Thursday, July 20, 2017

Irrigation Elite and Klamath Tribes are still working to secure KBRA benefits

The Klamath River Basin's Irrigation Elite, which includes rich and politically well-connected federal irrigators in the Lower Klamath and Tule Lake Areas and a handful of rich cattlemen whose operations are above Upper Klamath Lake as well as in California's Central Valley, have not given up trying to obtain the water certainty and subsidies which their lawyer wrote into the KBRA Water Deal. Instead those rich and dominant irrigators are now looking to a Republican-controlled Congress and the Trump Administration to obtain advantages, subsidies and what they most desire, to keep the Upper Klamath River Basin a place where the federal Endangered Species Act is not enforced with respect to agricultural operations.

The Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) represents those members of the Irrigation Elite who get cheap federal water subsidized by US taxpayers. The Klamath Falls Herald and News reported recently that, with the help of Oregon's two senators and California's Diane Feinstein, KWUA has secured provisions in federal legislation recently introduced in the Senate which, if the legislation becomes law, will:
  • Permanently authorize the marketing of federal irrigation water with receipts going to irrigators rather than the federal treasury,
  • Transfer millions of dollars in flume replacement cost from federal irrigators to taxpayers,
  • Direct the U.S. Department of the Interior to reduce power costs for irrigators in the Klamath Project, and
  • Eliminate requirements for using federal canals, pumps and other facilities to convey groundwater that irrigators want to sell on the open market.
One of several wells and large pumps right on the Cal-Oregon border 
which California taxpayers provided to Tule Lake Irrigation District in
a political brokered budget deal. TID now markets water pumped from 
these wells and seeks legislation to make those sales more profitable.

All American Agriculture is heavily subsidized; but the Klamath Basin's federal irrigators have been extraordinarily successful in obtaining benefits and subsidies worth tens of millions that are not available to most other agricultural operations. Democratic and Republican members of Congress alike appear eager to do the bidding of these rich growers. Generous political donations fuel that eagerness in a country which has the best government that money can buy.

Klamath Tribes lobby Trump appointees

Meanwhile the Klamath Tribes have been meeting with Interior Secretary Zinke and other Trump appointees in hopes of securing a deal that trades the Tribes' hard won in-stream fisheries water rights for funds to purchase land.  The tribal government's agenda has long been to get back into the timber business which ended when the Tribes' reservation was terminated in the 1960s. The former reservation became the Winema National Forest so that it would not be necessary to pay the Tribes for the timber.

Comprised of three tribal groups united in one tribal government, the Klamath Tribes are also considering getting into the marijuana business.

Fight over Klamath Refuges heats up

The Klamath's federal Irrigation Elite has long controlled what does and does not take place on the Klamath River Basin's federal wildlife refuges. They pulled off a coup in the 1960s with passage of a special law that made Tule Lake and Lower Klamath Refuges the only federal wildlife refuges in the country on which commercial agriculture is allowed.

Because it provides very little benefit to wildlife, most of the conservation community has longed to get commercial agriculture off the two refuges. With passage of the National Wildlife Improvement Act in 1997, conservationists believed they had the means to get that job done.

The Act specifically requires that activities and land uses on federal wildlife refuges must deliver the most advantages and support to wildlife; commercial agriculture on Lower Klamath and Tule Lake NWRs clearly does not. The Act required development of refuge management plans; but Oregon Wild (OW) and Water Watch (WW) had to sue to get the feds to develop plans for Klamath River Basin refuges.

Finally, early in 2017, the Comprehensive Management Plan for the Klamath Refuges was released. It did not transfer water rights from federal irrigation to refuge purposes as OW and WW had hoped and continued to allow the use of toxic pesticides on refuge land leased for agriculture. The two groups promptly sued the feds claiming that the Plan does not comply with requirements of the Refuge Improvement Act.

But the Irrigation Elite also sued, claiming that the new management plan would subject growers operating on the refuge to "numerous stipulations, such as prohibitions on post-harvest field work and genetically engineered crops" as well as restrictions on "alfalfa harvests....and disallow hazing of waterfowl during tilling and planting in late winter and early spring"

And so the long simmering conflict over whether it is OK to manage national wildlife refuge lands as industrial-style agricultural fields is once again heating up.

Lower Klamath Lake is the real solution

Completely lost in the conflict is a potential win-win. Farmlands within the bed of the former Lower Klamath Lake, once even larger than Upper Klamath Lake, were created by draining and shrinking the lake in the early 20th century. But the land is salty and so it can only be used to grow grain or for pasture, two agricultural activities that do not produce the high yields and income row crop growers in the bed of the former Tule Lake obtain.

Restoring Lower Klamath Lake would provide wildlife benefits, including expanding scarce stopover habitat for Pacific Flyway birds, and would clean the Klamath Irrigation Project's highly polluted agricultural waste water before that water reaches the Klamath River. Restoring the Lake would also provide additional winter water storage and help eliminate deficits in water supply that have plagued the Klamath River Basin for decades.

Sunset at Lower Klamath Lake

In recent years the lack of flushing spring river flows and poor water quality produced epidemic outbreaks of naturally-occurring fish diseases in the Klamath River. Those epidemics killed most juvenile salmon migrating down the River before they could reach the ocean. With Lower Klamath Lake even partially restored, Upper Klamath Lake water now used to flush disease organisms from the River's bed could be devoted to irrigation instead. Restoring Lower Klamath Lake is the best means to reduce or even eliminate conflict over who gets Klamath River Water water in dry years.

But for now at least, win-win solutions are not on the table. Instead environmental groups, the Irrigation Elite and Klamath River Basin tribes are each independently maneuvering, with the help of politicians, to extract what they most desire from federal bureaucracies, federal judges and the federal budget at the expense of taxpayers. As our president might say: "sad".   

