Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Fighting for Our Right to Irrigate Our Farms and Caretake Our Natural Resources

Enviros Warn of Another Klamath "Catastrophe

Bob Hunter, Glen Spain, Jim McCarthy, Kristen Boyles,

April 1, 2003


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.


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