Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Felice Pace on the Klamath COW's Restoration Plan and what it reveals

In my last KlamBlog post I described the self-styled Coalition of the Willing (the COW) which has been meeting with the encouragement of the Trump Administration's Interior Department to seek a "solution" to the Klamath River Basin's water management conflicts. 

I've now learned that the COW adopted "by consensus" what it calls the "Coalition Plan of Action." On April 9th "33 individuals from across the region" agreed to "take the Plan to their respective decision-making bodies for review and feedback." A copy of the full Plan of Action is available at this link

The Plan includes lots on the COW's process, procedures and goals. But what the COW is really about is revealed by who is attending, who is pumping in money in support and, above all else, by the "projects" the COW has prioritized in its Plan for government funding. Let's start with the projects.

The COW's Priority Projects

"Provisional priorities" for funding during the next two (federal) fiscal cycles are: 

  • Sprague river water quality analysis (Upper Basin)

  • Flood plain restoration action study (Upper Basin)

  • Biochar (Upper Klamath Lake but also possible for Keno Reservoir and the Klamath Straits)

  • Alternative energy analysis (listed as for "Refuges" but also benefiting federal irrigators)

  • Expanded use of PIT tags (for the "Mainstem")

  • KDD winter water storage feasibility (listed as for "Mainstem" but also benefiting federal irrigators)

  • On Project Plan (listed as for "Mainstem" but under control of federal irrigators and the Bureau of Reclamation. This is a KBRA holdover)

  • Groundwater recharge study (listed as for the "Scott/Shasta Rivers" but likely just for the Scott)

  • Water yield feasibility study (listed as for the "Scott/Shasta Rivers" but likely just for the Scott)

This list is instructive as a window into the culture of the COW and the strategy of those who are "facilitating" it. Here's my analysis:

Sprague river water quality analysis and the Flood plain restoration action study will advance the agenda of the private organization Sustainable Northwest (SN) which would most likely receive the funding and complete the assessments. SN leaders are major COW promoters and securing this sort of funding is their bread and butter. There have already been many years of similar "restoration" assessments, riparian fencing and other "restoration" above Upper Klamath Lake, but no sign those projects are substantially improving water quality.

Sustainable Northwest is one of the main advocates across the Northwest for the proposition that "restoration" can substitute for the streamflows fish and aquatic ecosystems need to be healthy. They support agreements like the KBRA and the Nez Perce Water Deal that trade flows for restoration project funding. For that reason, I consider the organization a threat to the Klamath River and to the restoration of Klamath Salmon. Self serving "restoration" organizations like SN would still be selling their feel-good projects and raking in the money even as the last Klamath River salmon fry died trying to reach the Pacific Ocean. 

The Expanded pit tags, KDD winter water storage and On Project Plan were promoted by representatives of the Yurok and Karuk Tribe who conduct most of the salmon monitoring pit tag expansion will enhance. Who can argue against better monitoring? The Bureau of Reclamation will be happy to fund more monitoring; funding Lower Klamath tribes gives Reclamation a means to influence tribal government decisions. 

KDD winter water storage will evaluate the feasibility of holding water in the upper basin in winter and then using that water to increase Klamath River flows at critical times, to avoid a juvenile fish kill for example. That is, in fact, the way Lower Klamath Lake and the Klamath Straits once functioned. A natural volcanic dam where Keno Dam now stands but with a significantly higher elevation, the volcanic dam backed up the River's flow, thereby expanding Lower Klamath Lake during winter and early spring. In late spring and summer as flows from above waned, Lower Klamath Lake would shrink as more water headed down the Klamath than was flowing from upstream. Water flowed from the Klamath River into Lower Klamath Lake and back to the River via the Klamath Straits, a natural stream flowing though a sea of tules. The tules cooled and cleaned the water.

The figure below illustrates how Lower Klamath Lake and the Klamath Straits functioned before the Klamath Irrigation Project drained Lower Klamath Lake and turned the Klamath Straits into an drain for highly polluted agricultural wastewater.  


The On Project Plan is a holdover from the KBRA. Karuk and Yurok representatives hope this plan will reduce federal irrigation water demand. I hope they are not holding their breath while they wait.

