Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
This author obviously has not read the
KBRA / Klamath Basin
Restoration Agreement, or any facts
presented by the ethics scientist, the top
scientist from the Bureau of Reclamation,
Dr. Paul R Houser. He was hired as ethics
specialist in the Klamath Dam removal agenda,
was fired by Department of Interior because he
was a whistleblower; Interior had the stated
agenda of destroying Klamath dams and used
science to try to prove it would help fish. The
groups at the closed-door KBRA negotiations were
carefully chosen by Interior; if they supported
destroying 4 hydroelectric dams, and if they
supported giving land to a tribe that previously
sold that land, and if they approved of ZERO
transparency in these secret negotiations that
downsize agriculture and limit use of their
deeded water, then they were allowed to stay at
KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — Almost since the Bureau of Reclamation first began plumbing the Klamath River in 1906, creating a vast and fertile farming region out of arid southeastern Oregon and northeastern California, people have fought over what the river provides: water for farming, water to preserve one of the West Coast’s largest salmon runs and a source of hydroelectric power.
Then, suddenly, a truce was announced. In February 2010, after five years of confidential negotiation, an unlikely alliance of American Indian tribes, environmentalists, farmers, fishermen, governors and the federal government signed the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.
The agreement was hailed as evidence of a new era in the West in which bitter divisions over natural resources could be bridged. Within a decade, it dictated, four dams would come down, enabling much of the river to flow freely and its once-mighty run of salmon to return. At the same time, farmers would be assured of water for their crops and affordable power. And Indian tribes would regain land lost decades ago.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he had expected Congress to act that year to approve the agreement, known as the K.B.R.A., and to begin appropriating the more than $1 billion to carry out what he called “the largest river restoration project in the world.”
Yet more than two years later, that has not happened, and it is unclear when, if ever, the agreement will be enacted.
A month after it was announced, seven people gathered at Jack Charlton’s machine shop south of downtown Klamath Falls and formed the Klamath County Tea Party Patriots. Four of them were farmers wary of losing their water. One was Mr. Charlton, who fixed their equipment. Mr. Charlton recalled the anger and worry in the room that night. Many felt the government was more worried about endangered fish than endangered farmers.
“It was like, ‘Where have I been?’ ” he said. “ ‘Have I been asleep all these years?’ The last thing that they want to take away is our water.”
The Tea Party Patriots became a local political force, eventually paralyzing the high-powered deal by defeating many of the local officials who supported it, including all three Klamath County commissioners, and sending a signal to Congress that it lacks enough grass-roots support.
The restoration deal “is not going to go anywhere at all,” said Tom Mallams, a farmer and newly elected county commissioner who, with Tea Party backing, unseated a 15-year incumbent. “It’s slowly dying on the vine.”
The fight over the Klamath reached a heated peak in 2001 when a severe drought prompted federal water managers to shut off irrigation to ensure enough water for endangered fish. The next year, Vice President Dick Cheney came to the aid of angry farmers, making sure irrigation was not cut off again.
That summer, 70,000 salmon died. Several years later, commercial salmon fishing on the West Coast was shut down in part because of the decline of salmon populations in the Klamath. Scientific research indicated that removing the dams was the best way to save the salmon run.
But without the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement or another brokered alternative, the Klamath will remain at the mercy of the courts and the powerful legal forces that various groups invoked there, including the Endangered Species Act, tribal rights and Western water law. Environmentalists, tribes and fishermen who support the agreement cite the Endangered Species Act to argue for removing the dams. Farmers and others generally opposed to the agreement cite generations-old water claims made with the Bureau of Reclamation.
The deal’s supporters, particularly environmentalists most adamant about removing the dams, say more court fights are inevitable if the deal is not confirmed by Congress — regardless of local political developments.
Tribes in both states have claimed the management of the river violates their 19th-century treaty rights to fish, gather and hunt. Fear and self-preservation prompted the talks that led to the agreement, in light of more droughts being predicted, tribal water rights gaining momentum in court and the power company that owns the dams worrying about its prospects for relicensing. Nearly all of the more than two dozen parties involved compromised their interests to reach a consensus.
For irrigators like Tracey Liskey, a third-generation farmer who supported the agreement — and just lost a race for state representative — the K.B.R.A. promised a version of stability: a reliable though not ideal amount of water they could count on to get their alfalfa, hay and other crops through the dry summer. At the other end of the river, where it meets the Pacific in California, some tribes and commercial fishermen supported the agreement because it offered more security that river flows would not fall below what it takes to maintain a healthy salmon habitat.
The power company, PacifiCorp, agreed to the deal when it became clear that relicensing the dams would be more expensive and more trying than removing them. And while some tribes rejected the agreement, most believed it offered them a way to remove the dams and restore the river. A group of three called the Klamath Tribes agreed to give up some control of the water to regain tens of thousands of acres for timber production that they had relinquished decades earlier.
The Klamath Tribes have recently received favorable rulings in state administrative courts on lawsuits they first filed in the 1970s to gain control of the water upstream. If the tribes eventually win — a decision is due late this year — opponents of the agreement could find themselves wishing they had been more supportive. “It’s about economies, and the Klamath Tribes’ economy is just as important as anyone else’s economy,” said Jeff Mitchell, a member of the Klamath tribal council who has been central to negotiations for the agreement.
Mr. Mallams and some of the agreement’s other most vocal opponents do not draw water directly from the irrigation system, but they benefit from it in other ways, including from the affordable power supply the dams have provided. They frequently accuse supporters of the agreement of wanting to remove the Klamath dams as part of an environmental campaign to remove much larger dams on the Columbia River that provide the backbone of the power supply in the Northwest.
Mr. Salazar said in an interview that he remained optimistic that Congress would eventually approve the deal. Some supporters say opponents are stirring division with no clear agenda.
“I always refer to us as the radical middle because there’s nothing radical in the Klamath about fighting over water,” said Craig Tucker, the Klamath coordinator for the Karuk Tribe of Northern California and a supporter of the 2010 agreement. “What’s radical is learning how to share."
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, any copyrighted material herein is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml
Page Updated: Saturday July 21, 2012 03:12 AM Pacific
Copyright © klamathbasincrisis.org, 2001 - 2012, All Rights Reserved