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Groundwater Planning comes to the Klamath River Basin: Are You Ready?

Groundwater planning is getting underway in the Scott Valley, Shasta Valley, Butte Valley and Tule Lake Basin. The groundwater management plans developed for these groundwater basins may well determine the future of the Klamath River and whether Klamath Salmon, and in particular Klamath River Coho Salmon, will survive. Because this planning is critical, all those who care about the Klamath River and Klamath Salmon should participate in developing at least one of the four groundwater management plans.

The Scott River's dewatered bed near Fort Jones with irrigation via groundwater extraction
in view. If done properly, groundwater management plans should end stream dewatering. 

The plans are being developed pursuant to California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). As is its right under SGMA, Siskiyou County Government has taken the lead in developing the plans and the agencies that will do the planning. Other potential players (including tribes which manage water) have apparently not chosen to seek seats on the planning bodies, known as Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs).

Because of the work of clean water, streamflow and river advocates, including the work of Klamath Riverkeeper, SGMA includes provisions which, if properly implemented through locally-developed groundwater management plans, will protect streamflows and fisheries from the "undesirable results" of groundwater extraction. But Siskiyou County can not be counted on to protect these Public and Tribal Trust Resources. Therefore it will be up to citizens to assure that the provisions of SGMA are properly implemented in and through the groundwater management plans for Scott Valley, Shasta Valley, Butte Valley and Tule Lake Basin. Especially if the tribes do not get seats at the planning table, citizens must be involved if Public and Tribal Trust Resources are going to be protected and sustained. 

While organizing and coordination by Klamath Riverkeeper and others is expected, KlamBlog urges all those who care about the Klamath River and Klamath Salmon to prepare to participate in at least one of these planning efforts. A good way to begin is to attend the webinar titled:

Beginner's Guide to Groundwater Planning

Sponsored by the Clean Water Fund and conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the webinar is being offered first on Thursday May 18th from noon until one PM. Register at this link:
SGMA contains strong provisions assuring the public's right to participate. To recieve notices about the Siskiyou County led SGMA plans you want to track as they are developed, send an email message to Siskiyou County's Resource Specialist Elizabeth Nielsen <>. Tell Elizabeth which groundwater plans you would like to be informed about and ask her to notify you of all opportunities for public input. You do not need to be a Siskiyou County resident to participate in these planning efforts. 
The recent history of the Klamath River demonstrates once again that, while tribal governments and salmon fishermen will do some of the work, independent river citizens must be vigilant and involved if we are going to be sure our River and Klamath Salmon survive and recover. All governments need citizen oversight to keep them on the right road and none more than Siskiyou County Government. Please decide now that you are going to participate in at least one of these groundwater planning efforts. And to prepare please register for and attend the webinar.
The dewatered mouth of Shakleford Creek. If done properly, groundwater 
management plans should make it possible for salmon to access 
spawning grounds in creeks like this each and every year. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Klamath's Salmon Disaster: Why it happened, who's responsible and what's needed now

In his recent Indy Media report, Record Low Klamath Salmon Run Spurs Tribal,Commercial and Sport Fishery Closures, reporter Dan Bacher claims that projected low salmon returns to the Klamath River are "due to a combination of several years of drought, water diversions in the Klamath Basin and to the Sacramento River and the continued presence of the PacifiCorp dams." Dan's claims repeat talking points and press releases from tribal and fishing leaders who seek to advance their own agendas, including Klamath Dam removal and federal disaster relief payments. But those claims are not the reason there will be record low returns of salmon to the Klamath River and severely curtailed salmon fishing this year.

To find the real reasons for the Klamath's current salmon disaster we should look not to the statements of tribal political leaders but to the findings of fish scientists. Those findings are clear: projected low returns of adult salmon to the Klamath River this year are a direct result of a 2013 Biological Opinion on federal water management in the Upper Klamath River Basin. That opinion allowed the US Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the 220,000 acre Klamath Irrigation Project, to cut Klamath River flows in winter and spring in order to maximize the amount of water available for diversion and delivery to irrigators the following summer.

Scientists confirm that low winter and spring river flows are the main reason why, since 2013, between 48 and 90% of the young salmon born in the Klamath River Basin have died before they could reach the Pacific Ocean. The low flows are a direct result of the 2013 Biological Opinion, not dams, drought or Trinity River diversions.

Most salmon born in the Klamath River die before they can reach the Pacific Ocean because
unnaturally low winter and spring river flows cause salmon diseases to become epidemic. 

Why are tribal and commercial fishing leaders not talking about the real reason for low ocean salmon abundance and expected disastrous Klamath salmon returns? I suspect the main reason is the failure of those very leaders to challenge the 2013 Biological Opinion which resulted in up to 90% of young salmon dying before they could reach the ocean.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Felice Pace: It's another court victory for Klamath Salmon but disease flushing flows are not assured

The Hoopa Valley Tribe, with a strong assist from a coalition led by the Yurok Tribe, won an important victory for Coho salmon and the Klamath River recently. If faithfully and properly implemented, the order issued by federal Judge William H. Orrick will provide larger river flows during winter, springtime and, if needed, early summer. Those flows won't heal the Klamath River's ills; but they will mitigate them and help Klamath Salmon survive.

Unfortunately, initial actions taken by the US Bureau of Reclamation, which controls flows from the Upper Klamath River Basin, raises concerns that Reclamation's irrigation bias may already be impacting how much help the River will actually get. The judge's order, why the flushing flows are needed, the roll of tribal fish biologists, ESA corruption and concerns about Reclamation's good faith implementation are explored and explained below.