Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hot Rhetoric: Scott River irrigator attacks KlamBlog's chief writer

KlamBlog has been getting quite a bit of feedback on our last post - the one titled -  Illegal Irrigation in the Scott River Valley is blocking salmon access - and not just in comments on our blog site. Readers will remember that our post features a letter to California Governor Jerry Brown from KlamBlog's editor and chief writer, Felice Pace. That letter stirred up a hornets nest in Siskiyou County. 

Our post - and Felice's letter to Governor Brown - allege illegal operation of the Farmers Ditch in the Upper Scott River Valley. We claim - and document with photos - that the Farmers Ditch is taking the entire flow of the Scott River, dewatering the river below. The dewatered section of Scott River below Farmers Ditch prevents Chinook Salmon from reaching prime spawning grounds in the upper Scott River Watershed.

Felice’s letter asks Governor Brown to intervene in order to stop the illegal dewatering of the Scott River.

Fowle flack  

One of the critiques of our claim - and Felice's letter to Governor Brown - is in a blog post on the website of Scott Valley rancher Jeff Fowle.  Fowle's post - and a longer letter to the governor which he drafted - make several statement about what Felice does and does not know. In the blog post Fowle calls Felice a liar, not once but several times. For example: "Mr. Pace is aware of this ability and is deliberately lying…despicable." 

In his blog post, Mr. Fowle also states with assurance that Felice trespassed on private property and that he is aware of local irrigation options that do not involve use of the Farmers Ditch. Both claims are made up. 

KlamBlog does not have time to debunk all this fellows "Felice claims" and frankly, so many folks in Strange (aka Siskiyou) County make up things about Felice and claim to know his motives that we find the whole topic terribly boring. We will, however, set the record straight on Mr. Fowle's claims about how Farmers Ditch is operated by himself and the other owners.

In his blog post Jeff Fowle makes this statement:
           Mr. Pace’s allegations are fallacious and lack truth and basis….period.  The water right holders on the Farmers Ditch have not irrigated past October 15th. 
Below is a photo showing flood irrigation from the Farmer's Ditch on October 31st, 2005 - 15 days after legal irrigation ended. This photo was presented to the SWRCB in 2007.   

Who's "lying"?  

In his blog post Jeff Fowle also calls Felice's claim that 200,000 salmonids died one spring when Farmers Ditch was turned on and the river was dewatered "far-fetched at best" and adds that "no communication from any state agency was ever received regarding any such instance." 

Fowle may actually be telling the truth about "no communication from any state agency" having been received by Farmers Ditch irrigators. The large fish kill KlamBlog cited was not handled by a state agency; rather it was referred to the Siskiyou County DA who did nothing except tell the irrigators to hire a new ditch tender. We're betting Farmers Ditch folks did receive a letter at the time - not from the state but from the Siskiyou County DA. The DA is not, of course, employed by a "state agency." This is artful use of language by Mr. Fowle.

Fowle claims ignorance about fish kills associated with Scott Valley irrigation diversions. Yet the fact of regular, yearly fish kills in many Scott Valley locations when irrigators dewater streams has been common knowledge in his community for decades now. In fact, the California Department of Fish & Wildlife regularly conducts "fish rescue" operations below and even within the Farmers Ditch and several other Scott Valley irrigation diversions. 
The dewatered bed of Scott River below Farmers Ditch. CDFW regularly "rescues" 
young salmon stranded here when Farmers Ditch is turned on in the spring

California taxpayers fund "fish rescue" in the Scott River Valley. As we've discussed in not one but two previous posts, "fish rescue" is of questionable benefit to salmon. But it does protect Mr. Fowle and other irrigators who dewater streams from potential prosecution for "take" of Coho Salmon. This is emblematic of the perverse incentives government provides farmers and ranchers. In essence "fish rescue" rewards the "bad actors" among irrigators; what government should be doing is rewarding the good actors. 

Felice responds
Felice has responded to the letter to Governor Brown which Mr. Fowle drafted with another of his own in which he takes on the claims and accusations in Fowle's letter. Felice's new letter to California Governor Jerry Brown is reprinted at the end of this post. 
Also reprinted at the end of this post is an article from the San Francisco Chronicle reporting on the regular fish kills which occur each year in Siskiyou County's Scott and Shasta River Valleys when irrigation diversions are turned on. The article was written in 2001. Since then some irrigators in the Scott and Shasta River Valleys have worked with the California Department of Fish & Wildlife to provide adequate by-pass flows at their stream diversions. Other irrigators - like those who operate the Farmers Ditch - have continued to dewater streams below their diversion. 

