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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Cowboys and Indians and Feds Are Talking

by KBC 3/19/05

TULELAKE, CA After several years of vicious press bites, devastating biological opinions, broken promises and distorted science, around 100 Yurok, Karuk, Hoopa, and Klamath tribal members, farmers and ranchers from the Klamath Project and Upper Basin, government agencies, students, biologists, facilitators, and environmentalists, met at Winema Lodge and the Tulelake fairgrounds March 15 through 18th. Unlike every other event with this configuration, there were no cops and only one attorney. One man believed that solutions to the water controversy could be found.

Bob Chadwick, Consensus Associates, was asked by Alice Kilham of the Hatfield Committee, to facilitate groups in the Klamath watershed. Amongst hundreds of successful outcomes of his labors, Chadwick was Supervisor for the Winema Forest from 1973 to 80. He facilitated groups in the Klamath Basin that managed to preserve some timber harvesting while ‘environmentalists’ and government agencies shut down other areas.

In 2004, the Chadwick team went to Scott Valley, Somes Bar, and Klamath, California, at the mouth of the Klamath River to begin a process of solving water conflicts. Various stakeholders got acquainted and are looking for ways to resolve differences.

Alice Kilham and Bob Chadwick

Although there have been water concerns for years in the Klamath Basin, all talks and alliances abruptly ended when stored irrigation water was curtailed to 1400 farms and ranches in the Klamath Basin in 2001. Tribes felt justified in their demands, farmers were broken, betrayed and angry, and government agencies made inflexible demands.

So four years later, and millions of dollars in lawsuits later, everyone is angry at each other and especially at the government agencies, primarily the National Marine Fishery Service (NMPS). They are the ones who formed the biological opinions that shut off project water and are currently demanding one third of the irrigators’ water in 2005. Irrigators had no voice in these decisions.

Chadwick had everyone get in a circle and tell his idea of the worst possible outcome of these sessions. With that behind, each person was able to tell everyone what he wanted. And every stakeholder spoke as if his community depended upon every word he spoke.

---Klamath irrigators’ input ---

Most of the irrigators expressed their frustration with the flawed Hardy reports. Dr. Hardy was hired by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Department of Justice to create science to go against the irrigators in water adjudication. He suggested mandatory river flows based on the highest water years in project history, and stakeholders and their scientists were not allowed at the table.

The Klamath Project created storage in Klamath Lake, which made possible higher than historical lake levels and higher than pre-project river flows. So irrigators feel these artificially high lake levels and river flows mandated by the NMFS are unjustified since they would not be attainable in natural conditions before the Project was built.

The National Research Council said, in their peer-reviewed final report, that these artificially-high lake levels and river flows mandated by the NMFS are scientifically "not justified", so the irrigators feel that this best available science should be used.

The water bank this year is taking over 100,000 acre-feet of our irrigation water to send down the river on a drought year. It is not for irrigation or for drought emergencies, but only to make artificially elevated river flows.

The NMFS biological opinion and Fish and Wildlife opinion are not the same.

With single species management of our water, in 2001 and also in years with the implemented water bank, the other 489 species of wildlife are severely harmed along with our community's people and economy.

On high water years there were several fish kills. In low water years there have been no fish kills. So, if one were to create biological opinions on historical data, raising lake levels and river flows will be likely to cause fish kills, and these are the conditions mandated by the biological opinions.

Irrigators do not want to be regulated out of business and would like to see if their thousands of acres of restoration and conservation practices made a difference.

The government agencies are making farmers irrigate their crops with well water while they are sending warm stored irrigation water down the river to possibly kill fish.

Our aquifer is being depleted five feet per year according to Oregon Department of Water Resources and this mandatory annual water bank is not allowing our aquifer to recharge.

With the water shutoff in 2001, over 200 wells went dry or became disabled.

Some Klamath Basin lakes historically were up to 25 feet deep and the irrigators diverted this water down the Klamath River when the project was built. So it does not make sense to the irrigators that their stored water, and also their aquifer, are being demanded from them when the deeds to their land included water. It did not, however, include the full 25 feet, but only approximately 2 1/2 feet.

The amount of water evaporated before the Klamath Project was built was the same or more than the amount of water used to irrigate crops and water livestock.

The irrigators found Long Lake storage many years ago and the agencies are still studying it.

The irrigators have retired around 100,000 acres of farmland to return to wetlands with no credit in irrigation certainty.

The irrigators have done hundreds of conservation and riparian projects with no credit toward the water bank.

