Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Wyden Hearing Message: How will Klamath River Basin leaders respond?

Thanks to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, Klamath water issues finally received a hearing in Congress. Sadly, however, the hearing produced little that is least not from the witnesses. Leaders from state, tribal and county government, federal and private irrigation and environmental groups repeated the same tired old arguments once again. Plenty of “press” resulted but little that could be termed real “news”.

What was new came not from the testimony (which you can read on line) but rather from Senator Wyden. For one thing, the Senator announced that irrigation interests served by the US Bureau of Reclamation would receive cheap, federal power courtesy of the Bonneville Power Administration. This will provide federal irrigation interests with a competitive advantage over private irrigators in the Upper Basin, Shasta and Scott Valleys. It is another example of why we call these federally-served irrigation interests the Basin's Irrigation Elite

Massively Inefficient: three of dozens of energy guzzling pumps used by Klamath 
Project Irrigators to move water and wastewater to and from subsided fields

Senator Wyden appears to reject the KBRA as a viable solution. In his remarks opening the senate hearing (also available online) he noted that the KBRAis making a big difference for the on-project irrigators. But the fact is hundreds of farm households and citizens have been left behind.

Wyden backed that up at another point: 
          ...all parties should have a chance to have input before the committee advances any legislation and I state that whether or not they have been for the previous agreements or have differing views.

The Senator noted that “the KBRA and essentially what has been agreed to at this point is simply unaffordable in the current federal budget environment.”

When Senator Wyden announced that the Irrigation Elite and Reclamation had obtained access to inexpensive federal power, he offered support for similar lower power rates for private irrigators. By this he meant irrigators above Upper Klamath Lake; no one has suggested that irrigators in the Shasta and Scott Valleys also receive Bonneville power. And the Senator committed tositting downwithbasin interests to find a long term solution that reflects both the anticipated water supply in the years to comeand theeconomic issuesfaced byfamily farmers. 

Senator Wyden concluded his opening remarks with a commitment:
           I want everybody to understand that we are going to stay at this, we are going to stay at it until we find a solution this time.

A true “solution” would need to include another attempt to reduce irrigation demand which currently consumes over 80% of the water diverted from the Klamath River, Klamath Lake and tributaries. Back in 2002 Wyden advanced a provision in the Senate-passed Farm Bill which would have – among other things – reduced demand for Klamath River Water by purchasing and retiring water rights from willing sellers. That provision, however, was cut from the bill which became the 2002 Farm Bill.

What remained in the 2002 Farm Bill was $50 million dollars to improve on-farm irrigation efficiency with the promises of leaving more water for fish and wildlife. Known as Klamath EQIP, that Farm Bill program gave $50 million to irrigators in the Upper Basin, Shasta and Scott Valleys. As KlamBlog documented, much of that money was used to drill new wells, buy new pumps and extend groundwater irrigation to new land. As a result it is likely that Klamath EQIP – while promising to reduce irrigation water use – actually increased use of water by irrigation interests.

 This Klamath EQIP Project in Scott Valley provided federal funding to extend 
groundwater irrigation and the irrigation season on this low value pasture land

What the KBRA has – and has not - delivered

Senator Wyden was correct in noting that the KBRA has delivered benefits to irrigators within the Bureau of Reclamation's Klamath Irrigation Project but not to other interests. Benefits to the Irrigation Elite include a new approach by Reclamation to managing Upper Klamath Lake, a new biological opinion on operation of the Klamath Irrigation Project, an agreement to transfer Keno Dam and Reservoir to Reclamation, a new Drought Plan and – above all else - funding to create and operate the Klamath Water and Power Agency (KWAPA). These all have been crafted and serve to maximize irrigation water delivery within the Klamath Irrigation Project at the lowest possible price.

On the other hand, other KBRA promised benefits - including higher spring river flows for salmon and water for the Klamath Refuges - have failed to materialize. Flows in the Klamath River have been cut in fall, winter and spring and, since the KBRA was signed, Klamath Basin Wildlife Refuges have been used by Reclamation as water storage facilities to be filled or drained not based on the needs of wildlife but in order to maximize irrigation water delivery. 

