Thursday, February 21, 2013

On-line book focuses on the Lower Klamath and Tule Lake Refuges

Brett Cole is a professional photographer whose work has focused on "wetlands and wild birds, endangered baboons, tropical and temperate forests, and cultural, social, and environmental topics in India and Peru." Cole has worked for and with "a variety of environmental and humanitarian NGOs in different countries" including The Nature Conservancy, Cambridge Conservation Initiative and World Wildlife Fund.

Cole has a couple of books in print. He has also self- published seven photography books (with accompanying original essays) on line, including one focused on Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges. These books contain gorgeous and evocative images which Cole makes available to conservationists and utilizes himself to promote the appreciation of nature and to advance the work of conservation.  Here is one of Brett Cole's Klamath Refuge photos: 

Ducks at Sunrise, Lower Klamath NWR, Brett Cole Photo

If you read Brett Cole's book on the Klamath Refuges, you will soon recognize that he is not your typical photographer. Brett Cole has the soul of an activist-artist - one who wants to use his art to advance social and environmental justice.

While Cole's refuge photos include many celebrating the beauty of birds, other wildlife, wetlands and landscapes, he has also published numerous images focused on the industrial-scale commercial agriculture which occurs on Lower Klamath and Tule Lake Refuges. In his on-line book, Cole makes clear throughout that he thinks industrial agriculture on national wildlife refuge land must end. But he also projects restoration of wetlands on Tulelake and Lower Klamath Refuges as a win-win:

          "The Lower Klamath and Tule Lake Refuges provide perhaps the single most exciting and profound habitat restoration projects in the western United States. The next decade could be a time of incredible excitement and positive change in the Klamath Basin with all parties coming out ahead."  

Farming on the Klamath NWRs - photos and collage by Brett Cole

On the last page of Brett Cole's on line book "Klamath: Western America's Greatest Wetlands" he encourages readers to get involved with Comprehensive Conservation Planning for the Klamath Refuges. The Plan which will include Lower Klamath Refuge and Tule Lake Refuge is due to be completed in 2013. 

Cole suggests that those who care about the Klamath Refuges stay involved via the web site of Oregon Wild

Led by naturalist-activist Wendell Wood, Oregon Wild is far and away the leader in bringing attention to the plight of the Klamath Refuges - including the irony of dewatered marshes while commercial agricultural lease lands on the refuges receive full irrigation water delivery. Oregon Wild's web site includes lots of information on the refuges as well as a page with updates on Klamath River Basin issues and developments.   

American avocets (Recurvirostra americana) foraging, Lower Klamath Refuge, CA
Photo by Brett Cole

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Bureau of Reclamation cuts Klamath River and Refuge water again in a non-drought year

According to the USGS drought monitoring site, the Klamath River Basin is not in drought. In fact, with the exception of the eastern portion of the Lost River Sub-Basin, the Klamath River Basin is not even abnormally dry so far this year.

That has not, however, deterred the US Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) from again declaring a bureaucratic drought in the Basin. Reclamation's “Projection of Klamath Project February 2013 Operations” declares that, because the water level in Upper Klamath Lake has not met the desired “target” elevation, higher spring flows in the Klamath River – as promised by the KBRA Water Deal and the 2010 Coho Biological Opinion - will once again not be provided. Furthermore, Reclamation has again informed managers of Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges that they will receive little to no water this spring. That means many marshes on which 80% of the birds migrating through the Pacific Flyway depend will once again be dry this year.

This has too often been the dominant scene on Lower Klamath NWR

KlamBlog documented the same situation last winter resulting in a massive die-off of refuge birds and in 2010 we analyzed how Reclamation's water planning procedures had been manipulated to facilitate the creation of "bureaucratic droughts" in order to cut river and refuge flows and maximize irrigation water diversion and delivery. 

The KBRA fails to deliver 

Higher spring flows in the Klamath River and a set water allocation for the Klamath Refuges were supposed to be two of the main benefits received by environmental interests via the KBRA in exchange for a guaranteed first-in-line water supply for federal irrigation interests. While many aspects of the KBRA – including first priority for federal irrigation and funding for federal irrigators to secure cheap power - have been implemented, the promised enhanced spring river flows and the promised secure refuge water supply have not been forthcoming. Instead each year since the KBRA was completed, Lower Klamath Refuge has been dewatered and higher spring flows to help salmon outmigration and to lower salmon disease rates have not been supplied.

In spite of the bad faith shown by Reclamation and the Irrigation Elite, Trout Unlimited, Cal Trout and other KBRA promoters continue to support the deal; much like many individuals trapped in abusive relationships, these groups instead defend and make excuses for the abuser. 

Bureaucratic cowardice 

Reclamation prioritizes filling Upper Klamath Lake as early in the year as possible because that maximizes irrigation water deliveries the following summer as demanded by federal Irrigation Interests. That means, even in years of normal precipitation, the KBRA promised higher spring flows and promised sure water supply for the refuges are not provided. This is what KlamBlog has previously called “the Brave New World” of Klamath River Basin water management in the KBRA era: irrigation first and empty promises for the River and the Refuges.

