Klamath Water Users Association 

Addressing the Challenges of the Klamath River Basin.

Speech by KWUA Executive Director Dan Keppen
49th Annual Meeting
April 24, 2003


Good evening.

I appreciate the great turnout tonight, and I’m especially thankful that David Anderson is here to join us. The fact that the Bush Administration – with matters of worldwide importance before them – has sent this man to our community during these troubled times is a testament to our President’s concern for rural areas like the Klamath Basin.

While the focus of tonight’s meeting is obviously on the water crisis, many of you in this audience have loved ones, or know of neighbors’ loved ones, who are risking their lives in the Middle East to protect our freedom and to make the world a more secure place. Our association president – Dave Solem –has a son who is in an American tank somewhere in Iraq right now.

I doubt if there are many other communities in the country where patriotism and appreciation for our military are greater then in this area. Everyone who enters Klamath County is instantly greeted by a sign that reads: "Welcome to Klamath County – We Honor Our Veterans", something I have never seen elsewhere. This patriotism is to be expected in a community built around a federal water project that encouraged homesteading by war veterans in the early half of the last century.

As a father of two small children, I know I feel more secure about their future because of the efforts of our soldiers over in Iraq. I know many of you have a deep appreciation for earlier generations of Klamath Basin homesteaders who fought oversees and then settled here, building a strong foundation for the community we live in today. It really is a privilege to live in such an area.

Defense, Defense

There is no doubt we are fighting a war of our own here in the Klamath Basin. I think Dave Solem did a nice job presenting an overview of how local water users have fended off a very coordinated attack on Klamath Project agriculture, while at the same time striving to do the right things to protect the environment, improve water management, and sustain the local economy. But I think everyone will agree: since the disastrous 2001 water cutoff, we have been in a defensive posture. When I spoke at last year’s annual meeting, I expressed my hope that 2002 – with what appeared to be assured water supplies – would provide the sort of environment where a détente of sorts would develop. This would allow the bickering factions that make up this watershed to sit down and reasonably assess what is needed to recover fish species protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), protect the hundreds of other species that inhabit Klamath Project farmland and waterways, and ensure the sustainability of farming, fishing and tribal communities.

Unfortunately, this did not happen. Instead, within days of the Project headworks opening up in April 2002, a series of lawsuits, administrative maneuvers, legislative proposals, and attacks through the media were hurled at the Klamath Project, many of them orchestrated by interests outside of the Klamath River watershed. The fall 2002 fish die off on the Klamath River provided a catalyst that ramped the level of these attacks even higher. Rather than stepping back and assessing the devastating implications of the regulatory-driven philosophy contained in the 2001 Klamath Project biological opinions, critics of Klamath Project agriculture instead intensified their efforts to discredit and sabotage our way of life. They saw that Project irrigators were still reeling from the effects of the 2001 shutoff, and they advanced aggressively, hoping to land the knockout punch.

Thus – the defensive posture. While some say that the best offence is a good defense, it’s not a healthy way to play the game. While great progress has been made since 2001, we are, unfortunately, trapped by the same biological consultation philosophy that led to the tragic curtailment of irrigation deliveries in 2001.

Irrigators are trapped in a "no-win" paradigm

The current operations paradigm is simple – and risky to our irrigators. If rigid lake levels – set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to protect suckers – and rigid Iron Gate Dam flow releases – set by National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to protect coho salmon – cannot be met, Project irrigation supplies will be curtailed until they are met. We have consistently encouraged Interior and NMFS to reconsider the rigid proposals for streamflow releases and lake levels contained in the existing biological opinions. We continue to recommend a more flexible management plan that will allow all affected interests a better opportunity to respond and adapt the water conditions as they develop during the irrigation season. Unfortunately, the apparent lack of flexibility caused by fishery agency regulations has already had a significant impact the Klamath Basin irrigation community, and has produced division, not cooperation.