The Groundwater recharge study and Water yield feasibility study reflect the priorities of Scott Valley irrigators. They have already sought State Water Board funding for the recharge experiment. Irrigators hope recharging groundwater with winter flows will allow them to continue current levels of groundwater extraction used mostly to grow alfalfa hay. The second project stems from a long-standing dream of raising old dams at wilderness lakes to sustain streamflows that feed irrigation ditches longer during summer. Those same streams are often dewatered below the diversion points even as the ditches run full. 

This project is pie in the sky, would violate the Wilderness Act and is not going to happen. But these ideological Scott Valley ranchers can not let it go and they got it into the Plan for the second fiscal year.   

As for Biochar it is something the School of Forestry at Oregon State University and others have been pushing for Upper Klamath Lake for years. The idea is to make biochar from lake sediments and/or algae and nutrient supercharged water and in that way reduce the nutrient loading in Upper Klamath Lake and in the Klamath River below while producing a useful product. The biochar could be used to generate power as "a renewable energy replacement for dam removal." 

It is likely biochar has some Upper Basin irrigator support not only as an engineering solution they hope will replace marsh restoration (which requires converting what are now agriculture fields) but also as a path to their goal of securing cheap power to move irrigation water. Here's the link to a YouTube presentation on biochar and the Upper Klamath Basin. Apparently a feasibility study has been completed; although I can't find it online.

The seven selected projects were prioritized from the longer list the COW has generated. They tell us that, for the COW, engineering solutions like Biochar are preferred over low tech, natural solutions like marsh restoration. They also tells us that, at this stage, the agenda is to give something to everyone...or at least to everyone who is at the table.

Deja Vu

The COW is part of a broader strategy. It is intended to get as many basin interests as possible focused on collaborating to secure funding for the restoration projects they favor and which serve their interests. It is a precursor, intended to prepare those participating for a water deal that will seek to substitute "restoration" for Klamath River flows in order to, once again, provide federal irrigators with all the water they desire.

Few who are now participating will recall that the same strategy was followed when the KBRA was organized in the early 2000s. The precursor then was a $200 million proposal for federal appropriations negotiated by a "diverse" set of interests including tribes, salmon fishermen and federal irrigators. 

Most of the $200 million sought was not approved by Congress. However, the portion sought by federal irrigators, to the tune of $50 million, was included in the 2008 Farm Bill as the Klamath EQIP Program. 

Klamath EQIP was supposed to fund on-farm projects to conserve irrigation water in the Upper Basin, Shasta and Scott Valleys so that more water would be left over to flow down the Scott, Shasta and Klamath Rivers. But that water never materialized. While language inserted in to the final Farm Bill prevented citizens from learning the details of individual on-farm projects, it is well known that many federal irrigators used the funding to drill new wells in order to exploit groundwater for irrigation. Other Klamath EQIP Projects, like the center pivot irrigation system shown in the photo below, actually extended the irrigation period for pasture lands that previously lost surface flows by August or brought irrigation to new fields. As a result, Klamath EQIP may have actually increased total irrigation demand. 

             This Klamath EQIP Project in Scott Valley extended the irrigation season for this field resulting in more, not less, water use. It is unlikely the owner would have invested his own funds in this expensive irrigation system on low value pastureland.

Klamath EQIP was agreed to by diverse interests including federal tribes and salmon fishing organizations because it was going to conserve irrigation water and because it was part of a larger package that had something in it for their interests as well. It turned out to be a scam to benefit only irrigators, probably at the expense of streamflows and groundwater levels. Some of the same players have now created the COW funding plan. 

It has been my experience that those who do not learn from their mistakes are dangerous because they are prone to make the same mistakes again and again. Usually, as in this case, it is ego which gets in the way of seeing clearly and learning from ones mistakes. 

Will something similar to what occurred in the lead up to the KBRA take place with the COW's priority projects? And will those who are "collaborating" on behalf of tribal, river and salmon interests again help produce a Water Deal which, like the KBRA before it, sells out the flows fish need for the promise of funding for restoration and tribal governments?

Time will tell if history repeats. KlamBlog will be paying attention and will disclose what happens.  

