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Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Published: November 1, 2003


Pilot Staff Writer

Brookings-Harbor fishermen and Klamath Basin farmers toured the South Coast together Tuesday in an effort to learn more about one another's livelihoods and increase political clout for both groups.

The group of 25 from the Klamath Basin included Klamath County Commissioners, farmers, agriculture group representatives and water association members.

In perhaps the most promising part of the tour, Klamath Basin representatives said they would attempt to lobby a northern California Congressman to reinstate funding for the Klamath Fisher Management Council (KFMC).

The KFMC was a federal advisory council that makes Chinook salmon harvest recommendations to the Pacific Fishery Management Council, based on abundance forecasts. It also indirectly helps determine how the Klamath River is split between the needs of farmers and fish.

U.S. Rep. Wally Herger, R-Marysville, removed funding for the 11-member KFMC, saying the panel's recommendations were hurting upstream farmers in the fight over irrigation water.

Klamath Water Users Association Executive Director Dan Keppen agreed to contact Herger's office in order to try and get funding for the KFMC restored.

"We can help you get your message to Herger," Keppen said. "It was never his intent to hurt your local ability."

A key issue has been the massive die off of approximately 32,000 adult Chinook salmon last September in the Klamath River. Different groups have blamed it on the lack of water being put into the river which was instead diverted to farmers for irrigation.

Keppen said it appears the Bush administration wants to solve the problem.

"It's been encouraging, but I don't expect the Bush administration to bail us out," Keppen said. "I'm sick of the press wars. We are not going to solve our problems that way."

Getting the river's Yurok Tribe "to the table" would help negotiations tremendously, he added.

Keppen also said there was, "A lot of myth making" by the higher-ups in the Bush administration regarding the Klamath system.

The federal government cut off irrigation to most of the 200,000 acres of farmland in the Klamath Project during a drought in 2001 so water minimums set under the Endangered Species Act could be met for threatened coho salmon in the Klamath River and endangered suckers in Upper Klamath Lake.

Port of Brookings Harbor officials and the Curry County Commission toured the Klamath Project in Klamath Falls in August to learn about water management and issues facing farmers there.


The Klamath Basin users also enjoyed a dinner with local politicians and fishermen on Monday at the Brookings Best Western.

Addressing the group of over 40 people after dinner, Brown said the two groups have to start understanding each other because of the uncertain future they both face. He outlined the drop in revenue from commercial and recreational fishing, and said regulations have made it tough on South Coast fishermen.

Using a Powerpoint presentation, Brown showed how personal income from commercial salmon fishing in the Klamath fisheries averaged $100 million during the late 1970s and dropped to $12.5 million in 1998. It rose to $28 million in 2002, he said.

Brown said a steady decrease in the price of salmon over the past decade has hurt the industry, especially when buyers started to turn to farm-raised salmon because its supply could be guaranteed.

"When you have a hit and miss supply, it's difficult to market," Brown said. "We have to do some pretty creative marketing to get salmon demand back up."

Paul Kirk, California representative for the Klamath Management Zone Fisheries Coalition, said the two groups have got to let San Francisco and Portland know that they exist.

"Together we can work stronger," he said.

CA/OR Sea Grant Marine Advisor Jim Waldvogel then explained the complexity of the Klamath/Trinity river system, saying last year's massive fish die off probably wouldn't have happened if only one or two factors had been changed.

"If it doesn't rain soon, we've got big problems," Waldvogel said. "This year is setting us up like last year."

Waldvogel also stressed that if the KFMC is not restored, Chinook allocation could change in a way that could hurt fishermen along the South Coast.

Del Norte County Supervisor Chuck Blackburn said it is time to stop playing the "blame game" on the Klamath River regarding last year's massive fish die off.


Tuesday featured perfect sunny weather for the tour group, which gathered at 8 a.m. at the commercial boat basin at the Port of Brookings Harbor to view part of the commercial fishing fleet and listen to Brown speak about the industry's decline.

In Gold Beach, Bob Van Leer welcomed the group and gave a chronological history of the area. He also discussed the old timber industry and explained the importance of the Rogue River to the economy of the area.

Back in Brookings later that day, the port's Projects Coordinator Brian Bullock spoke about the port's effort to build better infrastructure to stimulate the economy of the area.

"The cold-storage facility will be a place to store fish to survive market lows," Bullock said. "The fishermen are held hostage by the buyers."

Bullock said the underlying issue for all river ports is federal dredging.

"If we are not dredged, it closes the front door to the community," Bullock said.

Thompson said Brookings-Harbor fishermen face "the most restricted salmon fishing in Oregon" and the area would benefit from another long Chinook season.

Brown said the Brookings-Harbor area has been unable to replace the high-paying resource jobs from timber and fishing that existed 30 years ago, and as a result has lowered the average income to $10,000 below the state average.

Jim Wilkerson said the local community needs to know when the next salmon season will be so it can start planning.

"We are light years away from knowing," Wilkerson said. "We have all these hurdles."

Keppen said, "Welcome to the club."

Later that day, Al Klem, a registered professional forester for Simpson Resource Company, said he was learning a lot from the tour and was intrigued by the similarities between the timber and fishing industries.

"Fishing has taken quite more of a hit," Klem said. "Both industries are incredibly regulated. We are all really in it together."

Kirk said during the tour in August of the Klamath Basin, he learned a lot about their issues and was pleased that group came over for Tuesday's tour.

"One way to solve issues is to become educated about each other's difficulties," Kirk said.

The tour then left for Crescent City, where officials from that city discussed their plans to build the port's infrastructure and other area projects.

Afterward, Brown said he thought the tour was a success in getting the South Coast's issues across to the Klamath Basin farmers.

"We have to work through contentious issues," Brown said. "It was a good start on where we need to go."

Funding for Monday's dinner, the bus ride and lunch Tuesday came from economic development administered by the state and the federal government, which amounted to a little over $1,000, Brown said.




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

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