So far the agencies responsible for Klamath River Basin fish and wildlife – the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, California Department of Fish & Wildlife and Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife – have gone along with Reclamation's return to irrigation-first management under cover of the KBRA. That is what typically happens when politicians make deals; in spite of whistleblower and civil service protections, bureaucrats rarely raise objections when their political bosses condone violation of the very laws the bureaucrats have sworn to faithfully uphold. 

Let your voice be heard 

Whatever your views on water management in the Klamath River Basin in the KBRA era, consider letting the newly nominated Secretary of Interior - REI President Sally Jewell – know what you think. While Jewell has not yet been confirmed, messages directed to her at the US Department of Interior will be delivered. Here's the link to the Department of Interior's “contact us” page.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The KHSA's fatal flaw: will a little discussed provision frustrate dam removal?

Regular readers of this blog will know that, in order for it to be implemented, the deal known as the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement or KHSA must be authorized by federal legislation. Enacting federal legislation is necessary because the KHSA abandons the normal legal process by which hydroelectric dams and related powerhouses are licensed, relicensed or decommissioned (removed or breached).
Promoters argue that the KHSA is the swiftest, surest and best path to dam removal; others reason that the normal process under the Federal Power Act – a decommissioning deal supervised by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) - is the best path to removal.

While it is impossible to know with absolute assurance which path to decommissioning would prove quickest, surest and best, one thing is clear: a decommissioning agreement ordered and overseen by FERC could not include the costly and controversial water deal known as the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement or KBRA.

Absent inclusion in KHSA authorizing legislation, the KBRA would have to go it alone in Congress and would likely face even greater hurdles in the quest to become law. That's because most KBRA money provisions – including multi-million dollar funding for federal irrigation interests – will likely be seen in Congress as subsidies for special interests. With a huge federal deficit and myriad corporate, farm and other interests vying to maintain existing subsidies, prospects for securing new taxpayer-funded subsidies appear slim at best.

Even the KBRA's restoration funding qualifies as a subsidy because the KBRA directs that funding toward projects and locations favored by those who signed the agreement. As has been proven time and again (including in the Everglades, Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay and the in the former Klamath restoration effort), allocating restoration funding based on political rather than scientific criteria is a recipe for restoration failure.

What if?

What if, however, legislation to authorize and fund the KHSA overcomes all obstacles and becomes federal law? Would that legislation lead to speedy dam removal? KlamBlog thinks not and here's why:

Legislating the KHSA Dam Deal would absolve PacifiCorp and its shareholders from responsibility for removing or decommissioning the dams and powerhouses it owns. KHSA legislation would also absolve the Corporation from liability for toxic legacies. But the KHSA does not name the organization or government agency which would take over the task of facilities removal and assume legal responsibility for toxic legacies.

One of PacifiCorp's aging Klamath Powerhouses

Instead, the Agreement calls for a “Dam Removal Entity” or DRE which would presumably step forward once authorizing legislation becomes law. That begs two questions:
  • What sort of organization or government agency would be willing and able to take on dam removal and to accept legal responsibility for PacifiCorp's toxic legacies?
  • Even if a willing company, tribe or agency could be found, would that DRE be able to obtain bonding and insurance while accepting full responsibilities for dam removal and unassessed toxic legacies?
KlamBlog suspects obtaining bonding and insurance under those conditions would prove problematic. Bonding agencies and insurance companies are not in the habit of bonding and insuring unassessed liability; if they do it, the cost would likely be astronomical.

The DRE of last resort

What happens if KHSA-KBRA authorizing legislation passes but a capable, bondable and insurable Dam Removal Entity can't be found? In the absence of a capable DRE, the federal government is the Dam Removal Entity of last resort. It would be necessary to go back to Congress seeking authorization for the federal government to become the KHSA's “Dam Removal Entity”.

A federal DRE would mean a higher price tag for dam removal and powerhouse decommissioning; cleaning up toxic legacies lurking around 100 year old powerhouses could prove particularly expensive. Taxpayers would bear those costs. Avoiding potentially significant costs to decommission their dams and powerhouses is likely a prime reason PacifiCorp wanted a deal outside the FERC process.

As KlamBlog editor Felice Pace pointed out in a recent editorial, turning over toxic legacies to taxpayers is nothing new in the American West:
Walking away from toxic legacies is, of course, an old corporate trick. In Northern California and throughout the west, timber companies 'donated' old mill sites to local governments which later found that the fine print had absolved the company from liability for toxic legacies. Taxpayers had to pick up the bill for cleaning up those toxics.

KlamBlog suspects the KHSA's creators – including PacifiCorp – realize it is unlikely a non-federal DRE capable of decommissioning PacifiCorp's Klamath dams and powerhouses could be found. Have promoters intentionally obscured the likely federal role in dam removal if the KHSA is authorized by Congress?

Will promoters explain?

KlamBlog invites promoters of the KHSA Dam Deal - and especially PacifiCorp's Klamath spokesperson VP Dean Brockbank – to explain on this blog why their plan to have an unnamed “Dam Removal Entity” remove the dams, decommission the powerhouses and accept responsibility for toxic legacies is realistic. We offer to publish that explanation here on KlamBlog.

What do you think? If the KHSA is authorized by Congress will a Dam Removal Entity be found and, if found, would such an entity be able to secure insurance and bonding? Would the federal government be required to step forward as the DRE of last resort? And was that what KHSA promoters had in mind all along?

Leave a comment below. Let the debate begin and stay tuned!