Follow the money

The organizations funding the COW and administering its funding are also the entities which hope to get something they value from the process. Funders for the COW's high priced facilitation services include the Humboldt Area Foundation, Trout Unlimited, Rogue River Irrigators, Ducks Unlimited, the State of Oregon, the State of California, the federal government and three local counties—Klamath, Modoc and Siskiyou. The COW's fiscal agent is the Family Farm Alliance. Headed by Dan Keppen, previously executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, the Family Farm Alliance lobbies Congress on behalf of several of the most wealthy irrigators operating in the Klamath River Basin. Several of the organization's board of directors also farm land in California's Central Valley. 

Board members of both the Family Farm Alliance and the Klamath Water Users Association were profiled in the 2011 KlamBlog Meet the Klamath River Basin’s Irrigation Elite. The post discloses the total federal agricultural subsidies each board members received between 1995 and 2009. Taxpayer subsidies going to those wealthy irrigators ranged from $38,944 to $8,802,838 over that period.

Of particular note in the list of COW funders is Rogue River Irrigators: Why are irrigators who do not live in the Klamath River Basin funding the COW? Do they just want to help  their fellow irrigators on the other side of the mountain?

Like everyone else participating in the COW, the Rogue Valley Irrigators hope to get something from the process. By forming relationships with tribes and fishermen, they hope to prevent Klamath water, diverted by the US Bureau of Reclamation to the Rogue River Basin, from being returned to the Klamath River.  

Those Rogue folks know that their water right, dating from the late 1940s, is junior to many other Klamath water rights and, therefore, vulnerable. Water diverted to Bear Creek in the Rogue River Basin can be returned to the Klamath via court action. In fact, any citizen operating on behalf of the Public Trust with a good lawyer and sufficient funds could gain standing in court and return the water to the Klamath River where it could play a decisive role in preventing juvenile salmon kills. 

Who's attending COW meetings?

The list of those who attended one or both of the last two COW meetings reveals quite a bit about the COW and what we can expect from it. Here's the list of individuals and the organization they represent: 

  • Mike Ayers, Oregon Hunters Association 

  • Nadine Bailey, Family Water Alliance 
  • Bryan Baumgartner, Rogue Valley Irrigators 
  • Michael Belchik, Yurok Tribe

  • Mark Buettner, Klamath Tribes

  • Geri Byrne, Modoc County

  • Ned Coe, Modoc County

  • Chris Colson, Ducks Unlimited

  • Amanda Cooper, CalTrout

  • Derrick DeGroot, Klamath County Commissioner

  • Kelly Delpit, Sustainable Northwest

  • Susan Fricke, Karuk Tribe

  • Jack Friend, Medford Irrigation District

  • Bill Gaines, COWWC

  • Brian Hampson, Rogue Valley Irrigators

  • John Henion, City of Yreka

  • Becky Hyde, Rancher

  • Mark Johnson, Klamath Water Users Association

  • Dan Keppen, Family Farm Alliance

  • Lyndon Kerns, Oregon Farm Bureau 

  • Randall Kizer, TKH

  • Michael Kobseff, Siskiyou County 

  • Chrysten Lambert, Trout Unlimited

  • Frankie Meyers, Vice-chair, Yurok Tribe

  • Larry Nicholson, Upper Basin farmer

  • Elizabeth Nielsen, Siskiyou County

  • Lisa Nixon, Siskiyou County

  • Melissa Olson, The Nature Conservancy

  • Brad Parrish, Klamath Tribes

  • Natalie Reed, Siskiyou County

  • Jack Roggenbuck, Shasta Watershed Conservation Group

  • Randy Shaw, Klamath Co & Klamath Falls Chamber of Commerce

  • Joan Freeman Smith, City of Yreka

  • Glenn Spain, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermens' Associations (PCFFA)

  • Stan Swerdloff, Klamath Tribes

  • Kelly Thomas, Sustainable Northwerst

  • Craig Tucker, Karuk Tribe

Of the 37 attendees, 17 (46%) represent irrigation interests or county governments that strongly back irrigation interests, that is, Siskiyou, Modoc and Klamath Counties. Others attendees - Ducks Unlimited, Sustainable Northwest and The Nature Conservancy - work closely with irrigators on whom they depend to provide sites for restoration projects. Meanwhile, 7 attendees (19%) represent three of the Klamath River basins six federal tribes and 3 attendees (8%) represent sport and commercial fishing interests. 

