Monday, August 19, 2019

They're back at it: KBRA 2 aims to trade water for restoration funding

Written by Felice Pace, KlamBlog editor

KlamBlog has learned that some of the same characters who brought you the first Klamath River Basin Restoration Agreement, KBRA 1, are at it again; they are even calling their effort KBRA 2. But this time is a bit different. Not only are those folks once again negotiating to limit Klamath River flows in order to maximize federal irrigation deliveries, it now appears, based on documents leaked to KlamBlog, that “relief from regulatory burdens” of the Clean Water Act may also be on the KBRA 2 table.

Documents sent to KlamBlog are a window into the agendas of many of the Basin's interests. For example, they suggest that the wealthiest of the Klamath's federal irrigators, those who control the Tulelake Irrigation District (TID), want to take more Klamath River water during wet winters in order to store it in the ground. TID could then extract the water at a later date to use or sell to other irrigators and thirsty nearby towns. With the help of lobbyist Dan Keppen, TID irrigators recently secured a provision in the federal America's Water and Infrastructure Act of 2018 which allows them to use federal irrigation canals and other federal infrastructure free of charge to deliver the water they sell. Wealthy irrigators have now becoming wealthier water brokers at taxpayer expense.

One of the pumps TID uses to sell water. Six irrigation wells, pumps and other infrastructure  were gifted to the irrigation district as part of the 2002 California Budget Deal in order to secure Republican votes needed to pass the budget.

Going back to the Kuchel Act of the 50's, TID irrigators have been working the federal system in diverse ways to their great benefit. That's a big part of how they became the Klamath River Basin's Irrigation Elite. TID and its irrigators are a fascinating study in how federal irrigators, federal agencies, lobbyists and Congress interact. KlamBlog's report on the Klamath River Basin's Irrigation Elite can be found at this link.  

Welcome to KBRA 2

The buzz on the River and leaked documents taken together make it clear that an effort is underway to persuade Klamath River Basin federal tribes and salmon fishing organizations to join the Trump Administration's Coalition of the Willing, which is tasked with forging a new Klamath water deal. Advocacy for KBRA 2 is coming from staff within some tribes who long to become “water managers” and from at least one private, grant-and-corporate-funded organization, Sustainable Northwest. Sustainable Northwest employs Suits and Signs, an organization based in McKinleyville, California, to make their pitch to tribes and salmon fishermen. Suits and Signs is Craig Tucker's consulting firm. When he was employed by the Karuk Tribe, Tucker was a major promoter of KBRA 1.

It should not surprise anyone familiar with Klamath River Basin politics and players that a number of interests and entities are trying to leverage “the largest dam removal project in history” for their own advantage and their own ends. After all, that is exactly what KBRA 1 was about: using the promise of irrigator support for dam removal to leverage a variety of benefits and subsidies for federal irrigators. It turned out irrigator support was not needed to secure dam removal; something KlamBlog maintained all along. But the demise of KBRA 1 did not end those efforts. Some of the same actors are at it again!

A dangerous proposal 

For example, on May 17th Craig Tucker, representing Sustainable Northwest presented a “Communication Plan” to leaders of many of the Basin's tribes and fishing organizations. The plan calls for tribes and fishing groups to tell the public that taking out four PacifiCorp dams will mean “fewer regulatory burdens for farmers and ranchers.” In other words, Tucker and Sustainable Northwest want tribal and fishing leaders to suggest that dam removal and the “restoration” that will follow will make enforcement of Clean Water Act and other environmental laws unnecessary. 

The Tucker Communication Plan is dangerous. If it is followed it will commit tribes and fishing leaders to supporting “regulatory relief” for irrigators in the Upper Basin, Shasta and Scott once the four dams are out. KBRA 1 contained 17 pages of “regulatory relief” for federal irrigators; it appears some interests are attempting to set up KBRA 2 to do even more for irrigation interests.
These pumps move highly polluted agricultural wastewater from irrigated fields onto the Tule Lake Wildlife Refuge and thence to Klamath River. If irrigators gain relief from "regulatory burdens", this pollution will not be cleaned up.

The messages Craig Tucker wants tribes and fishermen to use in public statements, memes and hashtags are supposedly based on focus groups held in Klamath County, Oregon and Siskiyou County, California where most citizens do not support dam removal. Tucker wants tribal and fishing leaders to believe that a public relations campaign promising cleaner water, more fish and “fewer regulatory burdens” will result in more support for dam removal in Klamath and Siskiyou Counties.

The idea that a public relations campaign will change the positions of those folks in Klamath and Siskiyou Counties who oppose dam removal is ludicrous; it also illustrates just how profoundly Craig Tucker misunderstands what motivates those folks. Opposition to dam removal in Klamath and Siskiyou Counties is part of the culture wars: reaction to the social and cultural changes taking place across the USA. 

For our local Trump People dam removal is an indicator of cultural decay and the rise of people of color; no amount of “messaging” is going to change that belief. On the other hand, if Tucker and Sustainable Northwest can sell tribal and fishing leaders on their Communications Plan, they stand to profit handsomely while advancing their anti-regulatory agenda.

Combating insanity 

Whether or not most folks in Klamath and Siskiyou Counties support dam removal is irrelevant: in today's USA no government is going to force a major corporation backed by prominent investors to retain an asset (in this case the four dams and powerhouses) that will loose money year after year. One way or another, sooner or later, the dams will come out because it is in the interest of a well-connected corporation that they come out.

It would be foolish to bestow more taxpayer-funded benefits on the Irrigation Elite when we don't need their support for dam removal. It would be insane to compromise enforcement of the Clean Water Act in exchange for “restoration” and, KlamBlog predicts, that too will prove to be unnecessary.

Taking out four dams will help the River and Klamath Salmon substantially; but it will not restore them. In order to complete the job, the Clean Water Act must be firmly and consistently applied to the #1 source of the poor water quality preventing recovery of Klamath Salmon: agricultural pollution. 

Those who truly understand what is needed to restore the Klamath and Klamath Salmon must oppose the Tucker/Sustainable Northwest “Communications Plan” and the “regulatory relief” that is their ultimate objective. KBRA 1 taught those who chose to learn from the experience that trading away the water rights fish need is always a bad deal; during KBRA 2 we must make sure that schemes to trade away effective enforcement of our bedrock environmental laws also fail.

 Proper enforcement of the Clean Water Act is essential to cleaning up not just irrigation wastewater but also hundreds of on-stream feedlots in the Upper Basin, Shasta and Scott Basins. This feedlot is on Soap Creek in Scott Valley.

Promoting democracy 

Meanwhile, the people of the Klamath River, tribal and non-tribal, are not being properly informed or provide forums where they can learn about what's on the table and debate the pros and cons. That's another reason KlamBlog is stepping up. We will attempt to do what I believe the Basin's tribal and other governments, as well as our community-based restoration groups, should be doing: keeping those who live on the River and will be most affected by KBRA 2 informed about what is going on, while fostering deep conversations and healthy debate.

The River belongs to all of us; negotiations over its fate should be public. In order to keep River people properly informed, KlamBlog needs whistleblowers inside the Basin's agencies and governments. Send us the documents which leaders seek to keep hidden when there is no good reason for secrecy. Help foster healthy debate about the future of our River. Help KlamBlog keep the people informed.