Klamath Water Users Association 

Weekly Update

March 14, 2003



NRC Klamath Committee Chairman Rebuts OSU Critics

A prominent fisheries journal has published a scathing response by the Chairman of the National Research Council’s Committee on Endangered and Threatened Fishes in the Klamath River Basin (NRC Committee) to a recent critique of the NRC Committee’s work prepared by two Oregon State University (OSU) researchers. Dr. William Lewis, chair of the NRC Committee, critically dissected a widely publicized review of the NRC Committee’s Interim Report prepared by OSU’s Michael Cooperman and Douglas Markle. Both articles were published in the March edition of Fisheries journal.

The review prepared by Cooperman and Markle unfavorably reviewed the NRC Committee’s 2002 Interim Report, which peer-reviewed the committee’s treatment of a Biological Assessment (BA) prepared by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in 2001 and a Biological Opinion (BO) prepared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in 2001 for the shortnose and Lost River suckers of the Klamath basin. Both the BA and the BO focus on potential effects of the Klamath Project on the endangered suckers. The combined effects of these documents, coupled with another BO prepared by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for downstream coho salmon, contributed to Reclamation’s April 6, 2001 announcement that Upper Klamath Lake irrigation supplies would be curtailed.

Cooperman and Markle criticized the NRC Committee’s competence, the nature of the committee’s work, and specific scientific issues addressed by the committee. Dr. Lewis addresses the OSU researchers’ key criticisms, while noting that many others are “trivial”.

Lewis disputes the OSU researchers’ claim that the members of the NRC committee could not have reached a meaningful understanding of the scientific issues surrounding the endangered suckers over the few months during which they studied written documentation and heard oral presentations by researchers and others.

“The committee voluntarily and unanimously reached several strong conclusions because it was confident that the evidence presented to it supported these conclusions,” said Lewis.

The Lewis response, entitled “Argument is No Substitute for Evidence”, contains a strong theme suggesting that Cooperman and Markle had a motive other than a strictly scientific approach to their evaluation of the Interim Report.

“Cooperman and Markle, in grasping at every item in the NRC committee’s report that could be perceived or portrayed as an error, and in casting doubt on the committee’s competence and even its honesty, have shown that their main purpose is to discredit the committee rather than to deal in a useful way with some of the important issues that the committee’s report has highlighted,” said Lewis.

Lewis also takes Cooperman and Markle to task on their suggestion that scientists who work the longest on a problem should have the final word in evaluating information related to the problem.

“The committee rejects the notion that the main issues of importance in the Klamath basin are so complex that they can only be evaluated by insiders,” said Lewis.

Excerpts From “Argument is No Substitute for Evidence”
by William Lewis, NRC Committee Chair

 “External peer review has been minimal for work relevant to the endangered suckers of the Klamath basin.”

 “The USFWS honestly and bluntly stated in its BO….that the record of study provides no evidence for connections between water levels in Upper Klamath Lake, which could be adjusted through modification of Klamath Project operations, and water quality or fish mortality.”

 “Where the economic stakes are high…it is useful for all parties to recognize which components of Biological Opinions are indeed scientifically solid and which are to varying degrees based on informed speculation.”

 “The committee ….could say with certainty that the data, which are considerable in some instances, simply do not support the existence of relationships between water level and indicators of the abundance or welfare of fish….As acknowledged by Cooperman and Markle, the USFWS was straightforward in declaring the absence of any such relationships, as were the limnologists who made a detailed examination of the water quality data.”

 “One might tell the water manager to hold the water level high but not to expect any beneficial result because the effects of holding the water level high are only hypothetical and in any event are conditional upon a complex of other factors that cannot be controlled or predicted. More likely the key to mortality and hardships of suckers lies elsewhere.”

 “Cooperman and Markle fail to take into account the great morphometric and hydraulic differences between Clear Lake and Upper Klamath Lake.”

