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Response by Dan Keppen, Executive Director Family Farm Alliance, to Sacramento Bee article regarding Klamath
Sacramento Bee article Klamath in Crisis:

Klamath in Crisis - with salmon in abundance, fishing fleet runs aground on shoals of politics, response to SacBee with photos in Water Wire, by Dan Keppen, Klamath Falls. 7/12/05. SCROLL DOWN! pdf file.  This has photos with the story.

Dear Mr. Philp:

I have been involved with water policy issues in California and the West Coast for 16 years. I currently serve as the executive director of the Family Farm Alliance, and previous to that, I worked for 3 ½ years for the Klamath Water Users Association. Prior to that, I worked for Lester Snow as his special assistant at the Bureau of Reclamation for one year (ironically, the same year Reclamation curtailed water supplies to the Klamath farmers I came to represent later). Lester spoke highly of you, and I’m hoping you will consider the following with an open mind.

I initially sent this to Stuart Leavenworth, who I consider to be a fine writer, and whose coverage of KIamath issues, I believe, has been even-handed. Stuart suggested that I address this matter with you. With all due respect, I am personally upset about the above-referenced editorial that was printed in The Bee on Sunday. I believe The Bee editorial was accusatory, unfair, and unjustified. I have re-printed the editorial below, with my responses in bold. I am not responding to this on behalf of the Family Farm Alliance or the Klamath Water Users, but simply as a resident of the Klamath Basin who has been on the receiving end of activist-driven allegations for the past four years.

So - what recourse will editorial staff of The Bee provide the family farmers and ranchers who are targeted in the editorial to tell the rest of the story? I'm hoping that you will give the water users, Pacific Legal Foundation, and/or non-PCFFA fishermen a chance to give their view of things in your editorial pages.  

Thank you for the opportunity to vent. I simply do not believe that the hard working farmers and ranchers who are now my neighbors are somehow solely responsible for what is happening with West Coast fishermen.

Best regards - Dan Keppen

Klamath in crisis - With salmon in abundance, fishing fleet runs aground on shoals of water politics

(Keppen's response is in bold print)

A healthy stock of salmon is busy swimming out in the Pacific Ocean, but authorities have restricted commercial fishing operations throughout Northern California because of problems in one river.

That would be the Klamath, where an anemic population of salmon return each year to spawn.

Anemic? In 2002 - the year of the big "fish kill" that Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen Associations (PCFFA) and others like to attribute as the reason behind this year's lower Klamath returns - Iron Gate Hatchery on the Klamath River recorded the third highest number of returning salmon in forty years. Yes - 33,000 fish died near the mouth of the river (over 200 miles from the Klamath Project) - but over 100,000 fish survived.

PCFFA and activists have, for the past three years, continued to claim that there is a correlation between 2002 Klamath Project operations and the Klamath River fish die-off in 2002. Judge Armstrong in 2003 , based on the conflicting evidence presented by the parties regarding the cause of the fish die-off, found a "triable issue of fact" exists as to whether the Bureau of Reclamation breached its duty to the Yurok Tribes through its operation of the Klamath Project. Accordingly, the court denied the tribes' motions for summary judgment on this matter, and ultimately dismissed the case as "moot" earlier this year. Further, a 2003 report released by the National Academy of Sciences also failed to find a link between the die-off and Project operations. It cannot clearly be shown that low flows killed the salmon that year. Simply look at 1988, when identical flow conditions existed in the Lower Klamath River. That year, a run of 215,322 salmon occurred on the Klamath River ("anemic population"?), and no fish die-off occurred. In 2002, 132,600 salmon returned, and 33,000 died on the lower river. In other words, there was a much larger salmon run in 1988 with the same lower river flow, but no fish die-off.

Salmon return to the river of their birth to end their life cycle, spawning just before they die. Between birth and death, the fish live in the ocean. And while they're in the ocean, the salmon that were born in the Klamath mingle with those that started life elsewhere.

There's no way a fisherman knows which is on the hook. A regulator can't tell, either. So to protect the precious few salmon that are bound for the Klamath, the only recourse has been to curtail ocean salmon fishing altogether.

This is not the only recourse available. On June 3rd, two Oregon fishermen's associations and workers and families dependent on the fishing industry filed suit against the National Marine Fisheries Service, arguing that the agency's decision to slash the 2005 commercial trolling chinook salmon fishing season by more than half violated federal law.

Local fishermen, coastal business owners, and other workers, represented by Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), say that the Fisheries Service ignored the fact that there are record numbers of returning salmon, failed to consider hatchery salmon, and disregarded the severe economic and safety impacts of the regulation. The agency's decision threatens families, businesses, and communities dependent on the fishing industry from Portland to San Francisco.

NMFS' decision to virtually eliminate the 2005 season for salmon fisheries off the coasts of Oregon and California is based in large part on the agency's "selective counting" of only naturally spawned chinook salmon, ignoring the record numbers of chinook that exist when hatchery spawned chinook also are counted. PLF says that federal law does not allow NMFS to treat hatchery and naturally spawned salmon differently or to issue harvest regulations based solely on naturally spawned salmon numbers.

