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H&N file photo: Jess Prosser pulls the first bucket of water from Lake Ewauna in 2001, during a bucket brigade protest.

Five years after crisis, needs remain

Herald and News by Steve Kadel 11/5/06

Water is precious to people living in the arid West. Those who have it flourish; those who don't have it perish. In the Klamath Basin, many entities compete for Klamath River water. Is it being equitably distributed? Is there enough for everyone? Are current practices helping boost populations of endangered salmon? The Herald and News asked various stakeholders for a snapshot of where we are now, five years after federal officials turned off the spigot.

Greg Addington Jeff Reeves Rick Goche U.S. Rep. Greg Walden

Greg Addington

Greg Addington is executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association. He doesn't believe the biological opinions from federal agencies regarding flow levels for the Klamath River are helping endangered fish stocks.

Better water storage in the upper Klamath Basin is a critical need, as Addington sees it. He says farmers and coastal salmon fishermen are united on that point.

“It really needs to be looked at,” Addington said. “And what is the role of (fish) hatcheries? Are they helping? Are they not helping?”

Addington supports a watershed-wide approach toward solving the water issue, rather than having irrigators make all the concessions. A new coalition with fishermen that farmers forged during the past year is encouraging, he added.

“It's refreshing to me to be able to sit down with these guys and talk about substantial solutions,” Addington said.

Dick Carleton

Dick Carleton of Carleton Farms sees those on the ground having the best insight in to water issues, and what should be done. That means farmers, ranchers and fishermen having a larger role in finding solutions.

“Our goal is to form a coalition from the ground up,” he said. “When it comes to decision-making, we really haven't had a voice. We hope to change that.”

He, too, criticized biological opinions that drive Klamath River flow levels.

“They're such that on a certain date you need a certain amount of water,” Carleton said. “You need real-time flows.”

Doug Whitsett

State Sen. Doug Whitsett likened the 2001 Klamath Basin water shutoff to this year's curtailment of the coastal salmon fishery. Both restrictions had more to do with politics than with the available resources, he said.

Whitsett sees climate change affecting water availability. Mountain snowpack runoff is occurring earlier and earlier, making water storage more important than ever, he said.


PacifiCorp spokesmen Toby Freeman of Klamath Falls and Dave Kvamme of Portland point to the utility's electricity generation. The power output has been greater in years since 2001 when draught greatly reduced available water.

“These flows benefit our customers in the form of low cost power,” Kvamme said. “In drought years we either turn to our fossil fuel sources of power or must buy additional power from open markets, which is reflected in our rates.”

 Kvamme noted the utility only has 80 percent of the power it needs to serve customers during the summer months. That gap is continuing to grow, making water flows valuable to PacifiCorp.

“Resources like the Klamath River are moderate in size, but have incredibly low cost benefits for our customers,” Kvamme said.

Craig Tucker

Craig Tucker, spokesman for the Karuk Tribe of Northern California, says the relicensing of four Klamath River dams by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission provides a unique opportunity to help salmon. He said tribal members support removing the PacifiCorp-operated dams, which now impede fish passage upstream.

“With or without the dams in place, we don't see the status quo in terms of flows being acceptable,” Tucker said.

He said spring flows of 800 cubic feet per second are too low to help fish get downstream. The low flow kills fish, Tucker said.

“In March and April, that's when juvenile chinook migrate to the ocean. They need flow. Juveniles are susceptible to predation, so the water needs to be up to the riparian habitat so fish can hide from predators such as osprey.

“In recent years they've cut flows down and we've seen big juvenile fish die-offs.”

Tucker said tribe members want to work with irrigators, and agree that additional water storage would help everyone. He said both sides took a “bare knuckle approach” after the fish die-off of 2002, but it didn't help anyone.

Compromise is the new attitude.

“We're optimistic that dam removal will help the fish,” Tucker said. “We also think to earn support of the upper Basin community we want a dam removal package to also help folks up there.”

Larry Dunsmoor

Larry Dunsmoor, fisheries biologist for the Klamath Tribes, didn't address dam removal. However, he said the overall atmosphere is more conducive now than in the past as far as reaching a settlement among stakeholder groups.

Rick Goche

Salmon fisherman Rick Goche says upper Klamath Basin water storage is a good long-term solution. Long Lake, with an estimated storage capacity of 500,000 acre-feet of water, is the most promising storage venue.

If studies prove it would be feasible as a storage site, Long Lake would be deep enough to provide the cool water fish need.

However, Goche says fishing families need financial help in the short-term. Some money has been allocated from the state of Oregon, he said, but Congress is still wrangling over the amount of relief to grant.

The word “relief” irks Goche, who says the term is misleading.

“It is compensation for something that's been taken away from us,” he said of federal money.

Goche echoed words of others who believe agriculturalists and fishermen need a bigger role in finding a remedy for water allocation.

“We've been waiting 20 years for the alphabet agencies to fix the Klamath,” he said. “I think it's time for a bottom-up fix.”

Greg Walden

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., had good news for Goche when they met recently at the Klamath Basin Potato Festival in Merrill.

“I think you'll find pretty broad-based support in Congress if you come up with solutions,” Walden said. “With the FERC relicensing in play, it's a chance to find some solutions.”

Walden mentioned another battlefield in the salmon wars - predation by sea lions at the Klamath River's mouth. He noted sea lions are protected as an endangered species under the Marine Mammal Act.

“We stand with our hands tied behind our back while the sea lions have a feast,” Walden said.

Jeff Reeves

Jeff Reeves of Charleston, another commercial salmon fisherman, said there are plenty of fish and adequate supplies of water.

“The fixes are simple,” he said. “It might be nothing more than cracking a valve and having flows at the proper time without having 20 different agencies being considered.

“Efforts over the years to fix the Klamath River have come to little. That angers me.”

By STEVE KADEL, H&N Staff Writer

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