Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.


The Author, Deb Crisp of Tulelake is executive director of the Tulelake Growers Association.

Water bank leads list of irrigator concerns

Published Feb. 2, 2004

Although Klamath Project farmers and ranchers received irrigation water in 2003, we barely avoided another shutoff the last week of June. This is a critical time for crops, and a shutoff would have created another water crisis for Project irrigators.

We continue to struggle with a "water bank" that requires an unreasonable 75,000 acre-feet for 2004 and 100,000 acre-feet for 2005. This and numerous other issues are cause for great concern while we work to revive our highly productive agricultural lands and business community.

The failure of the Interagency Task Force to resolve the water issues in the Klamath Basin has left us battling the biological opinions developed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service developed under the Clinton administration. These flawed documents are still enforced by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

We have been told that because of the final National Academy of Sciences report and the release of the Bureau's draft Naturalized Flow Study, a re-consultation process will be initiated. There has been no timeline for this process to be completed prior to the 2005 growing season. This means the 2004 and 2005 Klamath Project operations plan will provide no flexibility to address drought conditions.

We deserve to know when the flow study will be final, and we expect to participate fully in the re-consultation process. Until then the confidence of our lending institutions, the local business community and the viability of our rural communities remain severely undermined.

The local managers of the federal agencies involved have the tools to develop law-abiding procedures, sound scientific data and a degree of flexible standards. The near disaster of 2003 could have been avoided with management programs that addressed water augmentation instead of land and water acquisition. The majority of local irrigators believe a temporary water bank to include minimal idling of land in dry years provides some flexibility for Klamath Project operations under the current biological opinions. These actions must insure full delivery for the remaining Project acreage in any dry year.

Demand reduction is not a permanent solution, but may help until additional storage such as the Long Lake proposal can be developed. The feasibility study for Long Lake should be of the highest priority for funding through the Bureau. Permanent retirement of Klamath Project lands should not be considered as a solution to meet the perceived needs of other interests. Federal agencies should not be allowed to acquire more private land in the Basin. They own too much now.

In the interim, Klamath River flows must be significantly reduced immediately. If this action is not taken, Upper Klamath Lake will not fill to a level that will result in an adequate supply of irrigation water and water for the national wildlife refuges. The Klamath Project has been exonerated of responsibility for the 2002 fish die-off, and flows have been curtailed in drought years without adverse affects to anadromous fish.

It is essential for Congress to re-evaluate the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Ecosystem Restoration Office, which was established in 1993 to address endangered species issues and coordinate with the Hatfield Working Group on restoration projects, drought-proofing the Basin and economic stability.

Staffing of the office has increased dramatically, and the result of its activities was the water shut-off in 2001.

In addition, we believe that Congress should re-consider the worth of the Klamath River Basin Fisheries Task Force. Over the past 13 years this consensus group of agencies, tribal interests and one representative from each of the three counties involved has spent millions of dollars supposedly to restore salmon runs in the Klamath River. The efforts of the task force are partially responsible for the listing of Coho salmon as a threatened species. Refusal to consider oceanic conditions as a major contributor to declines in salmon runs is a prime example of its narrow focus.

The Ecosystem Restoration Office and the task force are a shameful waste of taxpayer dollars. These inept and ineffective bureaucracies should no longer be funded.

The Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Services must grant applicant status for Klamath Project irrigators. The Central Valley Project irrigators have been granted applicant status through contract renewals. Why, then, has this same status been denied for Klamath Project irrigators?

Our contracts were developed on a perpetual basis, but we do not understand this to be a justifiable reason for withholding applicant status. It is essential that qualified experts representing the agricultural community participate in developing scientific data and analysis of data provided by other interests.

For example, the Hardy Flow study used to create the flow regime in the Klamath River is severely flawed. This expensive and comprehensive study is being done under a contract with the Department of Justice and managed mainly by the solicitor's Office. The highly unusual process cannot allow the Hardy flow studies to be considered an objective scientific study.

The Klamath River flow issues are very contentious, and the most qualified scientists whose task and objectivity are well understood and acceptable to the affected parties should be used in an independent study. Thomas Hardy should not be a part of this endeavor because the process and the data he has used is not sound or scientifically justifiable. It is our opinion that Hardy is in violation of the Data Quality Act and should be held accountable in some manner for the detrimental impacts his reports have caused.

The Lease Land Farm Program as established in 1916 and confirmed in the 1964 Kuchel Act must remain a part of the Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges. Farming practices on the Kuchel Act Lands insure an extremely valuable food supply and habitat for migrating waterfowl and many other species in our area. They will also continue to contribute to the local economy crippled by the 2001 water crisis.

Changes in management could improve the sustainability of this highly successful program. This would include administration by Tulelake Irrigation District; recognition of all aspects of Integrated Pest Management; representation on the Pesticide Use Proposal Committee by a qualified individual with expertise in Integrated Pest Management; development of a management plan solely for the Kuchel Act Lands that will include compatibility of long-term goals and certainty for the Lease Land Farm Program as mitigation for all private land acquisitions by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Our focus must be to maintain the integrity and viability of our agricultural communities. The Klamath Project irrigators must be assured full delivery of irrigation water to help provide a safe domestic food supply. We hope that Congress and the Bush Administration will help us meet these goals soon.


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