Thursday, July 21, 2011

Science, Secrecy and Salmon Restoration

News that an independent panel of scientists has serious reservations about prospects for successful salmon restoration to the upper Klamath River Basin once four Klamath River Dams are removed was broken by the LA Times in late June and spread like wildfire across the Basin.

The concerns of the scientists focused on the KBRA or Klamath Water Deal which has been politically connected to dam removal. They pointed out that large, politically brokered restoration programs have a consistent record of failure. Whether we consider Chesapeake Bay, the Everglades, the Great Lakes, the Columbia River or the Klamath River Basin, large scale restoration projects have not achieved what the politicians, advocates and bureaucrats who brokered them promised.

In 2006 a national team of scientists led by the University of Maryland’s Margaret Palmer examined thousands of restoration programs across the US and found widespread failure. The scientists pegged ineffective restoration to failure to apply restoration science resulting in projects which do not address key factors degrading rivers and lakes. The scientists also noted that less than 15% of the projects reviewed had been evaluation to determine their effectiveness.  Palmer subsequently identified the specific ways in which restoration practice has failed to correctly apply restoration science.

Lack of restoration standards and accountability is a key defect of the Klamath Water Deal. Like salmon restoration under the 1986 Klamath Act before it, the KBRA would divide restoration funds based on political considerations. During the 20-year Klamath Act Restoration Program, wild Klamath-Trinity Chinook Salmon – the focus of that restoration effort – continued to decline. If that trend continues, extirpation/extinction will occur during this century.  Restoration under the KBRA will be similarly ineffective; addressing several key factors limiting wild salmon production is specifically precluded by Water Deal provisions.

The independent salmon scientists focused on water quality in the Upper Basin as the main impediment to successful Chinook restoration there and throughout the Basin. In particular, they singled out a fifth PacifiCorp dam and reservoir – Keno – as a major barrier to migrating salmon. Keno has the worst water quality found anywhere in the Basin and regular fish kills occur there during summer. Under the Dam and Water Deals, however, Keno Dam and Reservoir would not be removed; instead they would be transferred from PacifiCorp to the US Bureau of Reclamation.  

Soft censorship on the Klamath

Federal and tribal bureaucrats did not like the Draft Report from the independent scientists because it criticized aspects of the KBRA Water Deal in strong terms. As they have in the past, displeased KBRA promoters worked hard to convince the independent scientists to change their report. This can be seen in comments submitted on the panel’s draft summarized in Appendix C of the final report.