Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Preventing another Klamath Salmon Kill - Are the feds doing enough?

A large run of Fall Chinook salmon is expected to enter the Klamath River beginning in August. The unusually large salmon run is expected at a time when Klamath River flows have been cut to the minimum in order to maximize water delivery to water users in the Upper Klamath River Basin - including a golf and country club.

 Reams Golf and Country Club just South of Klamath Falls, Oregon.
Under the KBRA Water Deal keeping fairways green is a higher 
water priority than keeping Klamath Salmon alive and healthy 

The situation is similar to conditions in August 2002 when over 60,000 adult salmon perished in the Lower Klamath River due to a disease epidemic caused by overcrowding, low flows and poor water quality.

The Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) is preparing an environmental assessment for release of water from Trinity Dam and Reservoir in order to help prevent another adult salmon fish kill in the Lower Klamath River. However, BOR refuses to even consider releasing more water down the Klamath mainstem where adult migrating salmon will also be at risk when the upriver migration begins in August.  

Management for the 1%

The refusal to do anything to prevent a fish kill on the Klamath side reflects the dominance of federal management in the Upper Klamath River Basin by the Klamath Irrigation Elite - the group of eight very large growers (not the folks themselves but their ag operations) who lease lots of public and private land at ridiculously low prices and who dominate the Klamath Water Users Association.

These wealthy and powerful growers refuse to allow downsizing of the BOR's Klamath Irrigation Project in order to balance supply of and demand for Klamath River water. The Irrigation Elite refuse to allow downsizing because that might raise the price they pay to lease land and therefore reduce their profit margins.  Higher lease prices would help small farmers in the Upper Klamath River Basin; many of them must lease their land because they can not make a profit on the small acreage they own. Many farmers in that situation are senior citizens; their situation is exploited by the Irrigation Elite

Telling the BOR to do more

While many former Klamath Salmon Defenders remain silent, the Hoopa Tribe is leading an effort to get the BOR to release more water on both the Klamath and Trinity "sides" of the Klamath River Basin.
The Tribe encourages all who care about Klamath Salmon to ask the BOR to release more water from the Upper Klamath Basin in order to assure that another adult salmon kill will not occur this year. Here's a link to the Hoopa Tribe's call to action.

Fragmented water management   

Management in the two main Klamath Sub-basins - the Klamath and Trinity - has remained fragmented even though the Bureau of Reclamation is in charge of water management on both "sides" of what is a single river system. This has continued even though the National Research Council called in 2008 for one basin management as the proper frame and focus for flow studies and water management. About half the water produced on the Trinity "side" is diverted to the Sacramento and delivered to well-healed growers on the east side of the San Joaquin River Valley in Southern California....another Irrigation Elite.

The Trinity River Basin (shown here in green)  is the Klamath's largest tributary.
Contrary to the recommendation of top independent scientists, a basin-wide
 flow study and whole basin management have not been implemented.    

Releasing water only on the Trinity side leaves roughly 50% of salmon habitat at risk of a fish kill this fall. Fragmented water management serves the goal of delivering as much Klamath-Trinity water as possible to the Klamath and San Joaquin Elites.

Why they are silent     

While the Hoopa Tribe and others call for more water to prevent a fish kill, many of those who claim the mantle as "Klamath Salmon Defenders" have remained silent. The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA), along with the Yurok and Karuk Tribes, once lead efforts to reform Klamath River water management. Since they signed the KBRA Water Deal, however, these former leaders have become compliant supporters of the Obama Administration's Klamath policies.

Lately the Obama Administration has further polarized the Klamath River Basin by blaming the Tea Party for blocking legislation to authorize aspects of the Dam and Water Deals. This is likely an election ploy designed to keep Oregon in Obama's column this November. In reality it is not just the Tea Party that opposes the Deals. Three Klamath River Basin tribes and two environmental organizations which have long been involved on the Klamath - Water Watch and Oregon Wild - also oppose the Dam and Water Deals.   

One of the reasons signers of the KBRA Water Deal have become so quiet and compliant (except when they are promoting the Deals) is the 56 separate "duty to support" provisions in the KBRA Water Deal they signed. The effect of those contractual obligations is to render these former defenders of Klamath Salmon toothless and compliant. Some tribes and restoration groups which support the Deals have also become dependent on the Bureau of Reclamation for funding to keep their fisheries departments and restoration programs running. Those who depend on BOR funding continuing to flow are loath to criticize the agency that controls the purse strings.

Regaining unity

The fracturing of the tribal-enviro-fishermen coalition that in the past accomplished so much on behalf of Klamath Salmon was a great victory for the Irrigation Elite and the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR). The Elite and BOR are once again in the drivers seat on the Klamath and some of those who once challenged their dominance are now doing their bidding or - as they say in politics - "carrying water" for them.

KlamBlog believes healing the current chasm separating the former allies who championed Klamath Salmon must be a prime objective; the current lack of unity among natural allies renders all of them less effective and is not in the interest of the River or Klamath Salmon.

The hubris of current leaders is the #1 factor preventing reconciliation.

The willful intransigence and lack of vision of entrenched leaders suggests that new leadership is needed on the Klamath. We predict those new leaders will emerge sometime during the next decade as it becomes clear to the people who these Deals really serve.

The new leaders will sweep away entrenched officials and their baggage and restore the Klamath Basin Coalition. When that happens, restoring Klamath Salmon and managing the River's ecosystems using the best available science will once again be the unified and unifying objective.  

In our view, that day cannot come too soon.


Anonymous said...

Why is is that only on topic is focused upon. What or why do you see agriculute in such a negative light. I don't want to see the salmon disappear and I don't want the rivers to parrish. From where i sit it seems that all you want is all the water for your special interests. Would that then put you in the enviro elite????

Felice Pace said...

This post focuses on the Bureau of Reclamation because the Bureau controls the water which could prevent a fish kill this year. The Irrigation Elite is working to keep BOR from putting more water into the Klamath River.

KlamBlog focuses on irrigated agriculture for two related reasons: 1.because irrigated agriculture consumes roughly 80% of the water diverted from the Klamath River and consumed; and 2. because ag interests have worked to block the full basin flow assessment needed to determine flows needed to restore and sustain Klamath, Shasta, Scott and Trinity aquatic ecosystems... including salmon.

The "Irrigation Elite" (here and in other western river basins) are working against salmon and to abolish the ancient Public Trust Doctrine. There is an "enviro elite" - but I'm not part of it.