Good, Bad and Ugly
Unlike Fowle and the others who own and operate Farmers Ditch, there are irrigators in these valleys who take their legal responsibilities seriously even when the state does not enforce the law. It is too bad that Fowle and his ilk give all Siskiyou County irrigators such a bad reputation. 
Jeff Fowle's allegations about Felice are taken from a letter he drafted which was sent to Governor Brown with the hope of discrediting Felice's prior letter to the governor - the one KlamBlog previously published. But Fowle doesn't even cop to that on his blog! Instead of being up front, Jeff Fowle prefers to call names. 

On his blog, Jeff Fowle calls Felice a "liar" not once but several times. Are Mr. Fowle's claims like the proverbial "pot calling the kettle black"?

Consider the evidence and judge for yourself.


Here's Felice's new letter to Governor Brown:

Dear Governor Brown,

A couple of weeks ago I wrote to you about the plight of salmon in the Scott River Valley in part due to one irrigation ditch - the Farmers Ditch - taking the full flow of the Scott River and dewatering the River below the intake in violation of California F&G Code 5937. I also alleged that pastures were being irrigated from the ditch after October 15th in violation of the Scott River Adjudication Decree.

It has come to my attention that one Jeff Fowle has subsequently also written to you claiming to debunk and discredit what I've stated about the operation of the Farmers Ditch. In that letter Mr. Fowle makes false and slanderous statements about me. I would like to set the record straight:

     Mr. Fowle said: "What Mr. Pace failed to mention, was that the staff gauge at the headgate, where he trespassed on private property to take several of his pictures, read 6.8 cfs, hardly a 'full ditch'."
     I did not trespass on private property. I never went to the Farmers Ditch headgate although I could have gone there legally via the bed of Scott River. All the photos I took were taken from county road rights of way.

     Mr. Fowle said: "The two ranches, of the ten that have a water right on the Farmers Ditch, that have green grass, began pumping water from below the ditch, up the hill to irrigate. The other eight are dry and have no forage. Mr. Pace is aware of this ability and is deliberately lying…despicable. In fact, it was because of the lack of ditch water that the two ranches installed pipe from below the ditch in order to deliver water to fields for irrigation when the ditch ran dry. Mr. Pace was fully aware of both of these projects occurring, the first over five years ago. "
     I was not aware of the "ability" to pump water to these fields and I did not lie. However, from what Mr. Fowle has said, I suspect these "projects" were federal taxpayer-funded USDA EQIP projects which were supposed to save water, not to give irrigators options to use even more water.  

     Mr. Fowle said: "No communication from any state agency was ever received regarding any such instance (i.e., the death of 200,000 salmonids when the ditch was turned on some years back). The one occasion that we are aware of, when a couple of salmon were stranded and died, occurred when the CDFG failed to trap survivors when the river was drying up, due to a holiday."
     The death of an estimated 200,000 salmon - including CESA listed Coho - did occur. However, the case was referred to the Siskiyou County DA who gave the irrigators a slap on the wrist (the ditch-tender had to be changed). Of course the DA would have communicated with the irrigators about the fish kill - but the DA is not from a "state agency." This is artful use of language by Mr. Fowle.

     Mr. Fowle wrote: "Mr. Pace’s allegations are fallacious and lack truth and basis…period.  The water right holders on the Farmers Ditch have not irrigated past October 15th. In fact, there have only been two years out of the past twelve that we have actually had enough water in the ditch to irrigate later than September 10th."

Here is the link to a photo showing flood irrigation from the Farmer's Ditch on October 31st, 2005 - 15 days after legal irrigation ended. This photo was presented to the SWRCB in 2007.  

Mr. Governor, I have not yet received a response to my first e-mail in which I ask you to get to the bottom of what is going on with the Farmers Ditch. This ditch is a big part of the reason the best run of Chinook Salmon we've seen in years will not reach spawning grounds in the Upper Scott River Basin. If the illegal use of this ditch is not ended soon, it is likely to result in extirpation of Chinook Salmon from the Upper Scott River Basin where many investments in habitat restoration have been made.  


