Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Fighting for Our Right to Irrigate Our Farms and Caretake Our Natural Resources

Klamath River "Most Endangered' scheme 4/9/03

American Rivers • Earthjustice • Klamath Forest Alliance

Northcoast Environmental Center • Oregon Natural Resources Council

Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations

Riverhawks • WaterWatch of Oregon • The Wilderness Society • Yurok Tribe

Klamath River "Most Endangered"

Long running crisis to reach crucial crossroads in 2003

Klamath River #2 on annual list released today – www.americanrivers.org

Washington, DC—American Rivers today named the Klamath River as one of the nation's Most Endangered Rivers for 2003, citing excessive irrigation diversions and hydropower dams that are causing the ecological collapse of the river and its salmon fisheries. The Klamath River, which was on the list in 2002, moves up to the #2 spot for 2003. The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report highlights acute threats to the listed rivers rather than their chronic problems. The groups warned that the next 12 months would be crucial in determining the Klamath River’s long term future.

"The Klamath River and its fisheries are the real victims when too much irrigation demand chases too little water," said Rebecca R. Wodder, president of American Rivers. "These chronic water shortages in the river are compounded by the hydropower dams that block many miles of salmon spawning habitat."

Coinciding with the "Most Endangered" announcement is the introduction of important new congressional legislation aimed at solving the problems of the Klamath Basin. The bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Thompson, who represents the lower river, and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, was announced at the Washington DC press conference on the report.

The highly publicized Klamath basin water crisis is entering it’s third year, and the groups noted that several important decisions looming in the next 12 months could intensify the conflict or lead to improvements. In particular, a White House-appointed Klamath River Basin Federal Working Group is expected to report on solutions for this troubled river basin and Congress will take up legislation that proposes to bring water supply and demand back into balance. Conservationists are concerned that the Bureau of Reclamation is doing little to avoid a repeat of last year’s massive die off of 33,000 salmon due to low river flows as it plans operations for the coming year.

"Last year’s fish kill was devastating to the Yurok Tribe, yet indications are that the Bureau of Reclamation will provide even less water to sustain our fishery during the coming year," said Sue Masten, Chairwoman of the Yurok Tribe.

"The only way we are going to solve this mess is by buying back water rights and reducing the demand for water," said Wendell Wood of the Oregon Natural Resources Council.

The conservation and commercial fishing groups called on the White House and Congress to take steps towards buying out irrigation rights from willing sellers in order to reduce the demand for this over-promised resource. Conserved water should be left instream for the benefit of the fish, wildlife, and communities that depend on the river. The Thompson-Blumenauer legislation embraces these common-


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sense actions, as well as providing money for farmers to adopt better water conservation practices and to assist down river communities devastated by the Klamath fish kill.

"The reality of the Klamath Basin is that we have promised too much water to too many interests, and even in a good year there simply isn’t enough to go around," said Bob Hunter, a staff attorney with WaterWatch of Oregon. "The Thompson-Blumenauer legislation is a fair and balanced plan to share this scarce resource, and Congress should pass it."

Also on the horizon in the next twelve months, PacifiCorp will file its formal application for a new 30-50 year operating license for its five-dam hydropower complex on the river. These dams plug the river between the river’s agricultural headwaters and its mouth, blocking salmon and steelhead from reaching more than 100 miles of historic spawning habitat. The groups called on PacifiCorp to commit to either installing fish passage removal of the dams, and to implement other measures to improve water quality in the river when it files its formal license application this year.

"Behind every salmon and steelhead in the Klamath River is a Native American family, or a family that depends on the commercial or recreational fishing industries," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. "Restoring this river will bring jobs back to the coastal and river communities that have been decimated by the decline of salmon."

Across the nation: Water waste and watershed destruction compound drought

The situation on the Klamath River is particularly dire, but hardly unique. In a special chapter of this year’s report, American Rivers explored how the destructive combination of rising water demands and the destruction of wetlands and other freshwater habitats threatens the nation with a future where many rivers regularly run dry. To prevent this, the group called for the establishment of an "ecological reserve" of protected river flows. More specific recommendations included helping farmers acquire modern irrigation equipment that require less water to grow more crops and employing "smart growth" strategies to curb sprawl and protect habitat from development.

"Saving rivers is not just about keeping pollution out of the water anymore," Wodder said. "More and more we have to fight to keep water in the river, at all."

About America’s Most Endangered Rivers

Each year, American Rivers requests nominations from thousands of river groups, environmental organizations, outdoor clubs, and taxpayer watchdogs for the America’s Most Endangered Rivers report. The report highlights the rivers facing the most urgent and imminent threats. It is not a list of the nation’s most chronically polluted rivers. The report presents alternatives to proposal that would damage rivers, identifies those who will make the crucial decisions, and points out opportunities for the public to take action on behalf of each listed river.


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