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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Letter From Glen Spain, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen, to Klamath Chadwick email list May 2, 2005

Dear Klamath friends and colleagues...
 
I don't usually monitor this list for lack of time, but I feel called on to say that the recent "controversey" around whether to sign on to Paula's well-intentioned letter supporting disaster assistance for those affected by the current Klamath fishery collapse was very revealing, but quite unnecessary. 
 
It seems to me that its really very simple... do you support helping innocent people caught up in the conflicts, through no fault of their own, of an over-appropriated basin, or don't you?  As for me, I say that as a simple matter of human compassion and dignity one must, and must also work together to reduce those sorts of crises and conflicts in the future.  The status quo in the Klamath Basin is obviously no longer an option. 
 
For the record, not only did PCFFA as an organization SUPPORT ALL 2001 and 2002 Congressional efforts to get disaster assistance for Klamath Project-dependent farmers who lost water during 2001, but I myself PERSONALLY went to Washington DC and spent more than a solid week there lobbying Congress for disaster relief for Klamath farmers affected by water shortfalls in 2001.  In fact PCFFA asked for considerably more Congressional money for farmers than was ultimately obtained. 
 
I suppose you could say we did not have to make that gesture, but I personally felt it was incumbent on those who got water in 2001 to help those who did not, just as a matter of human courtesy and compassion, as well as human decency.  I would do the same in a heartbeat today, and was fully prepared to do so this year had water conditions been as bad again this year.  Fortunately, the water bank and a little extra April rainfall have (hopefully) saved all of our butts this year.  Congress cannot make more rainfall, but it CAN and SHOULD compensate economic losses resulting from obvious water disasters.
 
Also for the record, PCFFA additionally supported the later bill by Rep. Walden to rebate 2001 Klamath Project irrigation system maintenance fees to those who got no water from the Project.  We also have supported EVERY effort in Congress to bring more money to the upper or lower basin for water conservation and ecosystem restoration efforts, and are supporting or have supported a number of projects also supported by KWUA and other irrigators (removal of Chiloquin dam comes to mind, and before that fish screens at A-canal) that would help alleviate the many serious problems the basin faces, regardless of whether it would directly benefit commercial fishermen or not.  To me that is simply common decency as well as good sense.  We stand ready to support any other similar projects in the future. 
 
In fact, PCFFA and KWUA and similar organization have much more in common, and can accomplish much more of these common goals working together, than those who are far more extremist in their views like to admit. 
 
Crop losses from 2001 have now been more or less compensated, but decades of fisheries economic losses in the lower basin have never been compensated.  This year, Klamath-driven fishery losses will be devastating, perhaps topping $100 million in total losses throughout California and Oregon that rural, already depressed, fishing-dependent communities can ill afford.  That fact is what motivated Paula's efforts to both seek help as well as build bridges.  Though we did not initiate that effort, and have written our own letters, we certainly support her very well-meaning efforts. Whether you do or not I leave to your own conscience.
 
There is no doubt that the Klamath Basin is gripped by problems of drought, water over-appropriation and resulting ecosystem collapse.   One would have had to have been dead for decades not to have noticed these ongoing conflicts. We should not have to chose between devastated fisheries or devastated farms.  We should be smart enough to see when things are badly out of balance and help each other through whatever transition is necessary to achieve long-term water stability.  We are not enemies, we are all good people caught in a very bad system.
 
This is why neither I myself personally nor PCFFA as an organization blames Klamath Project farmers individually or collectively for the problems of water over-appropriation we all find ourselves having to confront, whether it be too little water in the river or too little in the fields.  Nor should we have to make a choice between these two extremes.  Ultimately we all have to work together in some way to bring water demand and water availability back into balance.  We cannot forever be drawing more water from our water accounts than exists.  Conflicts in the past, and conflicts even today over water, are fundamentally all caused by this water budget overdraft. 
 
There are apparently still those who will cry out that even the barest mention of the water problems that beset the Basin -- that there is simply too much demand for a diminishing supply -- is somehow an "attack against farmers."  To that I would say it absolutely is NOT, and that the longer people deny the water realities of the basin by resorting to such heated rhetoric, the harder it will be to make those changes necessary so all can prosper.  The time for such demagoguery is long past.
 
I have always considered the folks caught up in these problems (whether they be farmer or fishermen) to be victims of federal and state policies that have created this situation, not its cause.  It was the federal and state water agencies, after all, who promised far more water than is really available.  It is those same state agencies who continue to give out more water permits in the Klamath Basin even today, even in the middle of a drought -- thus making the situation worse.  Those institutions are worthy of blame for the problems they have created in the basin, and should be held accountable to all of us to now provide some real solutions.  I am hopeful that those solutions will arise, and PCFFA is committed to that effort.  There are also more good people within each of those institutions than ever before who are listening.
 
That does not mean there will be no more conflicts.  Indeed, many of those conflicts now have legal or administrative forums to help resolve them, and that is the job these forums do.  These forums are our society's way to resolve such conflicts.  I fully expect that all sides in those disputes will make the best case they can in those forums, and that some of those more thorny problems will be resolved in that way.
 
Nevertheless, PCFFA welcome ALL sincere efforts to truly work with us to help resolve the water conflicts of the basin and to search for common ideals and a common agenda.  Actually, we always have.  We also challenge the readers of this forum to continue to work toward the long-term sustainability of ALL economies and communities within the Basin, including lower river communities that need water in the river just as much as others need it on their fields.  With a little creativity, and a little mutual help through the transitions, we can have both.
 
And if you have some good ideas for how this can realistically be done.... well, I am not hard to find, I am not as fierce as you may fear or you may have been told, and I always answer my email politely and with some thought.  Feel free to drop me a note or give me a call and let's talk.  
 
=============================================
Glen H. Spain, Northwest Regional Director
Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA)
PO Box 11170, Eugene, OR 97440-3370
(541)689-2000 Fax: (541)689-2500
Web: www.pcffa.org
Email: fish1ifr@aol.com

 

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