KWUA Statement on OSU Researchers’ Rebuttal of NRC Interim Report

KWUA was troubled by the Cooperman and Markle paper transmitted to the Department of Interior on October 31, 2002 as a “rebuttal” of the National Research Council’s Committee on Endangered and Threatened Fishes in the Klamath Basin 2002 interim report. We do not address here the technical issues in this critique. Rather, we take great exception to the authors’ policy mission, and suggest they could not have gotten it more wrong.

The authors presume to tell virtually everyone (other than the aggressive opponents of the Klamath Project) how to conduct themselves. They suggest the world misunderstands science. For the record, KWUA is not engaged in attacks on the authors of the biological opinions, nor have we maintained that we now know all the “answers.” However, we do maintain that there was a miserable failure of process in the development of the 2001 biological opinions. We also fully understand Klamath Project farmers and ranchers who believe, with justification, that they were wronged in 2001.

We implore the general public to understand that, entering 2001, a very desperate community was told by federal fisheries biologists that the science was compelling. We were told that, despite the extremely dry conditions, Upper Klamath Lake in 2001 would have to be held higher than ever required in the history of the Klamath Project. “Simple” farmers were able to point out that the hypotheses being relied upon were unsupported by, or contradicted by, real evidence. Yet the decision (and a similar decision made relative to mainstem Klamath River flows) was forced upon them. This should concern anyone and everyone who cares about science and its use in policy decisions.

Three Counties Formally Support Water Users in Current Litigation

Three Klamath Basin counties on Tuesday voiced formal support for Klamath Project water users in current litigation threatening water deliveries to the Klamath Project. The Klamath County Board of Commissioners and the Boards of Supervisors in Modoc and Siskiyou counties all unanimously authorized the filing of briefs as amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) in support of local water users.

The litigation is entitled Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association, et al. v. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, et al, and is pending in the federal district court for the Northern District of California in Oakland. The Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) has intervened on behalf of the defendants in this case, which is scheduled for hearing on April 29, 2003.

The plaintiff environmental organizations brought suit in April of 2002 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, claiming that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) was in procedural violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) with respect to coho salmon. They sought a temporary restraining order that would preclude irrigation diversions if certain Klamath flows were not met. The application for temporary restraining order was denied on May 3, 2002. A few weeks later, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) completed a biological opinion for operation of the Klamath Project for 2002 through 2012.

Several months later, plaintiffs filed an amended complaint against NMFS after the lower Klamath River fish die-off, challenging both technical and legal matters in the biological opinion, and against Reclamation, for allegedly violating the ESA. Lower Basin tribes also are parties to this case and contend, among other things, that inadequate flows in 2002 violated their fishing rights. Counties from the lower Klamath basin have already filed briefs supporting the plaintiffs, emphasizing the importance of fisheries to those counties
Local officials believe today’s decision by Klamath, Modoc and Siskiyou counties is a strong statement and acknowledgement that the plaintiff’s remedy would almost certainly have severe impacts for the local agricultural community, businesses, and the county.

“It is significant that all three counties have unanimously decided to file a brief with the Court,” said Klamath County Commissioner John Elliot. “All three counties are particularly vulnerable to any form of water curtailment.”


Tuesday, March 18, 2003 - KWUA Power Committee Meeting. 7:00 p.m. KWUA Office, 2455 Patterson Street, Suite 3, Klamath Falls.

Tuesday, March 21, 2003 - Public Hearing: Proposed NPDES General Permit for Irrigation Systems. 9:00 a.m.1:00 p.m. Jackson County Courthouse Auditorium, 10 S Oakdale, Medford. Deadline for written comments is 5:00 p.m., March 31, 2003. For more information, go to http://www.deq.state.or.us/wq/wqpermit/wqpermit.htm

Klamath Water Users Association
2455 Patterson Street, Suite 3
Klamath Falls, Oregon 97603
(541)-883-6100 FAX (541)-883-8893 kwua@cdsnet.net


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