Our local irrigators – even with annual operations plans in place – have virtually no certainty that water supplies will be provided for the full season, regardless of the water year type. Because certainty of water supplies is directly related to one’s ability to secure financing for farming operations, there is an increasing sense of instability in the farming community. This is primarily due to the fact that – because of the rigid lake level and river flow requirements imposed by the agency biological opinions – Project irrigators and the national wildlife refuges get the water that’s "left over". Should unexpected hydrology or downstream tribal trust calls occur and lake and/or river levels cannot be met, deliveries to the Project simply are simply curtailed. I’ve heard all the statements about there being "no certainty" in farming, and I take exception to them. A reliable supply of water for irrigation is exactly why the Klamath Project was constructed nearly one hundred years ago.

We must get back on the offensive, and work with this Administration, the States of California and Oregon, Congress – and those stakeholder groups who have a real stake in this watershed – to strongly promote and ultimately develop a fair and effective water management and species recovery program for the Klamath River Watershed. Our 200,000-acre Project should not be expected to bear the burden of recovering fish species in a Basin covering over 10 million acres.

Overview of KWUA Efforts to Promote Effective Restoration Efforts


In 1993, KWUA developed its first Ecosystem Restoration Plan for the Upper Klamath Basin. We developed another recovery plan in 2001, the intent of which was to speed up recovery of the two sucker species by aggressively implementing a focused comprehensive restoration plan. The 2001 Plan reiterates many of the themes contained in the 1993 report.

No Need to Reinvent the Wheel: The CALFED Bay-Delta Program

The situation we are currently facing in the Klamath Basin reminds me of the fragmented state of things that was apparent in California’s Bay-Delta in the early 1990’s. There, environmental groups, urban water users and agricultural interests, weary after several years of drought, environmental degradation, water supply uncertainty, and litigation, gathered together to form a détente of sorts. With leadership from the Clinton and Wilson Administrations, the Bay-Delta Accord was signed, which called for a temporary freeze on litigation, and focused spending on fish protection and ecosystem restoration projects that everyone could agree upon. Out of this process emerged the CALFED Bay-Delta Program (CALFED), which was established to develop a long-term solution to the incredibly contentious conflicts facing water users and environmental needs that vie for the water supplies of California’s San Francisco Bay-Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta.

The CALFED Mission Statement was developed through an open and public process, with discussion and input from participants at workshops and from members of the Bay-Delta Advisory Committee.

The mission of the CALFED Bay-Delta Program is "to develop and implement a long-term comprehensive plan that will restore ecological health and improve water management for beneficial uses of the Bay-Delta System."

Solution principles guide the CALFED Bay-Delta program. The six principles that guide the development and evaluation of the program and development of the solution alternatives are:

  • An affordable solution will be one that can be implemented and maintained within the range of foreseeable resources.
  • An equitable solution will focus on resolving problems in all problem areas. Improvements for some problems will not be made without corresponding improvements for other problems.
  • An implementable solution will have broad public acceptance, legal feasibility and will be timely and relatively simple compared with other alternatives.
  • A durable solution will have political and economic staying power and will sustain the resources it was designed to protect and enhance.
  • A solution will reduce major conflicts among beneficial users of water.
  • A solution will not solve problems in the Bay-Delta system by redirecting significant negative impacts.

While the CALFED Bay-Delta Program has its shortcomings, these principles could very well provide guidance under which conflicting parties within the Klamath River watershed can come to the table and work in a collaborative manner to address the challenges we all face.

What Lies Ahead?

To address the instability we currently are witnessing in the agricultural community, we need a long-lasting solution for the Basin that transcends party lines and administrations. Ultimately, a legislative package supported by both states and the federal government may provide the best vehicle for such a solution. Regardless of the mechanism, that solution, at a minimum, should provide for true recovery of listed fish species, and not a continuation of the current paradigm, which is simply responding to annual "jeopardy" determinations, with the burden of avoiding jeopardy falling square on the backs of Project irrigators. Such a solution must ensure economic sustainability for communities reliant upon agriculture, fishing, and recreation. And finally, this solution must be equitably applied, without imposing disproportionate burdens on any one sector of the watershed.


