Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Preventing another Klamath Salmon Kill - Are the feds doing enough?

A large run of Fall Chinook salmon is expected to enter the Klamath River beginning in August. The unusually large salmon run is expected at a time when Klamath River flows have been cut to the minimum in order to maximize water delivery to water users in the Upper Klamath River Basin - including a golf and country club.

 Reams Golf and Country Club just South of Klamath Falls, Oregon.
Under the KBRA Water Deal keeping fairways green is a higher 
water priority than keeping Klamath Salmon alive and healthy 

The situation is similar to conditions in August 2002 when over 60,000 adult salmon perished in the Lower Klamath River due to a disease epidemic caused by overcrowding, low flows and poor water quality.

The Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) is preparing an environmental assessment for release of water from Trinity Dam and Reservoir in order to help prevent another adult salmon fish kill in the Lower Klamath River. However, BOR refuses to even consider releasing more water down the Klamath mainstem where adult migrating salmon will also be at risk when the upriver migration begins in August.  

Management for the 1%

The refusal to do anything to prevent a fish kill on the Klamath side reflects the dominance of federal management in the Upper Klamath River Basin by the Klamath Irrigation Elite - the group of eight very large growers (not the folks themselves but their ag operations) who lease lots of public and private land at ridiculously low prices and who dominate the Klamath Water Users Association.

These wealthy and powerful growers refuse to allow downsizing of the BOR's Klamath Irrigation Project in order to balance supply of and demand for Klamath River water. The Irrigation Elite refuse to allow downsizing because that might raise the price they pay to lease land and therefore reduce their profit margins.  Higher lease prices would help small farmers in the Upper Klamath River Basin; many of them must lease their land because they can not make a profit on the small acreage they own. Many farmers in that situation are senior citizens; their situation is exploited by the Irrigation Elite

Telling the BOR to do more

Monday, July 2, 2012

Another defeat for Suction Dredge Mining

On June 29th the Sacramento Bee reported that the newly enacted California state budget extends indefinitely the ban on suction dredge mining within California rivers and streams. A previously enacted ban was due to expire in 2016; the new provision will remain indefinitely unless the in-stream mining program administered by the California Department of Fish & Game can be made "self-supporting" and "unless unavoidable environmental impacts are addressed." While mining advocates deny it, the preponderance of scientific information holds that suction dredge mining degrades salmon habitat and frees highly toxic mercury previously trapped in bottom sediments. 

The Bee article quoted mining advocate Rachel Dunn who called the legislature's new moratorium "a scam" and vowed to challenge the budget action in court. It is unlikely, however, that such a lawsuit - if it is filed - would be successful. Like earlier court decisions, the new moratorium rests on solid factual ground: the real risks to fish and humans which suction dredging entails.It has also long been established that governments can charge fees equal to the cost of administering programs serving distinct groups of "users". Similarly, the validity of requiring environmental review for activities with potential to damage water quality and public trust resources including fisheries is well established in both state and federal law.      

 Suction dredge on the Scott River
Once a common sight, gold dredging has been banned in California since 2009

Defeat and Retaliation

The recent budget action is the latest in a string of defeats for so-called recreational mining. Backed by key state legislators, opponents of dredging have prevented suction dredges from operating in California waters since December 2006. 

Prior to the 2006 court injunction and subsequent legislative bans, hundreds of suction dredge miners spent summers living for free on public lands along the Klamath, its tributaries and other California rivers. While camping at one location within national forests has long been limited to a maximum 14-day stay, recreational miners were allowed to camp on national forest land for the entire summer and longer under the supposition that the activity was sanctioned by the 1872 mining law.