Notably absent from the attendance lists are three of the Basin's six federal tribes - The Hoopa Valley, Quartz Valley and Resighini Tribes - as well as representation from environmental advocacy organizations which challenge, rather than seeking to work with, irrigation interests. Organizations which have championed refuges, including Oregon Wild, and those who have worked to secure effective regulation of agricultural pollution, like the North Group Redwood Chapter Sierra Club, were not invited to attend. 

Collaboration or manipulation?

In my view the handwriting on the wall is clear concerning what the COW is about and where it is headed. Like the KBRA before it, the intent is to manipulate the human compulsion to make nice in the group once "bonding" has occurred and "relationships" have been established. Those relationships will then be manipulated in order to get those who have wrested some power over water to voluntarily relinquish the power they have gained.

This fits a pattern. Those who hold power (or, in this case, water, which in the American West is a big component of power) never want to sit down, bond into relationship and negotiate a deal until I and the organization I represent have wrested some element of power from them; then they suddenly want to become friends. 

It has always turned out that the "relationship" those who have lost some power want is one in which I and my organization voluntarily give back the power we had gained in exchange for being part of the group, now accepted and "bonded" to others who were previously adversaries. 

So it is that "collaboration" has become a bad word in my book, amounting to nothing more nor less than manipulation. Let's recall that "collaboration" is what traitors did with the Nazis during WW II and that the "Coalition of the Willing" was earlier the name chosen for the war parties assembled by the Bush Administration to illegally invade Iraq. 

As history also teaches, these words and the realities behind them will not magically change in meaning or historical context if we have a Democratic Administration come January. They too will want those who have rights to river flows to voluntarily relinquish water back to federal and other irrigation interests in exchange for the promise of restoration funding.

Path to a true solution

I am not against a Klamath Water Deal. What I am against is a water deal which will not lead to a healthy river and the restoration of Klamath Salmon to abundance. Real restoration requires that needed restoration projects take place in addition to adequate flows, not as a substitute for them. In order to provide adequate flows, a plan with true potential to restore our River to health and our salmon to abundance must include an effective program to reduce irrigation water demand basin-wide. Tricks like Klamath EQIP are not acceptable; the only way to reduce irrigation demand in a manner that is sustainable is to reduce tha amount of land under irrigation. That can be accomplished in a fair, equitable and durable manner by purchasing irrigation water rights from willing sellers and permanently retiring those rights, thereby lowering total irrigation water demand. 

Those who go into any negotiation ought to have a well founded opening proposal as well as knowing their bottom line. In the case of the Klamath, the bottom line must include a clear path to best science flows in the Upper Klamath, Shasta and Scott Rivers via effective irrigation demand reduction. Anything short of that should be strenuously opposed.

It is somewhat reassuring that there are tribal and environmental leaders who appear to have learned important lessons from the past and who, as a consequence, refuse to be blinded by phony "relationship building" and manipulative "collaboration". The Klamath Basin's federal irrigators, along with the Bureau of Reclamation which serves their interest, will do all they can to deny our River and Klamath Salmon the water they need. Those who stand for the River must understand that and act accordingly. 

We must judge those who claim to represent the Klamath River and Klamath Salmon not by their words or by how well they get along with those who have other interests but rather by whether or not they achieve what is needed to restore a healthy river and abundant salmon. Best science flows in the Klamath, Shasta and Scott, adequate funding for science-informed restoration and real reductions in the amount of water diverted from our streams for irrigation: these are the yardsticks by which KlamBlog will gage success and failure. 

Stay tuned. 


Monday, March 9, 2020

Who's in the Klamath COW and why do they meet in secret?