Federal Agency Action Plans

Before any such solution can be proposed, it is imperative that existing problems-and potential causes-be evaluated in a credible fashion. In the past ten years, hundreds of restoration and conservation projects have been implemented with the express intent of recovering suckers in the Upper Basin. Unfortunately, these efforts have been conducted by a variety of agencies and private interests, with very little coordination or accountability occurring. Worse, no one can tell us how effective these measures have been.

The Bush Administration last month announced the release of agency action plans, which, for the first time, provide a sense of what the federal agencies have done to address environmental challenges in the Klamath River watershed. Our association earlier this year also developed a 44-page summary of similar efforts undertaken by private landowners over the past 10 years. These are much-needed, critical steps towards development of a solution.

I started out my career as a civil engineer, and my employer always told me that the most important part of any new project was the accuracy of the site map. Once you understand the terrain, you can develop a plan. The same holds for a Basin-wide water resources and species recovery plan. You have to understand the constraints and limitations of an area before you charge ahead with a solution.

Environmental exaggerations scare the public and make us more likely to spend our resources and attention solving phantom problems while ignoring real and pressing issues. This is why it is important to know the real state of the Klamath River watershed. We need to get the facts and the best possible information to make the best possible decisions. The Bush Administration’s recent announcement is a necessary and encouraging step towards this end.

Final NRC Report

I believe that another important development will soon impact how a future solution is developed, and that is the release of the final National Research Council Klamath Committee report this summer. Over the past year, this committee has been thoroughly addressing the scientific aspects related to the continued survival of coho salmon and suckers in the Klamath River Basin. The committee will identify gaps in the knowledge and scientific information that are needed and provide approximate estimates of the time and funding needed to fill those gaps, if such estimates are possible. The committee will also provide an assessment of scientific considerations relevant to strategies for promoting the recovery of listed species in the Klamath Basin. Our consultants in the past six months have provided the committee with substantial data and information on the upper and lower Klamath ecosystem. This information was collected, compiled, and analyzed by objective scientists to further the committee’s unbiased scientific review of all the available data.

I think we can safely say, based on recent comments made in a journal article written by the NRC Committee Chair, Bill Lewis, that the sections of the report dealing with suckers will be favorable. Chairman Lewis, in a response to a critique of the NRC Interim Report by two OSU professors, makes several references suggesting that Upper Klamath Lake water levels have little to do with fish die-offs. Lewis specifically states: "In fact, variations of weather conditions from year to year due seem to underlie variations in mass mortality of adult suckers from year to year. But there is no hint of any connection with water level." We will have to wait and see what the final report says, but comments like these appear to support what our biologists have been saying for years.

The point here is to give us the best evidence to allow us to make the most informed decision as to where we need to place most of our efforts. If we are to understand the real state of the Klamath River, we need to focus on the fundamentals and we need to look at realities, not myths. It is crucial that we cite facts and figures that are true.

Other Federal Agency Developments

There are other ongoing federal developments that could prove to be valuable tools in creating a long-term solution:

  • The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will soon complete a detailed analysis of Klamath River flow conditions as they existed prior to the arrival of Europeans in the Basin. For the first time, we will have a tool that should demonstrate how the Klamath Project actually contributes to flows in certain months, contrary to the assertions made by certain downstream parties.
  • Reclamation will soon release a plan that further describes its Conservation Implementation Plan, modeled after a true fish recovery program already in operation on the Colorado River. This framework offers up a realistic opportunity to collaboratively set milestones that lead to the recovery of coho and suckers, a concept that has been virtually ignored in the past decade.

Our new governor – Ted Kulongoski – has expressed genuine enthusiasm for this concept, and has already outreached to the federal government and State of California to encourage their participation.