Here's the 2001 clip from the SF Chronicle:

Young fish die as water laws go unenforced: Ranchers' cooperation threatened

SF Chronicle
Glen Martin, Tom Stienstra, Chronicle Staff Writers
Friday, June 22, 2001

Irrigation by ranchers is decimating salmon and steelhead populations on California's second biggest river system, and Department of Fish and Game officials acknowledge they are not implementing a tough state law that could stop the diversions.

Ranchers have diverted most of the flow of the Scott and Shasta Rivers in Siskiyou County to irrigate alfalfa fields and pastures, leaving thousands of young salmon and steelhead without enough water and facing imminent death.

State game wardens generally are disposed to citing the diverters under Fish and Game Code 5937, which requires dam owners to maintain water in state streambeds sufficient to keep fish healthy.

But agency officials say they are being told not to cite offenders out of concern that cooperative restoration projects between the state and ranchers on the Scott and Shasta Rivers would end instantly if the law were enforced.

The controversy points out difficulties with cooperative programs between government agencies and private parties.

Though such agreements can help resolve thorny environmental problems, they may also inhibit agencies from cracking down on private sector partners.

Warden Renie Cleland said he was told to back off from citing ranchers on the Scott and Shasta rivers.

"This has gone all the way to Sacramento," said Cleland. "It's extremely politically sensitive. I was told to take no enforcement action on it. These fish are dying. We've got five or six thousand steelhead trout dead on the Scott, and (dead juvenile steelhead) everywhere on the Shasta."


The Scott and Shasta are major tributaries of the Klamath River, which is second only to the Sacramento River in its dimensions and the number of fish it supports.

The Klamath and its tributaries once supported hundreds of thousands of chinook salmon, coho salmon and steelhead trout. Their numbers began declining in the mid-20th century from dams, agricultural irrigation and timber harvesting. By the mid-1980s, only a few thousand fish were left -- mostly on the Scott and Shasta.

During the past decade, efforts to screen agricultural pump intakes, reduce soil erosion, restore riparian forests and transport fish trapped in "dewatered" streambeds have bolstered the fish populations somewhat.


But conflict between environmentalists and ranchers over diversions has simmered for years. Ranchers exercising water rights adjudicated in the 1930s typically lower the rivers through irrigation during the summer.

This year, a severe local drought has greatly increased the degree of the problem. The Scott has been sucked dry, and the Shasta reduced to a trickle at its juncture with the Klamath.

Temperatures in the river have reached or exceeded the level considered lethal for salmon species, which favor cold water. Thousands of fish have died, and thousands of others face imminent death, making the pumping a clear violation of Code 5937.

"Everything has died," said Fish and Game Captain Chuck Konvalin of the Scott River. "The system has been dried up."

Konvalin, who heads a team of wardens who operate in the north state, says their superiors are reigning them in.

"This thing is out of whack," said Konvalin. "I get my orders."

Gary Stacey, a fisheries program director for Fish and Game who oversees projects in the Klamath area, said enforcing Code 5937 would "slam the door" on meaningful restoration programs along the Scott and Shasta, which cost $25 million a year.

"All our current programs depend on landowner cooperation," he said. "That would all stop immediately if we pulled the trigger. And the process involved in filing and prosecuting a case like this could take years -- years the fish don't have.

"By taking strong law enforcement action, we could simply be assuring that the (fish) populations would wink out."


Ranchers confirm they would scrap all cooperative ventures with the state if they were cited by game wardens, and say they are guaranteed diversion rights by court rulings made decades ago.

Gary Black, who diverts Scott River water to irrigate alfalfa and wheat on his 240-acre farm, said ranchers would respond to voluntary incentives to improve fish populations but would resist government fiat.

"We're looking for win-win situations," said Black, who helps direct a local resource conservation district that promotes fish-friendly agricultural methods. "I've worked with more than half the farmers in the Scott Valley.

Everyone is willing to do their part for fishery protection -- the question becomes how far is too far."

Still, "flows remain the number one issue, and this is a good time to sit down and talk," Black said. "That will work better around here than getting out the citation book."

©2001 San Francisco Chronicle

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