KlamBlog has received documents from a whitstleblower who agrees with us that the Klamath is a public river and, therefore, all meetings about the future of the River ought to be open to any resident. Documents produced by the secretive Coalition of the Willing (COW) received by KlamBlog and available to read and download via Dropbox links are:
The  "Proposals" document reveals the priorities of participants including:
  •  Biochar –Filtering water to reduce nutrient loading into waterways
  •  Potential Water Yield Feasibility Study for the Shasta River and Scott River
  •  D-Plant Pump Alternative Energy Analysis and Feasibility for Lower Klamath National  Wildlife Refuge
  •  Expand the use of PIT Tags to monitor movement of Coho salmon
  • Klamath Drainage District (KDD) winter water storage feasibility study
  •  On Project Plan (OPP)
The KDD (It's an irrigation district operating mostly in the bed of the former Lower Klamath Lake) "winter water storage feasibility study" is particularly worrisome. It discloses that part of the agenda of Upper Basin federal irrigators is to take more of the water that would otherwise flow down the Klamath Rover. This time they are going after winter flows, water that would otherwise be stored in Upper Klamath Lake or flow down the Klamath River.  The nearby Tulelake Irrigation District (TID) is pursuing the same plan. In TID's case they want the winter water to refill a groundwater basin from which they have been extracting and selling water since they were given six big irrigation wells and pumps by the State of California in 2002.

  In 2002 the State of California gifted six irrigation wells and six big extraction pumps and piping to the Tulekake Irrigation District as part of that year's budget deal. Socialism, that is, receiving taxpayer funded subsidies, is a way of life for the Klamath's Irrigation Elite.

The last proposal, the On Project Plan, refers to a plan for operating the Bureau of Reclamation's Klamath Irrigation Project.  It was also a feature of the failed KBRA Water Deal and is meant to compensate for the surrender of water rights, or the ability to actually use those rights, by federal tribes, include those tribes giving up the right to make a "call" on water that Reclamation plans to deliver to federal irrigators in order to get that water left instream for fish.

Absent from the Project list is the Basin-Wide Flow Assessment that is an absolute necessity in order to determine, based on the best available science, the year around flows needed in the Klamath River and its major tributaries to support and restore aquatic ecosystems and salmon populations which depend on those ecosystems. KlamBlog is not surprised: knowing flow needs would make it more difficult to compromise those needs in a new water deal.

Most of those associated with these proposals are familiar characters to those who follow Klamath River issues, including representatives of the Yurok Tribe, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA) and the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) which represents the interests of the Klamath's federal irrigators. Participants include Craig Tucker, Mike Belchik, Dan Keppen and Glen Spain who were principle architects of and apologists for the KBRA Water Deal. Humboldt County Supervisor Steve Madrone is also a COW participant (and likely the one who suggested Biochar) as are several irrigation districts and a number of agricultural leaders.

Since there is nothing secret about these proposals, which some interests have been seeking publicly in other venues, why does the COW refuse to allow interested members of the public who also have a stake in Klamath Waters and members of the media to attend and participate? Why are the meetings secret?

One will not find the answers in COW documents. COW members do not want you to know that their efforts are a direct response to the Trump Administration which told those who want to resurrect or replace the KBRA Water Deal that they must bring a completed Deal to Trump's Interior Department. The formula for that deal remains the same as it was for the KBRA and for over 30 other Tribal Water Deals which have already been endorsed and funded by Congress: Federal Tribes with water rights must give up those rights, or agree not to exercise them, in exchange for federal and state funding for tribal government and "restoration" so that mostly white irrigators can continue to control water to which they do not have priority rights.

Trading the real, wet water fish, people and aquatic ecosystems need for "restoration" is a bad deal. If you doubt it, ask yourself this: In an age of shrinking snow pack and climate disruption who in their right mind would sell or otherwise compromise a water right? Who, that is, except for tribal government officials for whom "funding" for their tribal government programs and seats in the water management back rooms are a higher priority than the needs of our River.

One of the COW documents linked to above discloses the date and location for the next COW meeting:  April 8-9 at the USFS/BLM Interagency Office, 3040 Biddle rd., Medford, Oregon. Like other recent meetings participants will include "non-federal and state agency participants" but no feds. Who else will show up? Maybe some of those young people who protest pipelines and the theft of Trinity River water. Maybe KlamBlog will show up to propose that basin-wide flow assessment. Maybe you will show up too!

Afternote: Because we believe matters pertaining to public rivers and public water ought to be public, and because we believe sunshine helps counter mischief and corruption, KlamBlog will publish other documents that some want kept secret. Send them to Unofelice@gmail.com or call 707-954-6588 to arrange for document transfer to KlamBlog.