Klamath Water Users Association
KWUA's response to today's Seattle P-I editorial on the Blumenauer amendment.
Wednesday, July 16, 2003
Klamath crisis calls for common sense
Congressional representatives have a chance to take a small step toward water and salmon sanity in the Klamath Basin around the Oregon-California border. They should grab at a rare opportunity to impose common sense.
A bipartisan proposal would require that two basin wildlife refuges be treated like others, as places dedicated to protecting America's natural resources. The measure, which is expected to receive a House vote this week, would phase out inappropriate commercial farming on the Lower Klamath and Tule Lake refuges.
Those are the only refuges where leaseholders can grow purely commercial crops, which include onions, potatoes and horseradish. Farming on other national wildlife refuges provides food for wildlife.
There could hardly be worse places for water-intensive crops. Basin water supplies are frequently short. Two reports, by California and the Yurok Tribe biologists, concluded that low water flows contributed to last year's massive Klamath River fish kill.
The commercial crops take large amounts of water that could be used by other basin farmers. The leases add heavy pesticide applications to the refuges, which are parts of the Pacific Flyway for waterfowl.
This year, Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., has joined Democratic Reps. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Mike Thompson of California in sponsoring the phase-out plan, which almost passed a year ago. Common sense should rule.
KWUA Response to Seattle P-I Editorial
July 16, 2003
Seattle Post-Intelligencer Letters to the Editor
Seattle, WA 98111-1909
Your recent editorial ("Klamath crisis calls for common sense", July 16, 2003) regarding Congressman Earl Blumenauer's proposal to eliminate certain types of crops on the lease lands of two Klamath Basin wildlife refuges makes about as much sense as an urban Portland lawmaker making rules that affect rural family farmers 300 miles away. That's likely because, in both cases, the premises behind the arguments are simply incorrect.
The P-I editorial states that “those refuges (Lower Klamath and Tule Lake) are the only refuges where leaseholders can grow purely commercial crops.” In fact, there are eleven states where commercial activities - including farming - take place on national wildlife refuges. Oranges are grown on a refuge in Florida, and corn and rice are produced from Arkansas refuges. In your state of Washington, alfalfa and corn are raised in the Mid-Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, and Hanford Reach National Wildlife Refuge is home to a nuclear waste site.
Rep. Blumenauer and the P-I editorial claim that the leases add heavy pesticide applications to the refuges. Actually, the refuges and the farmers operate under an integrated pest management program to minimize to the greatest extent possible the use of pesticides. It's also important to point out that only 2.2 percent of the 2,928 different pesticides that are legally used in California - the state with one of the nation's most restrictive pesticide use laws - are applied in the Klamath refuges.
Contrary to the P-I's opinion, restricting potatoes and onions on the lease lands will have a very minor effect on the quantity of water used on those acres. Grain consumptively uses about 1.87 acre-ft per acre (AF/ac), while onions use 1.88 AF/ac and potatoes use 1.73 AF/ac. The same amount of water - or more - is needed to grow grain, when compared to water needs of onions and potatoes. The notion that you would save water in any meaningful way for the basin's other demands is ludicrous.
Finally, to suggest the lease lands are somehow linked with the Klamath River fish die-off in 2002 is pure myth-making. It is by no means clear that low flows killed the salmon last fall. Simply look at 1988, when identical flow conditions existed in the Lower Klamath River (2,130 cubic feet per second (cfs) in 1988; 2,129 cfs in 2002). That year, a run of 215,322 salmon occurred on the Klamath River 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. Yet the Yurok Tribes and the State of California - within days of the fish die-off - assigned the blame for this unfortunate event to the Klamath Project, located 200 miles upstream. The P-I's editorial perpetuates this questionable accusation.
There has been much more accomplished for the refuge water supplies through collaborative efforts of the growers. Sticking them with a penalty that is harsh to the growers and local community - but otherwise, purely symbolic - makes no sense whatsoever.
Klamath Water Users Association
Klamath Falls, Oregon
Klamath Water Users
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