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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Ridin' Point

- a weekly column published in the Siskiyou Daily News 8/2/11


WaterSMART: Recently, the Secretary of the Interior announced that $1,944,000 would be going to studying the Klamath River Basin under the WaterSMART program. The allocation requires a 50/50 cost share partner, so it is likely that the “partner” will be the states or the Klamath Settlement group. According to literature, the cost-share partners will establish a management structure for the study and will select the study manager, staff and participants to conduct the study. The partners will develop an organizational plan for allowing input from “interested parties” who are in the basin, but who are not cost-share partners. I guess that would be all of the rest of us.

The basin study will look at how climate change will affect supply and demand, including the timing and type of precipitation. It will identify supply issues and use conflicts or “imbalances” in the basin. The ultimate product of the study will be a basin-specific plan that will recommend “collaboratively” developed solutions to help meet water demands and foster “sustainable development.”

Specifically, the study is likely to look at Klamath Project operations, the hydroelectric facilities, fish and wildlife habitat, endangered species, water quality, flow and flood control. Although the documents I read did not mention impacts to irrigated agriculture and forests, I would hope that they would be included.

According to the literature, “solutions” that could be identified for “water imbalances” might be: operational changes; water conservation and efficiency; drought contingency plans; water marketing; inter-basin transfers; upgrades to existing facilities; water re-use; conjunctive use (varied use of surface and groundwater.) The study also analyses “trade-offs” – looking at relative costs and environmental impact. (Hopefully this will include impact to the social fabric and economy of our communities.)

It is “curious” to note that the Klamath WaterSMART program gives no indication of recognizing the jurisdiction of the Siskiyou County Flood Control and Water Conservation District (SCFCWCD.) The District was created in 1957 by Congress under Appendix B of the Klamath Compact. The State of California memorialized the District in CA Water code 5900-5901. SCFCWCD has jurisdiction throughout Siskiyou County, with the exception of the federal Klamath Project in Tulelake. Its Board of Directors is the same as the Board of Supervisors.

The District has jurisdiction over flood control. It can store water in reservoirs, divert and transport water for beneficial use and it can recharge the aquifer. SCFCWCD can also conserve water and take action to defend water rights. It can prevent interference with or diminution of, or declare the rights in natural flow of any stream or surface or subterranean supply of waters useful for any purpose of the district or of common benefit of the lands within the district or to its inhabitants. The District can also prevent unlawful exportation of water and prevent pollution of surface or subsurface water. It can defend actions to prevent any interference with the water that may endanger or damage the inhabitants, lands, or use of water in, or flowing into, the district. (Although it seems that it cannot defend controversies between land and water owners.)

The Council on Environmental Quality has also released a National Action Plan for "Priorities for Managing Freshwater Resources in a Changing Climate." This proposes that government agencies and citizens “collaboratively manage” water resources to assure adequate water supplies, to protect human life, health and property, and to protect water quality and aquatic ecosystems. This effort would be under a formal organizational framework linking Federal agencies with State, tribal and local governments.

The Army Corps of Engineers is promoting Integrated Water Resources Management. This implements Chapter 18 of Agenda 21. IWRM strategies are originally based on the four Dublin Principles presented at the World Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992: Fresh water is a finite and vulnerable resource, essential to sustain life, development and the environment. Water development and management should be based on a participatory approach, involving users, planners and policy-makers at all levels. Women play a central part in the provision, management and safeguarding of water. Water is a public good and has a social and economic value in all its competing uses.

The Administration is also implementing a National Geographic Framework and habitat conservation strategy. There are now 22 regional Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs,) which will facilitate strategic on-the-ground "integrated" (public-private) conservation at landscape scales through a partnership approach with agencies, tribes, local government and non-government organizations (NGOs.) These will be supported by 8 regional Climate Science Centers (CSCs,) which will provide information and best management practices to support mitigation efforts on both public and private lands. Focal species will be used to represent the needs of larger groups of species that use habitats and respond to management similarly.



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