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ARIZONA COMMUNITY AVERTS
REPEAT OF KLAMATH DISASTER

Citizens Fearful of contract ramifications with The Nature Conservancy

 

by Randy Heiss
2/6/02 ....from our archives

Distribution of article made possible by a grant from the Paragon
Foundation, Alamogordo, NM 1-877-847-3443

PATAGONIA, AZ - - Last spring, after drought conditions reduced the amount
of available water in Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon, a federal judge ruled that
1400 farms would go without irrigation water, saying the Endangered Species
Act (ESA) gave threatened and endangered fish highest priority of water use
during times of drought.
If a formerly proposed water rights agreement between the town of Patagonia
and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) had received the expected town council
approval, the stage would have been set for a similar fate to befall the
residents of this southern Arizona border town if drought reduced flows of
Sonoita Creek through TNC's Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve. The
circumstances in both communities were strikingly similar:
The Upper Klamath Lake is home to two species of sucker fish, both
designated as endangered under the ESA, and the mainstream Klamath River,
which flows from Upper Klamath Lake, is inhabited by a threatened salmon.
The endangered Gila topminnow, and three threatened native fish inhabit
Sonoita Creek.
In Oregon, the biological opinions of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
(USFWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service established that higher
minimum levels in Upper Klamath Lake were necessary to sustain the
endangered suckers, and increased flows in Klamath River were required for
the threatened salmon. The biological opinions have been found to be
fundamentally flawed on technical and scientific grounds according to a
report issued by the National Academy of Sciences.
Similarly flawed are the streamflow data gathered by TNC's own employees,
and used in TNC's former application to the Arizona Department of Water
Resources (ADWR) for instream flow appropriation, flows that TNC had claimed
were necessary to sustain native fish populations living in Sonoita Creek.
The biological opinion of the USFWS was based on a streamflow study of the
Klamath River, referred to as the "Hardy Flows" report, which was prepared
by Utah State University environmental engineer/biologist, Dr. Thomas B.
Hardy.
A biological study of the habitat requirements for the endangered and
threatened fish of Sonoita Creek was performed for TNC by the firm Hardy,
Addley and Associates, Inc., of Logan, Utah. Dr. Hardy and R.C. Addley are
the principal partners of the firm.
The town fiscal year 2001/2002 budget, already strained to the limit, allows
only $9,000.00 for legal expenses. If a lawsuit challenging the town's water
use were filed in federal court under the ESA, the legal representation
necessary to defend itself would almost certainly bankrupt the town. The
current population of the town of Patagonia is 881 residents, 64% of whom
are of low to moderate income households with little or no resources to
contribute toward such legal representation. Bankruptcy could cause property
taxes to take a quantum leap, making it difficult or impossible for low to
moderate income families to continue living in the town where their families
have lived for generations.
Fearful of the ramifications that the proposed agreement with TNC could
bring, community members banded together to file an official protest against
TNC's application to ADWR. The citizens also successfully filed an
initiative measure that has been placed on the town election ballot in
March. The measure will seek voter approval of a town ordinance requiring
that, before entering into any agreement or obligation affecting town water
rights, full public hearings be held, that the council approve such
agreement by unanimous vote, and that the council make scientific findings
of fact that the agreement is in the best interests of the town, considering
several factors.
Because of the efforts of the citizens of Patagonia, TNC has since withdrawn
from the formerly proposed water rights agreement with the town, and removed
its applications for instream flow appropriation from consideration by ADWR.
One would expect a joyous reaction from the townsfolk to news of such a
major victory against a two billion dollar tax exempt corporate monster.
Instead, the reaction remains guarded. Initiative organizers sponsored a
gathering on February 2nd to encourage public comment and open discussion of
the proposed ordinance, and continue their efforts to register voters for
the upcoming election to ensure voter approval of the ordinance on March
12th.

Heiss is the Chairman of Unidos Hacemos Fuerza , P.O. Box 763 Patagonia,
Arizona 85624
randyheiss@theriver.com
 

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