Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The KBRA’s Brave New World: Public again locked out of key decisions

“Parties” to the KBRA (the county, state and private organizations which signed it) are once again in secret meetings attempting to determine who will benefit from the Klamath River Basin’s Public Resources. KlamBlog has learned that a major amendment to the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, which was supposed to be ready for approval by the “parties” in February, is apparently still being negotiated. 

We suspect that federal officials are also attending those secret meetings. Federal agency officials planned, orchestrated and funded development of the KBRA but – because aspects of the Deal violate existing federal law and authorities - they cannot sign it without Congressional approval.  

KBRA current signatories include Humboldt County, the California Resources Agency, several Oregon state agencies, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Salmon River Restoration Council, Yurok Tribe, Karuk Tribe, Klamath Tribes, American Rivers, Trout Unlimited, California Trout, Northern California Federation of Fly Fishers, Reams Golf and Country Club, Winema Hunting Lodge, Klamath Water Users Association and a host of irrigation districts which receive water via the Bureau of Reclamation’s Klamath Project. 

KlamBlog learned about the proposed amendment by chance while reading minutes of the February 7th meeting of KWAPA – the Klamath Water and Power Agency. KWAPA was set up by three Upper Basin irrigation districts and has already secured taxpayer funds in order to pursue lower electric rates for Klamath Project irrigation interests. Here’s what those minutes had to say about the amendment:   
    “Shall KWAPA approve the KBRA Amendments? Greg Addington reported that this is not complete and that it will take some time to finish. The amendments include some dates in some instances and that the Power Program is another item being vetted. A copy was included in the agenda packet the Board received."

 The Tulelake Irrigation District - home to the richest of the Basin's Irrigation Elite - uses dozens of pumps to move Klamath River water to and from irrigation canals and drains

As far as we can tell, an up-to-date draft of the proposed amendment has not been posted on any of the “parties” web sites or on any government web site and no public review has been scheduled.  There was a draft KBRA amendment posted on a private (non “party”) web site back in December of 2011. It is not clear, however, how that draft may have changed since December.

One significant change in the proposed draft KBRA amendment posted by Klamath Basin Crisis is a change in the deadline for securing federal legislation to authorize the most controversial aspects of the KBRA. The deadline would be changed from December 31, 2012 until December 31, 2014. As KlamBlog predicted, KBRA “parties” are not willing to give up on their special interest deal. If they can’t get legislation this Congress, they will simply kick the can down the road.

History teaches that special interest deals never die on their own; they must be killed (preferably by a stake through the heart). Apparently none of the KBRA’s growing number of opponents has yet figured out how to accomplish that; or they may just be holding their cards close. The KBRA Water Deal includes several provisions of questionable legality. 

The KBRA amendment published by Klamath Basin Crisis and no one else would also further limit the ability of Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges to secure an adequate water supply. The posted draft amendment states:
    "Notwithstanding any other terms of this Agreement, no call will be made for water from Clear Lake or Gerber Reservoir or the Lost River above Harpold Dam for delivery to meet the Refuge Allocation in this Agreement. This limitation with respect to the Refuge Allocation under this Agreement is subject to the first two sentences of Section 2.2.11 and any rights or privileges attendant to any water rights that may be determined".

Other proposed amendments appear aimed at assuring that all restoration funds spent in the Basin will be controlled by the three tribes which have signed and are therefore “parties” to the agreement. These are the Yurok, Karuk and Klamath Tribes. Most concerning is language which appears designed to assure that restoration in the Upper Basin remains – as it has been in the past - focused on Upper Klamath Lake.  “Marsh restoration” by The Nature Conservancy and others around Upper Klamath Lake – while much publicized - has not provided the benefits claimed. Because of land subsidence, those “restoration” projects provided additional water storage but very little actual marsh restoration. Marshes clean the water; additional water storage does not. 

Failure to provide effective marsh restoration around Upper Klamath Lake is a major reason water quality in Upper Klamath Lake has not improved in spite of the expenditure of millions of taxpayer dollars.

Projects by The Nature Conservancy and others around Upper 
Klamath Lake claim to restore marshes and improve the water quality. 
They have not, however, delivered the promised benefits.

If the goal is improving Klamath River water quality, the most effective restoration action would be restoring wetlands in the Keno Reach below Upper Klamath Lake. Even more effective would be ecological restoration of Lower Klamath Lake which once served as a vast marsh to clean up water from Upper Klamath Lake before that water flowed down the Klamath River. However, the Klamath Tribes, federal irrigation interests and The Nature Conservancy want to keep all restoration dollars focused on Upper Klamath Lake.

Federal irrigation interests – the Basin’s Irrigation Elite – also oppose ecological restoration of Lower Klamath Lake because that would reduce the amount of agricultural land served by the federal Klamath Project.  The Elite currently leases much of that land from small farm-holders who can no longer afford to farm their own small farms. Keeping the amount of land available for leasing as large as possible depresses the per acre leasing price and thus augments Irrigation Elite profits.    

There is no mention of the proposed KBRA  Amendment in agendas or meeting minutes of the Klamath Basin Coordinating Council – the group set up by “parties” to “serve as a primary forum for public involvement in implementation of the Agreement” Apparently those “parties” do not think the public should have the opportunity to review and provide input on the proposed amendment prior to its adoption. The KBCC (and that group’s Technical Review Team) last met in Yreka during February. 

If Congress approves Klamath Deals legislation sponsored by Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and California Congressman Mike Thompson, future amendments to the KBRA would be automatically approved whether or not the public was provided the opportunity to review and comment. The Merkley-Thompson legislation would thus institutionalize the “parties” desire to lock the public out of key decisions concerning Klamath River Basin Public Trust Resources.   

While some of the most controversial aspects of the KBRA Water Deal require congressional authorization, most of the complex agreement’s provisions do not. Those aspects are already being aggressively implemented as detailed in the recently released Second Annual Report of the Klamath Basin Coordinating Council (KBCC) – the group set up to be the public face of the KBRA.

KlamBlog has previously observed that secrecy in dealing with Public Resources always breeds mischief. It now appears clear that mischief resulting from back room development of the KBRA and KHSA is continuing. If the Merkley-Thompson legislation makes it though Congress and is signed by the President, that sort of mischief will be institutionalized here in the Klamath River Basin.

This is the Brave New World of Klamath River Basin Public Trust resource management in the KBRA era. 

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