H&N file photo: Jess Prosser
pulls the first bucket of water from Lake
Ewauna in 2001, during a bucket brigade
|Five years after crisis,
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.
U.S. Rep. Greg
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
“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,”
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
“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
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
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, 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, 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.
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
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
“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.”
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 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