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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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April 5th, 2007
KBC News Report

Tribes and Klamath Water Users Association featured in:
Solving the Klamath Crisis: Keeping Farms and Fish Alive

The film Solving the Klamath Crisis: Keeping Farms and Fish Alive was shown at the Ross Ragland Cultural Center Tuesday, sponsored by the Karuk Tribe. More than 80 people showed up for this event despite minimal advertising. Several tribal members and tribal biologists, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen spokesman, Klamath Water Users Executive Director Greg Addington, and KWUA board member Scott Seus, were in the film. The evening was emceed by Jeff Mitchell from the Klamath Tribes.

The film was made by Klamath Salmon Media Collaborative, KMSC, consisting of Karuk Tribe Dept of Natural Resources, Klamath Forest Alliance, Mid Klamath Watershed Council, and Salmon River Restoration Council.

Two films have been recently promoted by the Karuk Tribe: Salmon on the Backs of Buffalo, and Solving the Klamath Crisis: Keeping Farms and Fish Alive.  

Although both films have been shown internationally and nationally, 'Salmon on the Backs of Buffalo' was not shown in the Klamath Basin. Read our reviews on the links above; the Buffalo film blames Klamath Irrigators for many of the problems on the Klamath River, contending that we're killing their fish to get rid of the Indians, ending with a song with lines, "they'll burn your house down."

Written on the Farms and Fish DVD cover is the following message: "The views expressed in this film by the narrator and others do not necessarily reflect the views of the Hoopa Valley Tribe."

FERC negotiations and a little history about Klamath Project power rates

Presently Klamath Water Users Association is participating in Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, settlement hearings with the Klamath River Tribes and more than 20 environmental groups and government agencies. The tribes want four Klamath hydropower dams removed: Iron Gate Dam, JC Boyle, and Copco 1 and 2. These dams provide power for 75,000 customers annually. They believe that if the dams are gone, water quality will be good, toxic algae will go away, and with higher flows they will sustain salmon as far east as Bly, Oregon, and seven introduced endangered species.

According to the Karuk website, "The Klamath water is unusually loaded with nutrients from fertilizers used upstream. This allows water in the reservoirs to host massive algal blooms that create a host of water quality problems downstream." In the film the Tribes contend that if the dams are removed, salmon will flourish and the Indians will no longer be forced to eat welfare food commodities, which give them diabetes and other ailments forced upon them by the dams.

Why are Klamath Water Users at the table? In 1956, Congress signed the Klamath Compact allowing Project irrigators an affordable power rate (at cost) in exchange for higher-than-historic river flows of free regulated water provided by the Klamath Project, providing cheap rates for all the power customers. Irrigators paid in full for this Reclamation Project which rerouted the historic lakes, created storage for irrigation, and put excess basin water into the Klamath River.

When the power contract was up for renewal in 2006, Tribes, environmentalists and Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen filed against irrigators receiving a continued affordable power rate to discourage farming in the Klamath Basin. PacifiCorp, who once was our partner, now denies that any value is provided by the Project, such as free regulated water for hydropower generation. They plan to raise power rates which will increase irrigators' costs by 2500 percent.

Tribes, agencies and environmentalists realize that because Klamath irrigators have spent millions of dollars to become more efficient with their irrigation practices and use sprinklers instead of flood irrigation, the cost of power for their pumps will drive many from their farms and ranches. The utility commission's ruling against Project irrigators created a great bargaining tool, because at the FERC negotiations, the same Tribes and enviros that petitioned against the irrigators' affordable power rate are demanding the dams to come out, higher river flows from out of the Klamath Project, and are now saying irrigators need an affordable power rate. In the Farms and Fish film the Tribes, enviros and PCFFA accuse PacifiCorp's owner Warren Buffett of harming fish, thereby harming Indians, because of the dams, and accuse the power company of harming farmers who need an affordable power rate.

The tribes are now our friends.

Regarding the tribes' and environmentalists' demand for higher Klamath River flows, before the Klamath Project was built, Link River occasionally went dry in the fall. Nothing was mentioned that the National Academy of Science deemed that the fish die-off in 2002 was not the result of Klamath Project operations and Klamath River flows, and that the 2001 water shutoff was "unjustified." They disagreed with managing the Klamath Project and Klamath River by lake-level and river-flow management. The NAS was considered the "best available science" until it did not agree with the tribal and environmentalists' agenda of downsizing agriculture.

Yurok biologist Mike Belchik said 68,000 salmon died in 2002 and the dams caused the water temperature to be high and caused parasites to kill the fish.

Karuk biologish Toz Soto claimed that low water, and water quality because of dams, harm the fish.

Although Yuroks worked against irrigators receiving a reasonable power rate previously, in the film Yurok Troy Fletcher stated that they must take the dams out, and farmers can have their power rates.

Also not mentioned in the film was, in 2002, Klamath Water Users Association and their scientist warned the Bureau of Reclamation not to release artificially-elevated hot water in the fall from the Project down the river because it was a temperature lethal to fish. The Bureau released the water and the Trinity River fish died. Had the flows been higher, they would not have been cooler.

