Friday, October 5, 2012

Fragmentation and Commercialization on the Klamath: Why greed and self-aggrandizement are in the ascendancy

It was not too long ago that those seeking restoration of the Klamath River and Klamath Salmon acted with one purpose – if not with one voice. That unity of purpose and action was not an accident; it was the product of many years of hard work forging partnerships and trust, formal and informal coalitions.

Unity on behalf of Salmon and the River was the key ingredient leading to the first ever reallocation of water from agriculture to in-stream uses in Klamath Country. Unity also played a key role in securing an order for fish ladders on PacifiCorp’s Klamath River dams; it is that requirement which rendered the Klamath Hydroelectric Project an annual money loser if relicensed.  And that, in turn, led to PacifiCorp seeking a dam removal deal.

 In 2004 united tribes, enviros and fishermen lined Rt 101 in Eureka and packed 
a hearing to pressure FERC to order removal of PacifiCorp's Klamath River Dams

United action by those seeking river and salmon restoration exposed contradictions in the disparate mandates of federal agencies. For the Bureau of Reclamation the mission is simple and direct: to serve the irrigators to whom it supplies water; for National Marine Fisheries and the US Fish and Wildlife Services the mission is to protect fish – especially those species listed as threatened and endangered pursuant to the federal Endangered Species Act. The coalition of tribes, enviros and fishermen, emphasized the contradictions in federal agency missions and mandates in strong challenges to federal management of Klamath water. 

Federal bureaucrats leading these agencies’ Klamath River Basin offices became desperate for a means to resolve the contradictions in mission and water management as they were playing out in Klamath Country.  Visionary leaders among those bureaucrats hatched a plan and sold it to their superiors. The feds proceeded to bring together various “interests” to resolve demands for Klamath water in a way which would also resolve the conflicting Klamath mandates of federal agencies.

Beginning with the “Chadwick Groups” the feds sought to utilize the human social imperative to resolve conflicts and promote compromise. By some measures their efforts have been successful: If they are authorized and funded by Congress, the KBRA and KHSA will resolve conflicting federal mandates and make it more difficult for anyone to challenge federal management of water and salmon in the Klamath River Basin.

Shattered Coalitions

It is ironic that the tools the feds created to resolve conflicting federal mandates – the KBRA Water Deal and the KHSA Dam Deal – also blew apart the unity which had existed within the Basin’s agricultural, tribal and environmental communities respectively.  Said another way, federal unity on the Klamath has created disunity among key Klamath interests.

This pattern – the feds engineering “agreements” which actually fragment and dissipate the power of those challenging federal policy - is nothing new for the nation or for the West. Alexander Cockburn is among those who decades ago called attention to what he called “coercive harmony” – especially as the approach was practiced by the Clinton Administration and Clinton’s Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. 

KlamBlog’s Felice Pace has written more recently about “coercive harmony” and other manipulative techniques used by the feds to persuade western tribes to trade away very valuable water rights for the modern equivalent of a handful of beads. 

The application of this federal  strategy in Klamath Country led to the KBRA and KHSA – the Klamath Water and Dam Deals. Applying that strategy here has also fragmented once-strong alliances; divide and conquer is a strategy nearly as old as the hills which has been employed successfully by the feds in Klamath Country. 

Fragmentation of efforts to protect and restore Klamath Country is on display this fall. One the one hand, Oregon Wild and its close allies are campaigning for more water for the Klamath’s world-renowned wildlife refuges; on the other, Klamath Riverkeeper calls for pressuring the Forest Service to secure the agency’s Scott River in-stream water right.

As of this writing the Scott is running at 18 cubic feet per second (cfs) up from a low of 11 cfs. The Forest Service in-stream water right calls for a minimum of 30 cfs to be left in the Scott River at this time of year. But the agency has so far been unwilling to ask a court or the State of California to make sure irrigators in Scott Valley are taking water illegally and thereby preventing the in-stream right from being met.

One of the Kidder Creek Ditches in Scott Valley. Several irrigators run their 
irrigation ditches full year around in violation of the Scott River Adjudication.
The California Department of Water Resources refuses to enforce the adjudication.

There is no indication that Oregon Wild and Klamath Riverkeeper are coordinating their Klamath work or even that they are each aware of the others initiatives.  Both efforts are likely to be ineffectual because there is no strong coalition to support and advance them.

Meanwhile water quality conditions on the Klamath are as bad or worse than they have ever been while responsible state and federal agencies plan a conference on water quality and fund development of a system for water quality “accounting” rather than actually regulating to reduce pollution.          

Cashing In

It seems that every month of so an individual or organization launches a new effort to cash in on the Klamath Dam and Water Deals or, more precisely, to cash in on the hype which the feds, the states of Oregon and Washington and some tribes and other interests have generated in support of the Deals.

The latest move to cash in comes from a politician who has previously served in the Oregon Legislature. Jason Atkinson says he grew up on the Klamath River and has been inspired by the Klamath Agreements – the KBRA and KHSA – to “share the story of an historic water-sharing agreement which will restore salmon, clean water and – most importantly – peace and prosperity, to one of the most beautiful regions in America.”

Atkinson and his collaborators are trying to raise $35,000 on line to fund development of a documentary on Klamath River restoration which he says “will be a model for the rest of the world.” Klamath River Basin residents have seen a lot of inflated rhetoric applied to the Klamath Agreements but this bunch tops the list for hyperbola!  

It is not readily apparent on the pitch pages created for fundraising, but this hoped-for promotional film promoting the Klamath deals and  masquerading as a “documentary” is a project of the Klamath Basin Rangeland Trust  – an upper basin organization that has been cashing in on “Klamath Restoration” for a long time. KlamBlog has not examined the group’s restoration work which may be 100% positive; but we do question whether yet another promotional video for the Klamath Deals is needed. After all, we already have one such documentary which continues to be shown on public TV stations across the county.

River of Renewal is not nearly as self-promotional as Atkinson’s effort and it has won a prize as well, but it too adopted a promotional approach to the Klamath Agreements, misrepresenting the deals’ origins in the bowels of the federal bureaucracy and failing to disclose the real winners and losers. KlamBlog would like to see a truly independent documentary made about the Klamath. So far all we have seen is promotional “documentaries” by individuals who may be well meaning but who have already decided what the message will be before doing deep research. In our book that is advertizing, not documentary film making. 

No surprise

Perhaps the fact that there is another set of individuals wanting to cash in on the Klamath is not that surprising; that is, after all, what many of the KBRA’s “parties” have been trying to do both in the agreements and ever since the deals were signed. One aspect of the KBRA Water Deal, for example, would lock in allocation of federal “restoration” funds in order to assure that those funds go to tribes and other entities which have signed the KBRA.  More recently, KBRA parties have also been hard at work feting big foundations whom they hope will pour money into their effort to get the deals through Congress. 

Feathering one’s own nest at the expense of the collective good has become the dominant mode of operation for most Klamath Basin leaders. That sort of thing is catching; no surprise then that greed and self-aggrandizement have come to be the Basin’s dominant modus operandi.  

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