rivers and keep important and valuable wildlife species from going extinct.

The prospect of having to pay irrigators and other water users to maintain fish in a living river is a big deal for the environmental and fishing communities.  If the Klamath water users win this case, most western rivers will likely die because it will cost too much to keep them alive. That’s because agricultural interests control 80% to 90% of the water available in most western river basins during the summer dry season.

The Endangered Species Act and other public uses trump that control, however, and have been used to reallocate water from irrigation and other out-of-stream uses to in-stream use. A win for the water users would not change that but would require payment whenever water is reallocated to in-stream use. That in turn will means more dry western rivers and streams each summer and likely extinction for many Pacific Salmon populations unless taxpayers bear the cost.

What is at issue in the lawsuit is known as the Public Trust Doctrine. Dating from the times of the Roman Empire, The common law PTD affirms that water is a public good which cannot be bought or sold for individual gain. The PTD was the basis for the Mono Lake Decision which forced the City of Los Angeles to stop draining Mono Lake. If successful, the Klamath water users’ lawsuit would redefine water as private property which can be bought or sold without regard to the public interest or the environment.   

KlamBlog has argued that the KBRA Water Deal itself would set the same precedent – although not through a court decision. That’s because the KBRA guarantees the same water users suing for damages in Klamath Irr. Dist. v. United States first rights to an amount of Klamath River water greater than those same water users have received in most recent years.  That in turn means that water would need to be purchased from those water users during drought years in order to provide the Klamath flows salmon and other fishes need to survive.

Many who oppose the Water Deal do so because requiring the leasing of water during droughts so that salmon can survive not only undermines the Public Trust Doctrine but is also fiscally unsustainable. How long will taxpayers be willing to pay water users so that salmon can survive during droughts?

Those water users who receive Klamath water via the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Project agreed to the KBRA because that Deal brings them many benefits – including big subsidies and control of a lot of water. The subsidies, however, require federal funding which is looking increasingly unlikely. That leaves control of water as the main KBRA water user benefit. If they win their lawsuit, however, the water users will not need the KBRA to secure that control.

Is Klamath water user support for the KBRA solid or simply a hedge against a legal defeat? Unfortunately, we may have the opportunity to find out.