After the film there were comments by some Klamath Water Users and Indians.

Scott Seus, third generation Tulelake farmer and Klamath Water Users power committee chairman, said that irrigators do not need those four dams, and that they are looking for solar and other sources of power to replace the hydropower produced by the dams. He said the river is in trouble, the farm community is in trouble, and they and the Tribes can deal with the problems together. However he said that Water Users must not be penalized with ESA demands if they agree to dam removal, with more endangered species introduced. He also said we need deep storage such as Long Lake, providing deep cold water for farms and fish.

Klamath Water Users board member Bob Gasser complimented the film. He said that Waterwatch and Oregon Wild are against agriculture. He feels these efforts with the Tribes and irrigators are good. KWUA president Luther Horsley also applauded the efforts of the Tribes and irrigators working together.

Jeff Mitchell said he was against ONRC/Oregon Wild because they were against the Klamath Tribes being given the Winema and Fremont National Forests again. He said the hydropower dams should come out, and the solution is for the Tribes to take control of issues like forest management and power issues (I think he was referring to their desire to be given the forest again, then building a power plant such as biofuel which they referred to on a tour.)

KWUA vice president Gary Wright said the irrigators need water certainty in the FERC negotiations. He said if they take out the dams and if it improves water quality, then the Tribes will need less flows.  He said that without the dams we will need money for other power sources such as solar and wind to run our irrigation pumps and the pumps that raise the runoff water into the refuges and into the Klamath River.

Mike Tyrholm explained that "predams", Klamath Basin was 3% of the flow at the mouth of the Klamath River. He said the high flows are killing fish with excessive hot water. "That wouldn't have happened historically," since there were small to no flows in the fall from the Klamath Basin.

Karuk Ron Reed exclaimed that the wetlands are gone because of the Klamath Project. He said that the lost wetlands would have helped Klamath water quality.

There are 113,571 acres of wetlands and open water in the Klamath Basin Refuges alone, plus Klamath/Agency Lake at full pool is about 67,000 acres.

Tyrholm said that Klamath Basin water is a big shallow hot evaporation pool. He said that salmon never did thrive here, and he has only seen one photo of salmon in the Basin which has been shown repeatedly. He asked: if hydropower is considered clean energy, and if the hydro dams are removed on the Klamath, and coal is outlawed in California, is there any type of hydro that could produce electricity on Klamath River?

Seus responded that  building fish ladders would be more expensive than taking out the dams, so ladders would cost more money for power to the customers. He wants to find a way to get affordable energy. He said he stands behind everything he and Addington said in the film.

Jim Ottoman said the power company testified that it is cheaper to build fish ladders than to take out the dams. And he said the Fisheries Management Council predicts 1/2 million Chinook in 2007, and most of the fish spend their life growing in the ocean.  Ottoman is a direct descendent of Ottoman and Rajnus Czech Families who settled Malin in 1909. He has served on many local, state and national water organizations. His family was named National Farm Family of the Year in 1975.

Wilma Heiney, whose family has farmed in the Tulelake Basin several generations, said that Klamath Lake is shallow and not healthy for salmon. "...is there any discussion of cleaning this lake up, dredging the lake? It seems a sad place to bring salmon. I support deep storage like Long Lake."

Ottoman responded that, because of water quality regulations, dredging probably would not be allowed.

Looking back at a science workshop in Klamath Falls in 2004, Dr.William Lewis of the National Academy of Science was being grilled by other scientists on how to fix water quality on Klamath Lake who suggested retiring ag land and making more wetlands to help suckers. Lewis responded that Klamath Lake is 140 square miles, it has always had poor water quality and nothing is going to fix that vast body of water. He explained that lake level management will not help suckers, more wetlands will not stop the algae, and emergent vegetation is not necessary as proven by Clear Lake sucker recruitment.

Mitchell said that before the dams were built, CopCo promised the Indians that they would build fish ladders.

Andy Gigler criticized the farmers for calling suckers "suckers" and said they are mullet. He said Indians and fish need more protection. He said farmers filled the lake with poison farm chemicals and the Indians have first rights to the water.

Our farm runoff water goes through the refuge and into Klamath River. According to Tulelake Fish and Wildlife manager, after several studies, no fish or wildlife has become ill or died from refuge water.

Karuk ChoCho said it's nice to shake hands with the farmers in public.

Reed said they caught 3-400 salmon in 2006 and there is a good projection for this year.

Mitchell ended by saying the Creator gave them the cwam (sucker/mullet), "take care of the fish and it'll take care of you."

He said 2001 was a travesty for the farmers, and it was equally a travesty in 2002 when fish died in the Klamath River.

After the film some farmers were overheard saying they do not support dam removal and feel dams are an integral part of the Project. They feel dams should be made to be compatible with fish, but they want the dams to stay.

Participants in the FERC negotiations are not allowed to share the details of their negotiations with their communities presently, however Addington assured irrigators at a recent KWUA annual meeting that, before any decisions are made, the communities would be informed and involved in the decisions.

Contact Karuk spokesman Craig Tucker on how to get a copy of the film: ctucker@karuk.us

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