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Klamath Scientific Process May Overshadow Specific Issues

KWUA Perspective

Dan Keppen, P.E. Executive Director, 6/8/04, Arcada, CA.

Good morning – thanks for the opportunity to join you today.

KWUA Background

The Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA) is a non-profit corporation that has represented Klamath Irrigation Project farmers and ranchers since 1953. The Klamath Project, built nearly 100 years ago and operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) covers roughly 200,000 acres that straddle the California-Oregon border. The Project represents 2% of the land area in the entire Klamath River watershed. It was built to provide water stored in the federal project (Upper Klamath Lake, Clear Lake and Gerber Reservoir) specifically for irrigation purposes.

KWUA members include rural irrigation districts and other public agencies, as well as private concerns operating on both sides of the California-Oregon border. Local water users play an important role in Klamath Basin wildlife conservation activities, including efforts to provide environmental water to two national wildlife refuges. Last year, the administration of Oregon Governor Kulongoski recognized KWUA with its "Leadership in Conservation" award. This Wednesday in Salem, the governor and other state elected leaders will again recognize our association and others who have contributed to proactive watershed management efforts.

Overview of KWUA Efforts to Promote Effective Restoration

The Klamath Water Users Association for over 10 years has advocated for truly effective restoration. The issues that I will outline today are driven by principles and goals previously outlined in two sucker restoration plans and one summary report of local conservation efforts developed by our association.

The intent of our two restoration plans was to catalyze the development of a comprehensive ecosystem restoration plan and, at the same time, to initiate an aggressive, pro-active approach to begin to address basin-wide resource conflicts. Minimizing conflicts among competing uses for common resources is a principal theme of our efforts.

Many of the guiding principles contained in these documents have also been implemented with success through the Ecosystem Restoration component of the CALFED Bay-Delta Program, a massive effort already underway in the Central Valley. CALFED conceptual principles may provide an example we can apply in Klamath, which I will discuss further later.

The Issues are Secondary to the Process

I understand that the intent of today’s discussion is to provide diverse perspectives on what various parties believe are the top 3 most pressing science needs in the Klamath River watershed. I spent some time talking to our legal and scientific consultants in preparation for this discussion, and we developed a very lengthy list. I will – very briefly – identify those three issues that reached the top of our list. They are:

  1. Apply research to pinpoint the primary factors affecting sucker fish recovery in Upper Klamath Lake, and, through an adaptive management approach, develop pilot projects that focus solely on recovery of these species;
  2. Resolve the disputed relationship between fish disease, flows and water temperatures on the lower Klamath River; and
  3. Using an adaptive management approach that emphasizes incentives (rather than regulations) for landowners - and in a manner that avoids re-directing negative impacts - improve coho habitat in lower Klamath River tributaries.

That is the extent to which I will discuss these specific issues, because in the course of our internal conversations, it became apparent that it wasn’t necessarily the nature of the particular scientific questions that our folks were concerned with. Instead, it was the manner and process in which all of these issues are handled in the Klamath River watershed.

Process Concerns

It appeared to many in our camp – and I’m sure others in attendance today will agree – that the knowledge and skills of many resources specialists are being employed in "warfare" on the Klamath environmental front. It is the nature of how science is being utilized in the Klamath conflict that is of more concern to us than the specific nature of the scientific issues themselves. Until we can develop some sort of détente in this watershed that will allow the sort of peaceful forum where we can bring our experts together and mutually address our challenges, I’m afraid that dueling science will prevent us from addressing and solving the real and true challenges we face.

So, why are we in this current situation?

Well, unfortunately, the courts appear to be a favorite forum to resolve resources issues in the Klamath River watershed. Consider this - every year, our attorneys develop an updated summary of the ongoing and pertinent past litigation that, in large part, controls much of what happens in Klamath water issues. The last version of this single-spaced document exceeds 10 pages in length, and it continues to grow every year.

