PRESS RELEASE, by
Bob Hunter, Glen Spain, Jim McCarthy, Kristen Boyles,
April 1, 2003
FISHERMAN AND CONSERVATIONISTS WARN ADMINISTRATION AGAINST RECKLESS
KLAMATH WATER DECISIONS
With another dry summer looming, salmon advocates urge the Bush
Administration to set aside more water for fish
Portland, OR --- As the irrigation season begins for the Bureau of
Reclamation's massive Klamath Irrigation Project, commercial fishermen and
conservationists have asked the Bush Administration to set aside enough
water to protect threatened salmon. A letter sent last week warns that the
Administration could be setting the stage for another crisis in the
Klamath Basin if it overpromises irrigation deliveries for the year.
"The Bush Administration has had two years to solve the mess in the
Klamath Basin, but instead of balanced solutions they have focused on
preserving the status quo. Last year the status quo killed 33,000 salmon,"
said Glen Spain of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.
"The commercial and recreational fishing communities that depend on these
fish cannot afford a repeat performance."
April 1st is the unofficial start of the irrigation season in the Klamath
Basin, and despite recent rains, 2003 is likely to be another dry year in
this arid region. Later this month, a federal court judge will hold a
hearing on a legal challenge to the Bush Administration's reckless flow
management plan for the Klamath River. The legal challenge is backed by
commercial fishermen, Native American Tribes, conservation groups, cities
and counties in the lower basin, and even a member of Congress.
"Commercial fisherman have told the Administration time and time again
that salmon in the Klamath River need more water, and they have ignored
us," stated Spain. "It is incredibly frustrating to see them set the basin
up for another train wreck."
The Bush Administration has done little to address the fundamental
problem-too much water promised to too many interests. In June 2001,
conservation groups and some Klamath farmers put forward a plan to buy
land and water rights from willing sellers in order to free up resources
for fish, wildlife, and down-river communities. Such a plan would be
similar to the government buy-out program the Bush Administration offered
some farmers in the Westlands Water District in California, and would help
bring much needed water stability to Klamath Basin irrigators.
But instead of an effective and permanent solution to the basin's water
woes, the Administration has offered an uncertain year-to-year water
banking scheme. Such a program would be more expensive over the long-term
to US taxpayers than buyouts and will not permanently address the
over-allocation of water in the basin. Even with the water bank's flaws,
the Administration received 341 applications from irrigators willing to
idle about 24,000 acres of land-ten percent of the Klamath Project.
Unfortunately the Administration will accept only 12,000 acres.
"As a temporary solution a water bank makes some sense, but it won't work
over the long haul," said Bob Hunter of WaterWatch of Oregon. "We need the
Administration to get behind a serious program to work with farmers to
permanently retire water rights in order to bring the demand for water
back into balance with what nature can provide."
Salmon advocates have long sought a more balanced approach to water
management in the region, arguing that fishing and Native American
communities also need a share of the region's scarce water. A 2002
economic analysis by the US Geological Survey concluded that even in its
current degraded state, the Klamath River and its fisheries support an
enormous recreation and tourism economy valued at $800 million. Upper
basin irrigation, in contrast, was valued at $100 million.