PacifiCorp has proposed raising irrigators’ power rates by 2400 per cent, which would devastate many irrigators and put them out of business. Although the initial rate negotiation promised an affordable power rate in exchange for free water and cheap power, the press has spun it as if the irrigators are being subsidized at the expense of communities.

The irrigators formed a water bank for low-water years even though they didn't believe that they should have to put more water down the river than historically justified. The Bureau of Reclamation threw out this grass-roots water bank that would work for species and agriculture and made its own water bank, demanding 100,000 acre feet of water from the irrigators even in high water years, and in low water years it will deplete irrigation water storage.

Irrigators requested that the Fish and Wildlife and NMFS biological opinions agree, because they not only conflict with each other, but they also don’t even have matching water year types..

Project irrigators felt it is unfair that in 2001, non-project irrigators were still allowed to irrigate while the Project was shut down. That situation still has not changed.

People want to know how many suckers there are, how many the feds want, and how many does it take to get them de-listed from the endangered species act. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask with the millions of dollars going into federal programs while the communities become decimated by federal regulations.

-Tribal members’ input-

Their fisheries are doing poorly

More water would help the fish

They feel that removing dams would cause conditions that would increase fish populations

The numbers of fish that they are permitted to catch has been decreased.

Their alcoholism, drug addiction, and poor health are a result of not enough fish.

Their communities depend on the fish.

If fish die they would like federal disaster funds.

They are concerned and believe that taking water from the Klamath irrigators will prevent fish from dying between the farms and the ocean.

---Government agency input –

They said they welcome better communication with stakeholders

They said that they will try to coordinate their biological opinions

They will try to communicate and coordinate with other government agencies.

They want to learn more about the historical hydrology of the basin.

With 2005 drought year approaching, and with a 100,000 acre feet water bank demanded of irrigator’s water, federal officials and stakeholders are concerned about what will happen with these demands for artificial lake levels and river flows in place

Christine Karas, Klamath Bureau of Reclamation, gave a brief history of Klamath Project water. On the map she demonstrated that before the project was built, except in very high water years, Upper Basin water had no way to flow into the Klamath River. With diversion channels built, water is now being diverted into the river. So lake levels and river flows are higher now than pro-project.

Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen Glen Spain, Eugene attorney, also in attendance, said that he questions the fact that the river is higher now than pre-project. He said that the Natural Flow Study is not complete. Basin farmer and former Klamath County Commissioner Alvin Cheyne had photos available of when the Link River commonly went dry before Klamath Project was built.

So here, for the first time in four years, decision-makers from the government agencies expressed that the people and communities are important, and the rural victims of their biological opinions and demands saw that these government people are human too.

A graphic example of the water situation was when Chadwick had Troy Fletcher of the Yurok Tribe and Steve Cheyne, irrigator and biologist, each take a hand of Irma Lagomarsino, supervisor of the National Marine Fisheries Service field office in Arcata, California. Her agency is responsible for the biological opinions that shut down the Klamath Project in 2001. She is in the middle of the scenario, being physically pulled in opposite directions. The hope of Chadwick is that Troy and Steve, minus Lagomarsino, will be the ones holding hands. They have a long, long way to go, but at least now they are talking.
Irma Lagomarsino, supervisor of the
National Marine Fisheries Service

John Crawford, Klamath Basin farmer, said that he has been going to meetings for fifteen years and at this forum, he learned about other cultures and expressed what being a project farmer meant to him. "I thought that people heard here."

Cattle rancher Bill Krum President of the Siskiyou RCD, said that for the first time, all of the people of the Klamath who depend on the river for their lives and livelihood are meeting together and communicating as a community. "We finally have the possibility of resolving the many issues we face together."

Bill Bennett from California Water Resources said that he wanted a party offering smoked salmon and potatoes.

Troy Fletcher, spokes person from the Yurok Tribes, said "We’re very interested and anxious to work with people in this basin to resolve long-standing issues."

Along with the emotional marathon conference, great meals were catered, Klamath’s Old Time Fiddlers entertained, and Homesteading in a Promised Land video was shown to those staying at Winema Lodge. Marshall Staunton sent the visitors away with boxes of Tulelake potatoes.

Another Chadwick session is being planned at Chiloquin with the Klamath Tribes. No water certainty was offered to the irrigators, and no dams have been removed, but at least the stakeholders are talking and trying to fix this mess.





Page Updated: Saturday February 25, 2012 05:11 AM  Pacific

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