When stakeholder groups and government agencies are spending a substantial amount of their time preparing to engage in courtroom warfare, it is not a simple matter to put aside hostilities engendered in such a setting and attempt to civilly resolve differences in a more constructive arena. Partly because of the litigious nature of Klamath resources issues, "sides" have formed and hardened before good information existed. We are now in an environment where "winning" substitutes for "doing well".

So what is the recipe for changing the environment in which we do business in the Klamath River watershed?

There are at least seven necessary ingredients: 1) Science with Sufficient Buy-In; 2) Water; 3) Coordinated Restoration; 4) Equity and Patience; 5) Money; 6) Leadership; and 7) Political Climate.

Most of these specific issues are better suited for another, separate discussion. However, an extremely useful –and one would think obvious – tool that could lead to developing science with sufficient buy-in is simply group brainstorming. It is only effective, though, if it occurs among a broad diversity of individuals, interest groups and disciplines. Because no one knows all the answers, group brainstorming is invaluable for bringing out fresh new perspectives that can serve as catalysts toward developing innovative approaches to problem resolution. Group brainstorming also creates a broader range of alternatives to consider than if only a few, like-minded people are involved.

Look to the South: The CALFED Program Solution Principles

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 Washington, D.C. and Sacramento, 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 Bay-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 are that the solution must be: affordable, equitable, implementable, and durable. It must reduce major conflicts, and it cannot solve problems by redirecting significant negative impacts to other areas.

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.


Local agricultural and business leaders involved with the Klamath Project have dedicated thousands of volunteer hours and have spent over $1 million in legal and consulting fees in the past ten years to participate in processes associated with environmental restoration, Klamath Basin water rights adjudication, dispute resolution, drought-proofing, and water supply enhancement. Hundreds of individual ecosystem restoration and water conservation efforts have been completed – over 800 more have been proposed by local farmers and ranchers in the past two years alone.

Unfortunately, it will likely take even more process and on-the-ground projects to get us out of this mess. I would like to think that the Conservation Implementation Program (CIP) proposed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and NOAA Fisheries could form the type of watershed-wide forum that might provide an arena for the "brainstorming" dialogue that can help us out of this situation.

However, Reclamation has a ways to go before the stakeholder community is ready for this. We need a strong statement of leadership by the federal government and the two states to let the world know that a program like the CIP is the forum where science and the needs of stakeholders can converge to achieve practical results. Patience will be required in this process, because these results will only be achieved through small but steady steps. And if state and federal policy leaders assume a stronger leadership role in Klamath, enforceability and accountability will be demanded of participants in the process, since it will have portfolio due to widespread acceptance that it is part of a larger political process.

In order to reach the point where we have science that is supported with sufficient buy-in, we need to have a forum that is conducive. I believe that we should strive collectively to engage in the CIP, or an acceptable alternative forum, that is supported by our state and federal leaders. Using principals previously developed for the CALFED Program, or something close to that sort of guidance, might provide the necessary catalyst to bring diverse interests together in a CIP-type of arena to start some useful brainstorming.

I’m frankly getting tired of the outside world’s perception that the Klamath watershed is the poster child for all that is wrong in western water policy. The next few months are critically important to start moving in a new direction. We are seeing increased coordination between state and federal policy leaders on Klamath issues, while at the same time the potential for conflict regarding river management this summer and fall is ripening. While we had hopes two months ago that some sort of settlement might be reached on the 2002 fish die-off lawsuit, recent developments have set us back. If we continue to fall back to the courts as recourse for resolution, I’m afraid the only type of brainstorming that will occur in the near future will be in the hallways of the courtrooms, as our respective scientists and attorneys prepare to testify against each other.

I’m not sure how wise it is to be quoting from George Bush in a "Republican stronghold" like Arcata. However, what then-President Bush said in 1991 applies more than ever today in the Klamath River watershed: "We need to rethink our approach…The old ways of doing things have run their course. Find new ones."

Thank you.





Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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