Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Klamath Project Irrigators get full water delivery; Klamath Refuges get the shaft...again!

The US Bureau of Reclamation has released its 2014 Drought Plan for the Klamath Irrigation Project. The Plan responds to Upper Basin stream flows projected by the US Geological Service on May 1st at less than 25% of average within the Lost River Basin and at between 25% and 69% of the long-term average for streams discharging into Upper Klamath Lake.

In spite of a third year of drought, however, full irrigation deliveries will be made to irrigators in the Tule Lake Area of the Lost River Basin and some irrigators in the area just North of Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges. Other irrigators who receive water via the Bureau's Klamath Project will receive 1 acre foot of water this year which is about 1/3rd of what they would like to receive. Most of those irrigators, however, also have irrigation wells from which they will draw any additional water they need this growing season.

So, one way or another, irrigators within the federal Klamath Project will not experience drought this year; they will be able to farm as if precipitation and snowpack were at normal levels.

Once again, however, Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges - while not mentioned at all in the Bureau's Drought Plan Press Release - will not receive water this summer. Once again permanent and seasonal marshes on these refuges will be bone dry while surrounding fields are green and growing.

Dewatered marshes surrounded by green fields is a common sight
at Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges
(Photos by Brett Cole) 

In a just West, water shortages are shared equitably among users; but in the Klamath River Basin things are different. Within the Bureau-operated Klamath Project, drought has been all but abolished for a select group of irrigators who happen to also be the most wealthy and politically well-connected Klamath Basin irrigators. That is why KlamBlog has dubbed those folks The Irrigation Elite

Through a complex web of family corporations, trusts and leases, irrigators 
 like John Crawford control thousands of acres in the bed of  the former Tule 
Lake. The political influence of the Klamath Basin Irrigation Elite is also large.

Greasing the Irrigation Gears

Full irrigation water delivery for the Irrigation Elite in the face of a third year of drought is possible because the KBRA Water Deal has provided corrupt "wink and nod" implementation of the ESA within the Klamath River Basin. Post-KBRA ESA consultations ignore the findings and recommendations of two independent science panels established by the National Research Council which is part of the nation's highest science body. Independent NRC scientists found that there was no scientific justification for maintaining high water levels in Upper Klamath Lake in order to provide for the ESA-endangered Kuptu and Tsuam (aka Lost River and Shortnose suckers). In fact, the science panel pointed out that years when reproduction of these endangered fishes was relatively good corresponded to lower - not higher - Upper Klamath Lake water levels.

Nevertheless, high lake levels continue to be prescribed as an ESA measure by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The real reason this continues to be done has nothing to do with the ESA. High Upper Klamath Lake levels result in maximum irrigation deliveries to federal irrigators. Former US Fish & Wildlife officials responsible for continuing ESA measures which result in maximum irrigation deliveries have been rewarded by the Irrigation Elite; one former official has been awarded a place on the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) Board of Directors. KWUA is a tool of the Irrigation Elite.

In similar fashion, the National Marine Fisheries Service continues to ignore recommendations of the second NRC independent science panel. Those scientists said that the methodology used to determine Klamath River flow needs for ESA-listed Coho salmon had been misapplied. They called for a "basin-wide" flow assessment in order to properly determine Coho flow needs. That was back in 2008; but NMFS has taken no action to implement the needed study. Instead Klamath flows have been set at the bare minimum which will prevent "jeopardy". That all but guarantees Klamath River salmon stocks will not recover but will remain perpetually on lists of threatened, endangered and at-risk species.

Tribes are no help

It is settled law that, where they hold treaty or reserved rights related to fisheries, federal Native American tribes have a right to sufficient water to keep the fish to which they have a right in a condition in which those fish can provide a "moderate living" to tribal members. That amount of water is well in excess of what can be obtained for fish via the ESA. The ESA can prevent "jeopardy" for listed species but it cannot provide for recovery of ESA-listed species. Federal ESA Recovery Plans are voluntary; they have no regulatory force. Treaty and reserved tribal rights, on the other hand, have the full force of law; compliance with those rights can be compelled via federal courts.

That means those Klamath River Basin Tribes which have treaty or reserved rights and which have signed the KBRAi have traded away their rights to the amount of water needed for recovery of Coho salmon, Kuptu and Tsuam for other considerations, including funding for tribal government programs and for fish "restoration". Leaders of these tribes have been persuaded that - when it comes to fish recovery - money for "restoration" can be substituted for water flowing in our rivers and streams.

Both the KBRA and the more recent Upper Basin Water Agreement project substantial decreases in demand for irrigation water. Both deals call for relying on federal funding to retire water rights above Upper Klamath Lake through purchase from "willing sellers". Promoters of the deals speak as if those demand reductions had already been achieved. KlamBlog believes, however, that willing sellers will not materialize; who in their right mind would sell their water rights in today's West? A much better strategy is to hold onto the water rights and lease them to other farmers or for in-stream flows as is currently taking place in the Scott River Basin and in other places in California. Demand reduction under the KBRA and Upper Basin Agreement is pie-in-the-sky.

Those who know Klamath and Pacific Salmon issues are familiar with the statement that for so-and-so tribe "salmon is everything". When viewed in light of the actual deals struck by these tribes, however, it can be seen that the statement is political rhetoric detached from on-the-ground reality. As for any government entity, the first priority of a tribal government is to maintain funding for government operations. Since most tribes are dependent on the federal government to fund their government's operations, the tribes are in a weak and compromised position going into negotiations with the feds.

KlamBlog believes the basic power dynamic in relations between tribes and the federal government explains why western federal tribes have, for the most part, agreed to water deals which trade water rights - or the ability to exercise those rights - worth billions of dollars for the modern equivalent of a handful of beads. Historians will not look kindly upon these water settlements whereby, in most cases, the Native Americans are again being taken to the cleaners with the responsible tribal leaders either clueless or in collusion. 

No solution

The Klamath Water Deals seek to resolve the Basin's water conflicts by persuading Congress to balance water supply and demand on the backs of the Klamath's wildlife refuges, through corrupt ESA administration and by pie-in-the-sky water demand reduction. If the architects of those deals get their way, drought will remain abolished for the Irrigation Elite and will be perpetuated for the Klamath Wildlife refuges. In KlamBlog's view that is not just or balanced. A solution that is not just and balanced can only deepen conflicts, not resolve them.  


i    The only Klamath River Basin Tribe with treaty rights is the Klamath Tribes (one federal tribal government made up of three district tribal ethnicities). The Hoopa, Yurok, Resighini and Quartz Valley Tribes have reservations and, as a result, have potential reserved rights to fish and the water needed to keep those fisheries in good condition. The Karuk Tribe has no reservation and therefore no reserved rights. The Klamath, Yurok and Karuk Tribes have signed the KBRA and Upper Basin Agreements; the Hoopa, Quartz Valley and Resighini Tribes have rejected those deals.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

US Bureau of Reclamation's responsibility is not only to the farmers, it is to the general public, in this case to the National Wildlife Refuges, too. Water is essential to the Refuges. BOR has a responsibility to maintain the Refuges for the benefit of the waterfowl that have aneed for the refuges.