When hatchery fish are included, the 2005 forecasts for chinook returns support a large harvest. In fact, the 2005 findings of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, which recommends fishery management decisions to NMFS for Pacific salmon fisheries, show that the Central Valley Index (a combination of Sacramento River chinook and Central Valley chinook) forecast is the highest on record and twice the 2004 preseason forecast, and that the Klamath River fall chinook forecast is 1.11 times the 2004 preseason forecast.

PLF's lawsuit also charges NMFS with disregarding the economic and safety impacts of its harvest regulation on commercial chinook salmon fishermen and small businesses dependent on the commercial chinook salmon fishery, as required by federal law. Congress-concerned that conservation measures were threatening the survival of fishing communities-mandated under the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Act and the Regulatory Flexibility Act that NMFS must examine the potential economic impacts of regulations on fishing communities, and identify alternatives that minimize those effects.

The decision to limit commercial salmon fishing has these mom-and-pop businesses angry and frustrated, and understandably so. Consumers aren't getting much of a break on salmon prices either. The situation smells of White House politics and misplaced priorities.

Some of us in the Upper Basin who have read The Bee's editorial piece think it smells of a PCFFA or EarthJustice news release. Where did the editorial board get its information to write such a one-sided assessment?

Once one of the West Coast's biggest salmon fisheries, the Klamath begins in Oregon before snaking south to California, then west to the ocean. Along the way, considerable water is taken from the river to sustain thousands of acres of farm land, much of it devoted to potatoes.

1. "Considerable water?" The Klamath Irrigation Project - the sole target of the PCFFA and other environmental activist groups - uses only 3-4% of the total water that flows out of the Klamath into the Pacific on an annual basis. These same activists will counter this fact by claiming that 300,000 acre-feet of the 1.3 million acre-feet that flows by the Klamath Project (located hundreds of miles above the mouth of the river, where the fish died in 2002) is diverted to the Project in an average year.

This is true; what is also true is that, were it not for the storage provided by the Klamath Project, summer and fall river levels below Iron Gate Dam would currently be at "pre-development" levels, which in some cases, was merely a trickle. We have photographic evidence of flows in the Link River immediately below Upper Klamath Lake, taken before the Klamath Project was operable, 100 years ago. These pictures show a DRY Link River in the middle of the summer. That's because the natural reef that preceded Link River Dam periodically kept the lake from spilling into Link River, especially when high winds from the south, in essence, "pushed" the water towards the north end of the lake.

Further, the Bureau of Reclamation is currently wrapping up its "Undepleted Natural Flow of the Upper Klamath River", which will be finalized and submitted to the National Academy of Sciences for peer review this year. That study shows that flows have increased 30 percent over discharges before farmers settled the area. The flow increases are attributed to the fact that irrigated land uses less water than evaporation loss from the thousands of acres of swamps and marshes that existed before the shallow lakebeds were reclaimed for agricultural use.

The development of the stored water provided by the Klamath Project allowed for the controlled, beneficial use of water in the Upper Basin. Currently, summer flows in the Lower Klamath River are augmented with stored water that would not be there, but for the Klamath Project.

Under pre-Project conditions, natural controls existed below both Upper Klamath Lake and Lake Ewauna which stabilized lake levels except during critical droughts. Those controls were natural reefs of hard earth material in the channel and other channel constrictions. Under these pre-Project conditions, the Klamath River flowed into the Lower Klamath Lake area. A 1906 map titled "Topographic and Drainage Map, Upper and Lower Klamath Project" shows the invert of the Klamath Strait approximately the same level as the Klamath River channel bottom near Keno. In addition, the Lost River terminated at Tule Lake. These flows flooded approximately 183,000 acres within Lower Klamath and Tule Lake. In general, under pre-Project conditions, Klamath River flows downstream of Keno may have occurred after a certain water level was reached in the Klamath River and Lower Klamath Lake.   

So - the stored water that is being used by farmers in the summer time is water that otherwise would have flowed out to sea or evaporated in shallow basins in April, May and June. The environmental activists would have you believe that the Klamath Project is simply sucking water directly out of the river, when if fact, they are pulling off stored reserves in Upper Klamath Lake, Gerber Reservoir, and Clear Lake.

2. "Much of it devoted to potatoes?" - I'm not sure what the point is here. First, "much of it" is NOT devoted to potatoes. The Klamath Irrigation Project supplies water to approximately 200,000 acres. This year, 12,000 acres of potatoes are being produced in the Project. Also, potatoes use only 18-24 inches of water per acre (as compared to 60 inches of water per acre in suburban areas). Further - the federal Klamath Project only represents less than 40 percent of all the Upper Basin irrigated agriculture, according to study developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. So, the actual amount of potatoes grown in the Upper Basin is less than 3 percent of the total irrigated acreage.

With that said – I’m not sure what the big deal is about growing potatoes. Interestingly, 7,000 of the 12,000 acres grown in the Klamath Project are fresh market potatoes, most of which are sold to restaurants and markets in San Francisco.  

