Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
Disproved opinions driving assaults on Basin irrigation
Published Jan. 19, 2004 by Dr.Doug Whitsett, guest columnist
Two biological opinions driven by the Environmental Species Act are destroying our agricultural community.
Our Basin's irrigation woes are caused by the reallocation of water stored for irrigation. This reallocation of water use is to the perceived "higher purpose" of habitat for endangered and threatened species. The tools of choice for this reallocation of water are the specious biological opinions that prevent the use of the water stored for irrigation, and that require that water to be run down the river to satisfy these "higher purposes".
TheU.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion requires minimum Upper Klamath Lake levels for the alleged benefit of the endangered suckers. Enforcement of this opinion prevents water stored solely for irrigation purposes to be made available for delivery for irrigation.
The National Academy of Sciences has clearly stated in both its interim and final reports that these lake levels mandated by the biological opinion do not benefit the endangered suckers, and probably result in water quality degradation that may harm the suckers. The Fish and Wildlife Service has neither meaningfully changed its biological opinion nor even scheduled re-consultation proceedings.
Even more damaging, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's biological opinion requires the Bureau of Reclamation to run that water stored solely for irrigation purposes down the river and out to sea for the alleged benefit of the threatened coho salmon. The minimum river flows required by the biological opinion are primarily based on Klamath River studies by Dr. Thomas Hardy of Utah State University. His studies are contracted by the U.S. Department of Justice and paid for by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Department of Interior.
Full of errors
The Hardy reports have been discredited by both the interim and final National Academy reports. The academy committee's concerns were conveyed to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in a 2002 letter specifically delineating basic flaws in the Hardy studies.
Further discredit of these error-filled reports include, but are not limited to, the recent draft naturalized flow study commissioned by the Klamath Bureau of Reclamation, by scathing peer reviews by Dr. William J. Miller of Miller Ecological Consultants Inc. of Fort Collins, Colo., by fisheries biologist David Vogel, and by an extensive literature review by Dr. Kenneth Rykbost, superintendent of the Oregon State University Klamath Experiment Station. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has neither changed the biological opinions, nor even scheduled reconsultation proceedings.
In our opinion, the current negotiations regarding tribal trust requirements and the tribal forest land return are little more than a concerted, and effective, means of misdirecting the dialogue away from these two primary issues.
Tribal trust water claims remain appropriately constrained by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rulings in the Adair decisions. Giving 690,000 acres of public forest land to the Tribes has no precedent in Congress and has extremely limited local support.
Those who seek to benefit by exploiting the situation can only hope to implement their proposed water balance settlement by steadfastly directing the debate away from the biological opinions. This proposed initial settlement would deny irrigation to 30,000 to 50,000 acres above Upper Klamath lake, and take more than 20,000 acres of irrigated project land out of production. We believe that implementation of this process would ultimately de-water the preponderance of Basin agricultural land because the solution does not address the cause of the problem.
Extensive modeling clearly demonstrates that, absent the implementation of the two discredited biological opinions, the Upper Klamath Basin does not have a water shortage problem in most years. The shortage is minimal, and manageable, in dry or critically dry years. Further, it is virtually certain that a shortage does not exist in this water year considering the current precipitation levels.
Go after them
As a community we must seize this opportunity to focus the attention of the media, the public, the irrigators and the politicians on these fatally flawed biological opinions. We must utilize every means at our disposal to force re-consultation on these biological opinions by the bureaucrats who hold the key to our future. Their veracity has been destroyed by existing best available science. In fact, U.S. District Judge Sandra Armstrong has ruled that the National Academy of Sciences reports discrediting the Hardy reports now represent the best available science on Klamath River minimum flows. Only when these discredited biological opinions are discarded and replaced by verifiable science-based opinions can we hope to stabilize our agriculture-based economy.
California Rep. Richard Pombo, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, is currently soliciting written and oral comments regarding specific examples of the harm to our communities caused by the implementation of the Endangered Species Act. Please call Pombo or write today to him at 2411 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515; (202) 225-1947.
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