KWUA Plans

Our association is also working on some issues that will help guide our involvement in forging a long-term solution:

  • KWUA has budgeted 20 percent of its budget this year to hire a power consultant to develop a strategy that prepares local irrigators for anticipated power rate increases in 2006. We have also seen an incredible showing of support from non-Project irrigators who have already contributed money to this effort. We thank these folks, and I would also like to thank the steady corps of Power Committee regulars who have already contributed a great deal of their free time towards this effort in the past three years.
  • KWUA will soon convene a working group that addresses the contentious issue of farmland conversion. While proponents of a Project down-sizing suggest that this will somehow solve the water crisis, we simply have not seen the data to support this claim, particularly if farmland is to be converted to wetlands, which use more water than farms. However, we will attempt to investigate the role – if any – that land conversion might play, and offer recommendations that minimize community impacts, while encouraging young farmers to stay in the Basin.
  • We will continue to pressure the federal government to fully fund and accelerate implementation of the Water Supply Enhancement Act of 2000. This legislation provides the opportunity to fairly assess options that will improve Klamath Project yield, yet funding has not been adequate to make this happen in recent years. This process would cut down on the speculation and controversy that we are currently facing when a new "storage proposal of the week" is introduced. All of these proposals likely have merit, but the only way to find out which proposal is most feasible is to weigh them relative to one another, rather than in a vacuum.


We can expect traditional foes of irrigated agriculture to try their best to derail our efforts. We must not let this happen, and we must continue to take the high road towards improving our destiny and contributing to effective species recovery. I believe, with time- and I already sense that this is occurring – that the general public will soon realize that there are two different means of addressing the problems we face.

One is through manufacturing crises, assigning blame to an area representing only 2% of the entire watershed, and relying upon the courts and the media to solve the problem.

The other is to get things done on the ground, and let those results speak for themselves. The recent completion of a $14 million state-of-the-art fish screen, the voluntary enrollment by hundreds of farmers in a 60,000 acre-foot environmental water bank, and the interest shown by over 500 applicants seeking Farm Bill conservation funding this year alone speaks for itself. We’re keeping a ledger that tallies these sort of proactive efforts, and I challenge any of the so-called environmental groups to show us what they’ve done on the ground in the past few years. Their ledgers will be bare, save for the impressive amount of lawsuits and negative press releases they’ve generated.

In that same vein, I’m curious to see how some of the environmental groups will react to developing a program aimed at recovering fish. It’s clear that local farmers, the State of Oregon, and the Bush Administration are all trying to constructive address our challenges. It will be interesting to see how some of the extreme environmental groups step up. We’ll soon see what their true colors are.

We recognize that there will be continued difficulties in resolving Klamath Basin problems. As we work towards meaningful solutions, we support the following principles:

  • Unassailable scientific rationale for all biological opinions – both process and substance;
  • Coordination and integration of restoration activities, and accountability for those actions;
  • Congressional support for meaningful restoration activities throughout the Klamath Basin for listed species and the refuges; and
  • Alleviation of the disproportionate ESA burden now borne only by the Klamath Project.

We will continue to draw attention to the current, rigid emphasis that federal biologists place on lake level and flow release management, using Klamath Project water and funds to implement. This approach must be amended to incorporate greater flexibility. This would allow for slight adjustments in the minimum elevations of UKL or flow conditions at Iron Gate Dam if expected inflow or climactic conditions could cause curtailment of irrigation supplies. The operations plan should allow mid-season adjustments based on conditions as they develop.

Finally, we will continue to advocate for a decision-making process that is open and supported by unbiased assessment and sound science. Democracy functions better if everyone has access to the best possible information. Debate about the health of the Klamath River environment should not be based more on myth than on truth.

Thank you.


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

KBC Home



Content and Logo: Copyright © Klamath Water Users Association, 2002 All Rights Reserved
Page design: Copyright ©  klamathbasincrisis.org,   2002,  All Rights Reserved