The Klamath simply doesn't have the water to deliver what the farmers desire and leave enough in the river for healthy steelhead and salmon populations.

We hear this argument all the time from activist groups like WaterWatch, EarthJustice and PCFFA. The irrigated acreage served by the Klamath Project has remained essentially the same for nearly 50 years. That particular water demand has remained constant. If there wasn't enough water, how come we haven't seen massive fish kills every year for the past 50 years?

Up and down the river, key tributaries that once sheltered these fish are inhospitable because of excessive groundwater pumping and historic logging practices, among other human alterations.

FYI - a study conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prior to the list of coho salmon listed the factors that contributed to the decline of Klamath River salmonids. They were:

  • Over fishing
  • Logging
  • Trinity River transbasin diversion
  • Irrigation diversions in lower Klamath tributaries
  • 1964 flood
  • 1976-1977 drought
  • Sea lion predation
  • Brown trout predation.

The documents I have reviewed are notable for their lack of supporting scientific information or data suggesting that Klamath Project operations are a significant factor adversely affecting fishery resources. To the contrary, the available information provides compelling evidence that other factors are far more important in affecting fish populations than the recent historical Iron Gate Dam flow regime.

A similar circumstance occurred with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) during and after the coho salmon listing in the lower basin. It cited the reasons to list coho salmon, excluding Klamath Project operations as a significant factor affecting the species. However, shortly following the listing, and with no supporting data, NMFS chose to center its attention on the Klamath Project as the principal factor affecting coho salmon.

The NAS Klamath review of 2003 provides additional information on this matter, and outlines in particular the impacts caused by the three large canneries that were operated at the mouth of the Klamath River 100 years ago. That report suggests that the decline in salmon runs began at that time.

The Klamath crisis can be wrongly portrayed as a fish-vs.-humans matter. In truth, it's more of a humans-vs.-humans competition, with commercial fishermen and Indian tribes downstream pitted against farmers upstream. The Bush administration has tended to favor upstream interests in Oregon, a state that is more likely to back a Republican for president, over those in California, which favors a Democratic stronghold.

This is an interesting finding. President Bush did not win in Oregon in the past election, or the previous election. In fact, there are parts of the Willamette Valley that rival San Francisco as Democratic strongholds. On the other hand, California has a Republican governor, which Oregon has not seen since Vic Atiyeh was re-elected in 1982: over 20 years ago. This finding also fails to reflect that a good portion of the Klamath Project is in Northern California. Further, additional farming and ranching occurs in the Scott and Shasta Valleys of California. This statement is very similar to the black helicopter arguments we've been seeing from PCFFA, EarthJustice, and other activist groups, who desperately try to link anything that goes bad in Klamath with Bush Administration policy. Of course, this is a good ploy to use when trying to generate funding from potential donors. To see this kind of reasoning replayed in The Bee, however, is disappointing.

A more balanced management policy would focus on restoring the salmon fishery, because it is the most high-value crop that the Klamath's water sustains.

Where in the world did the Bee come up with this finding? Just prior to the 2002 fish die-off, native Americans along the Klamath River were trying to peddle salmon on coastal roadsides at a fraction of market prices, due to the glut of West Coast salmon. The Modesto Bee in 2002 carried a story on this very issue. I would be very interested in seeing the data that backs this statement, and would be happy to provide The Bee with information that may contribute to a more balanced decision on this matter.

But the situation along the Klamath is anything but balanced. It is a mess. And now so is the entire salmon season for commercial fishermen off the coast. So many fish, so little fishing, so little regard for common-sense water policies.

I am truly amazed and saddened that The Bee editorial board appears to have chosen to swallow the hook thrown out by Glen Spain and the other spin-masters at PCFFA. The Bee - like PCFFA - has chosen to focus specifically on one small area of a 10.5 million acre watershed and heap the blame for all of the problems in the river (and in the West Coast fishing industry, it would seem) on its family farmers and ranchers. This flies in the face of the approach used in another article I read in The Bee last week, which focused on the fishery problems in the Bay-Delta. In that article, great care was taken to explain that the Bay-Delta is incredibly complex, and that it is difficult to isolate just one factor (such as export pumping) and conclude that that is the sole stressor to Delta fish.  

If the Bee editorial board had taken the time to talk to Upper Basin water users, Bureau of Reclamation officials, or the State of Oregon, they would have been directed to piles of studies - including two completed by the National Academy of Sciences - which clearly demonstrate that the problems of the Klamath River cannot be solved solely on the backs of Klamath Project irrigators. Instead, a watershed-wide approach must be implemented to determine the relative stress caused to fish by the factors listed above, and then tackle those stressors with solutions. The Klamath water users are doing their part, as evidenced in part by their recognition by Gov. Kulongoski and the State Department of Agriculture as “leaders in conservation” -  two years in a row.

If you want to learn more about what’s happening in the Upper Basin, I would be happy to put you in contact with local water users and business leaders who would be more than willing to give you a personal tour.

Thank you for considering my views.  

Dan Keppen




Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM  Pacific

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