Under cover of the KBRA, the Bureau of Reclamation has used the Klamath Refuges 
as reservoirs to be filled or drained in order to maximize irrigation water delivery 

The KBRA's failure to deliver for the River and Klamath Salmon has been recognized by one of the main promoters of the KBRA – the Yurok Tribe – which recently filed a KBRA dispute alleging that the benefits to the River it “bargained for” in the KBRA were being denied to it by the State of Oregon. We'll soon see if the KBRA's dispute resolution process produces any more water in the Klamath River. Given Oregon water law and the new Biological Opinion on Klamath Project operations, however, more water for Klamath Salmon looks doubtful at best.

Judging the KBRA not by the rhetoric and promises of its promoters but by what has actually been accomplished, KlamBlog concludes that the agreement has delivered for federal irrigation interests but not for salmon or the refuges. Judging from their reaction, many of the Basin's non-federal irrigators – like Senator Wyden - also find the KBRA does not deliver for them. Any deal which delivers for federal irrigation interests at the expense of the river, refuges and private irrigation interests is doomed to create more, not less, conflict. And that is exactly what the KBRA has done. 
                          Graph of  Discharge, cubic feet per second
 Under "cover" of the KBRA and with the support of some self-styled 
 "Klamath Salmon Defenders" flows in the Klamath River have been  
cut far below the long-term average in fall, winter and spring

Klamath contradictions

Senator Wyden is among a growing number of politicians who recognizes that the KBRA is not a viable solution. In light of that reality, the leaders who crafted the KBRA face a choice: They can continue down the KBRA path – cutting out some of the pork and making a few concessions to irrigation interests above Upper Klamath Lake - and hope year-after-year that legislation will pass and bring the promised “balance” - or those leaders can chart a new, more balanced course now.

Judging from their testimony to Senator Wyden, most basin leaders appear incapable of letting go of the KBRA – either as “solution” or “bogey man”. These leaders can't even agree on how to fix the agreement's most obvious flaws. And that is not even considering the KHSA Dam Deal which, as they stated clearly in testimony to Senator Wyden, California officials have linked to the fate of the water tunnels they want to build around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Those who understand California water politics, believe the tunnels are intended to someday carry more Klamath-Trinity water to San Joaquin Valley agribusiness. California politicians hope popular dam removal and the promise of Klamath Salmon restoration will be just the ticket to sell their latest water scam to voters.

The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen and other promoters of the Klamath Deals want to ignore that connection just as they avoid the question of who would step forward as a “dam removal entity” should the KHSA be endorsed by Congress. 

PCFFA's Glen Spain once chaired an environmental-fishermen-tribal coalition 
which he helped destroy via the KBRA. He is now one the Deal's main promoters

The path to Klamath solutions

Senator Wyden says the KBRA will not fly; that a new approach is needed. He asked all those for and against the KBRA to once again come together to forge an agreement which is politically viable because it is more balanced. Now we will see how the leaders who crafted the KBRA and linked it to the KHSA – as well as those who built careers opposing the deals - respond.

Here KlamBlog will offer a prediction: Those leaders who do not adapt to the new reality - those who insist on hanging on to the KBRA and KHSA – will steadily lose credibility and, sooner or later, they will be replaced. KlamBlog hopes the leaders spare us that grief and adapt now.

In disunity there is weakness

Division among those who care about the Klamath River and Klamath Salmon and the abandonment of the best available science in favor of political deal making has allowed the US Bureau of Reclamation to control KBRA implementation. Once again Reclamation is allocating Klamath River water as it sees fit; but now it also controls federal restoration funding decisions. As should have been expected, Reclamation has used the control provided to it by the KBRA to serve the Irrigation Elite it created and nurtures.

History here and in river basins across the West teaches that the only counterweight to Reclamation control of a river is unity among those who really care about that river. The KBRA shattered that unity on the Klamath; leaders are needed capable of restoring it.

KlamBlog looks for that leadership to emerge from the Yurok, Hoopa and Karuk Tribes leading to a unified position by all six of the Basin's federal tribes. If the tribes can come together, local environmental groups will support them and the outcome will be positive for the River and Klamath Salmon. Without a strong and unified tribal position, Reclamation will likely continue to call the shots and the River – along with the Refuges – will continue to suffer.

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