Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Environmental Groups Host Forum to Better Educate the Public About Klamath Settlements
by Malcolm Terence, Two Rivers Tribune Contributing Writer October 25, 2011
A teach-in held in Eureka last week supported removal of the lowest four dams on the Klamath River but questioned some of the related agreements and draft legislation that is partnered with the elimination of the dams.
Eighty people attended the event, billed as “Klamath in the Balance,” and the main presenters highlighted that the agreements might weaken Tribal water and fishing rights and fail to protect the upper basin wetlands while guaranteeing water for farmers and not for fish.
Several in the audience challenged these assertions. A few asked why the forum was not presenting all sides of the discussion and some questioned whether the critique as delivered would weaken efforts to advance dam removal.
The pivot point for the discussions is a series of six public hearings starting last week by state and federal agencies to examine a draft environmental document about dam removal. This week the last three hearings include one in Orleans Tuesday, Oct. 25, another in Arcata Wednesday and the third in Klamath on Thursday.
The first of the teach-in presenters was Andrew Orahoske, conservation director of the environmental group EPIC. He reviewed the applicable federal laws starting with the Federal Power Act.
That law is carried out by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which governs hydropower dams and Orahoske said that agency historically has not been friendly to salmon. The bodies of law that will be most effective, he said, were the Endangered Species Act and the Native American Treaty Rights.
He questioned whether the date for dam removal now set at 2020 was too late for the recovery of the endangered coho salmon and said there was a need for intermediate measures, even though the DEIS only affects removal.
The next speaker, Bob Hunter from Oregon WaterWatch, said his group was forced out of the Klamath Settlement Talks years ago when it demanded steep reductions of commercial agriculture on what had once been vast wetlands in the upper basin.
The wetlands used to act as a reservoir and nutrient sink that cleansed the Klamath River. In 1905 President Teddy Roosevelt declared Lower Klamath Lake as a wildlife refuge.
Despite this, in 1917, the federal Bureau of Reclamation drained large areas there and opened them as farm land. These projects grew from 100,000 acres in the 1940s to more than twice that area now. Combined with thousands of irrigated acres in the Scott and Shasta Valleys, the water demand is more than the river can meet and still sustain the fisheries.
At one point, an audience member named Peter Pennekamp asked if the forum would provide any dissenting views. Pennekamp, director of Humboldt Area Foundation, said, “I was hoping it would be a little more educational,” and then added to EPIC and Northcoast Environmental Center, two of the forum sponsors, “You could have done this better.”
Pat Higgins, a fisheries biologist and one of the four main presenters, said that the case for the agreements would be made by the government and was not needed at this presentation.
Higgins is a consultant to the Resighini Rancheria and he said the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) relied on technical fixes rather than ecological ones because of political necessities.
He said the problems of Tule Lake and Lost River in the upper basin were ignored and two species of sucker fish that were important to the Klamath Tribes were facing extinction.
He called for an un-damming of the Shasta River and predicted more wholesale fish die-offs.
Hayley Hutt, a member of the Hoopa Valley Tribal Council, the final panelist, said emphatically that her tribe supports dam removal and wants to restore fish populations to pre-dam levels.
The salmon are more than food for the Hupa people, Hutt said. They have cultural, emotional and spiritual value. She charged that the water allocations do not guarantee enough water for fish survival and, although the “sister tribes have voluntarily waived their rights, the Hoopa Valley Tribe never will.”
The Hoopa Tribe has developed a 17-point critique of the Klamath Recovery Act legislation now being circulated but said they would support the Act if those fixes are made. Three other tribes—Karuk, Yurok and Klamath—support both removal and the agreements.
Hutt displayed a chart that showed all the paths ahead that could circumvent dam removal in 2020 and called for compliance with the Clean Water Act in the interim, especially because removal might be delayed or derailed entirely.
After the four formal presenters, Craig Tucker, Klamath Coordinator for the Karuk Tribe, told the history of the dam removal going back to trips by tribal demonstrators to Scotland for three years and then to Omaha for another three. This campaign pressured the corporations that owned the dams by appealing directly to their shareholders.
The FERC had never ordered a dam removal, Tucker said, so the tribes, Hoopa among them, spent five years at the negotiating table. Critics of the KBRA are letting their search for the perfect block achievement of the possible, he said, and added, “We need you guys to help us. We don’t think the agreements solve everything but the Karuk Tribe and I will be with you on those fights.”
His sentiment was echoed by Mark Lovelace, chairman of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, which has supported dam removal and the KBRA. He said he was headed the next day for a government public hearing in Yreka and the irrigators there would be unified in their message: Save Our Dams.
He said they would push for delays, run out anti-government ploys and list funding problems. Lovelace said the Republican-controlled House of Representatives presented a high hurdle and he urged another message, along the lines of “I support dam removal and the agreements and I have these concerns.”
After the meeting Ryan Sundberg, also a Humboldt County Supervisor, said it had been a good discussion but he found it difficult to sort through the conflicting claims. How do you decide, he asked, when people who are experts and people he respects come out on both sides of the arguments over the KBRA.
All three of the upcoming hearing events open at 4:30 pm. The formal hearing sessions and public comment is scheduled from 6 pm until 8 pm. Tuesday’s Orleans meeting will be at the Karuk Tribe Community room; the Arcata session on Wednesday will be at the Arcata Community Center and the meeting at Klamath will be at the Yurok Tribal administration office.
Dania Rose Colegrove, Hoopa Tribal member, completes a banner that was floated aloft by a huge helium balloon at the Yreka dam removal hearings last week. Colegrove is an organizer with the Klamath Justice Coalition. Federal studies show that dam removal will create more jobs than it ends. / Photo by Malcolm Terence.
Page Updated: Thursday October 27, 2011 01:39 AM Pacific
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