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.

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