Our Klamath Basin
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
Klamath 'Island of Hope' an illusion
Felice Pace, Guest comment 9/28/07 to Capital Press
Klamath Water Users Association, Karuk Tribe and Yurok Tribe
would like you to believe that a new era of trust and
cooperation has emerged in the Klamath River Basin.
Apparently they've convinced Capital Press editors. The lead
Capital Press editorial in the Aug. 24 edition,
"Island of hope develops in
Klamath Basin," positively gushes about a "broader
settlement, including fish survival and providing adequate
irrigation water," which has been under negotiation among 26
organizations for the past year or so.
But buying into the broader settlement at this stage is a bit
like buying the proverbial pig in a poke. The negotiations are
secret and no one is talking about what is actually in a
settlement which, while incomplete, is already being promoted
as the answer to all the Klamath's problems.
Doesn't it seem a bit strange to be selling an agreement so
heavily before it has even been drafted?
Instead of providing details of what is being proposed, we are
told by Klamath Water Users Association and Yurok Tribe
spokespersons that we should trust them because they are
"working hard." Please forgive this basin resident, but I
prefer to look at actions rather than words.
When we do look beyond the nice-sounding words the picture we
see is quite different. Take, for example, the farm bill which
recently passed the House of Representatives. As that bill
made its way through subcommittees and the full Agriculture
Committee to passage, a change was made to the language
pertaining to the EQIP Conservation Program.
Language which - in exchange for government funding - would
have required on-farm water conservation projects to save a
minimum of 15 percent of that farm's consumptive use of water
The new language will make it possible to use taxpayer money
to fund on-farm projects under EQIP if they "result in a
minimum reduction ... in the total consumptive use of ground
water or surface water." It creates water conservation
program, which by law minimizes water savings - so this is why
they liken making laws to making sausage.
What does this have to do with the Klamath?
EQIP is the program under which $50 million was expended under
the 2002 Farm Bill to improve on-farm water conservation in
the Klamath River Basin.
As stream flows dwindle in this drought year, fishermen and
restorationists are wondering where the water saved by those
irrigation improvements can be found. On the Scott and Shasta
rivers, for example, flows have dwindled to less than 11 and
18 cubic feet per second respectively. That is enough water to
fill two or three irrigation ditches but far less than the
flow needed to allow salmon to access prime spawning grounds.
Those familiar with 2002 Farm Bill details know that EQIP
language was inserted into that bill, which made it possible
for irrigators in the Klamath River Basin - including the
Shasta and Scott as well as the Klamath Project and other
"Upper Basin" water users - to make improvements in their
irrigation systems, which actually resulted in more rather
than less water use during the key late summer and fall period
when, in the Klamath as in most other western river systems,
demand for water exceeds supply.
And while specifics of EQIP projects are protected from
disclosure as "trade secrets," it is believed that some
Klamath Project irrigators used EQIP funding to exploit
groundwater and then turned around and leased that water back
to the federal government under the Bureau of Reclamation's
Klamath Water Bank program.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, recent exploitation
of groundwater for irrigation in the Klamath Project Area has
lowered groundwater levels, drying up domestic and community
wells. USGS says the groundwater pumping is not sustainable.
The long arm and political connections of the Klamath Water
Users Association is at work in the gutting of EQIP water
conservation language in the House-passed farm bill.
What does this say about the claim that irrigators and tribes
negotiating a broad "Klamath Settlement" have come to care
about each other's interests? Is a change from "15 percent
reduction" to "minimum reduction" in on-farm water use an
expression of how much Klamath Project irrigators care about
It is because of actions like the gutting of Klamath EQIP that
some of us have grown skeptical about the newly found trust
between some of the Basin's tribes and the Klamath Water Users
Association. The Klamath is increasingly looking like another
Bush administration-orchestrated effort to buy off tribes with
senior water rights in favor of irrigators with junior rights.
The truth is that all Klamath irrigators are not at the
settlement table and only one group of irrigators representing
about 40 percent of irrigation water use in the basin stands
to gain from the settlement that is being negotiated.
That group is the Klamath Water Users, who have made no secret
of their desire to regain their position as an irrigation
elite that enjoys "water supply certainty" and a "power
subsidy" while the other 60 percent of irrigators have to play
- and pay - by other rules.
Deals forged in secret usually create winners and losers as
well as unforeseen consequences. The Klamath deal is no
different. The insistence on secrecy was a warning light and
the farm bill's EQIP shenanigans give the lie to the "cumbia"
rhetoric issuing from Klamath Water Users and a minority of
the basin's tribes.
The people of the Klamath have a message for the secret
dealmakers: Cut the rhetoric and come out into the light of
day. A just and equitable Klamath solution will be forged
democratically and in the open with all interests at the table
and with the people on guard against special interest
Felice Pace lives in the Klamath River Basin and has been
involved in salmon and water issues.
Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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