A balancing act in the Klamath Basin

By Ani Kame'enui of Portland, Oregon. Ani is the Klamath Campaign Coordinator for Oregon Wild.

In 2002, Senator Gordon Smith faced a challenge from Democratic rival Bill Bradbury. During the campaign, Smith worked hard to shore up his base; he made appeals to the highest office in the land to help him solve some sticky situations for constituents whose votes he relied on. In the most infamous example, Smith worked with Vice President Dick Cheney to redirect Klamath River water to agricultural interests in southern Oregon.

Of course, back in the summer of 2002, this was no insignificant matter. After a century of heavy water diversions for high desert irrigation, the federal government was saving some of the river water for salmon. When Smith convinced Dick Cheney to lean on the management agencies during the hot and dry summer of 2002—and the water began to flow out of the river—70,000 salmon wound up dead.

The consequences for the salmon and the many communities that rely on healthy basin salmon fisheries were devastating.

Of course, Smith saw the water diversions not as a tragedy, but as an opportunity to tout his good work and success with political allies. He even ran ads with locals claiming Gordon Smith had “carried their water.” (The scenes of dead and decaying salmon didn’t make it into the ads).

In the run up to the 2008 campaign, where current Senator Jeff Merkley would unseat him, Smith said he had no regrets about his actions in the Klamath. Apparently, that sort of talk didn’t resonate with voters who recognized there was no excuse for the political pandering and subsequent fish kill in 2002.

Today, as the Klamath continues to face political and natural resource uncertainty, we wonder what Senator Merkley’s role in the basin will be. Certainly, he has already shown himself to be a better environmental advocate than his predecessor. His first votes in the Senate helped to secure Wilderness protections for 200,000 acres across Oregon. (Smith supported this Wilderness package as well.) He’s signed on as a co-sponsor of a bill that would codify the roadless rule to protect these precious public lands from the whims of changing administrations. He’s an outspoken advocate for implementing global warming solutions that actually put us on the path to a healthy planet.

However, Senator Merkley has yet to reveal if he sides with the salmon (and other wildlife) of the Klamath Basin, though he may soon have an opportunity.

The federal government and others are working to wrap up negotiations to remove four Klamath River dams. Dam removal would be great for the health of the river and would free up hundreds of miles of salmon habitat blocked since the 1950s. Unfortunately, the question still remains: if we get a final deal, will dam removal alone be enough?

The current terms of the proposed settlement lock in a corollary agreement (the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement or KBRA) and a status quo water allotment for irrigators. This guarantees that agriculture still gets to take the first drink and salmon get to deal with whatever’s left over. This is the same mindset that led to the infamous fish kill, and one that could lead to problems down the road—with or without dams.

Endangered fish aren’t the only ones set to suffer in the current deal. Another trade-off to appease the folks that praised Gordon Smith for carrying water is the continued mismanagement of the Klamath’s National Wildlife Refuges. Currently, 22,000 acres of publicly owned wetlands on Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges are plowed under every year to grow potatoes and onions. Lower Klamath was protected 100 years ago by Teddy Roosevelt as the nation’s first waterfowl refuge. Today, these refuges are the only refuges in the country where commercial agriculture takes such extreme priority over the express wildlife purpose of the land.

So, can Senator Merkley help us change course in the Klamath?

As he continues to establish his role as a U.S. Senator, we hope his strong commitment to Oregon’s wild places will extend to the Klamath. Senator Merkley has been outspoken in his desire to restore science to its rightful place in environmental decision-making and nowhere is this more needed than in the Klamath Basin. The current restoration guidelines in the dam removal agreement and the KBRA continue to sidestep the river’s best available science and undercut the needs of fish, wildlife, and communities that ultimately elected Senator Merkley. In a basin riddled with long-term resource challenges, our newest senator has a chance to really carry water, and balance the needs of everyone, including endangered coho salmon and bald eagles.

  • Klamathangler (unverified)

    It has been amazing that in all the hoopla today about the possibility that some day, maybe, eventually, some dams might come out on the Klamath, so little attention has gone to what it is tied to -- a Bush era initiative to prioritize agribusiness over clean water, wetlands, and wildlife.

    Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges may be obscure, but they are the most important freshwater wetlands west of the Mississippi. They should be managed for eagles and geese, not commercial agribusiness. It would be tragic if Merkley, Wyden, and others got so caught up in the spin over the dams that they go along with the Bush plan to throw wetlands and wildlife under the bus.

  • Doug fir (unverified)

    Dam removal by itself (and soon) would be great, but we should reserve judgment until the details are known because in this case it looks like dam removal may be coupled to delay (more business-as-usual river mgt in the short-term), increased water diversions for agriculture (less water for rivers and refuges), and farming on wildlife refuges. Not a good deal for fish, birds, and people.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    That's my home country. I've fished on the Klamath River and Upper Klamath Lake. I've been on many sojourns through the game refuges on the lower Klamath Lake and Tulelake areas. This is a complex question that involves watershed, the ecological transition of Klamath Lake to marsh as it fills in with silt, and climate change as less and less water is stored in the Cascades. Additionally the Klamath basin depends in large part on agriculture for its livelihood, and agriculture in that area means irrigation. A solution that is just must make use of science to treat all sides with a measure of justice, farmers, Indians, sportsmen, salmon,residents of Klamath Co., and so on.

    The news just out is that a deal to remove four dams on the Klamath River run by Pacificorps has just been reached by U.S. Interior, Pacificorps, and other stakeholders. http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2009/09/deal_would_remove_klamath_rive.html

  • RobK (unverified)

    He may have made the desert onion growers happy, but I can't imagine salmon fishermen were pleased with Gordon back in 2002.

    Dam removal seems like a step in the right direction in restoring the Klamath. But not when it's tied to something that does the exact opposite!

    The settlement "announced" today amounts to a commitment to someday consider dam removal as long as that commitment is tied to a plan that guarantees harming wildlife for generations to come.

    Compromise is one thing but selling out is another. It's not a compromise when the only guarantee is the giveaway. This is going to be a real test of green rhetoric vs. green action.

    This agreement is like asking a buddy to pay a loan back, and celebrating when he agrees to someday consider paying you back as long as you permanently link your direct deposit to his bank account.

    If Pacificorps agrees that dam removal is so great, why can't we get guaranteed dam removal with no strings attached? All this does is guarantee abundant irrigation, conflict, and damage to salmon and other wildlife.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    I wonder if the Klamath Basin farmers and Gordon Smith and Greg Walden (he was also one of the culprits) started their meetings with the pledge of allegiance that included the words "one nation,..., indivisible" before they proceeded to shaft the people in the fishing industry downriver.

  • Croucier (unverified)

    Awesome, so you take the dams out, but the river will have been sucked dry by agribusiness on the "wildlife refuge". What good is that? I hope Merkley and Wyden step up and take the good parts of this proposal and ditch the bad parts. J

  • Jake Weigler (unverified)

    Hi Ani,

    I was wondering if you could clarify a little about what Oregon Wild would like to see done in this situation. I understand very well your policy goal of eliminating the agricultural leases in the Klamath Wildlife Refuge, but I have never been clear about the process OW suggests to get there.

    As I'm sure you know, the Settlement and Restoration agreements were developed through a consensus process to bring together the diverse water users on the river and other stakeholders like environmentalists. The goal of that process was to find agreement on a sustainable plan on the use of Klamath Basin water and to avoid the divisive fights (ag. versus fishing industry, etc.) that, as you highlight in your post, have undermined sound policy for the Basin. Such a process would seem, by definition, likely to end up with all the parties compromising in the name of a balanced solution.

    If, as your post suggests, the failure to end leases on the Reserve is a fatal flaw of the agreements, is OW advocating that we abandon them altogether (and the gains for fish habitat contained within them)? Or is OW advocating that Senator Merkley and the Oregon delegation overwrite those agreements to add provisions ending the leases? And if so, is OW concerned that this would cause stakeholders to walk away from their commitments under them?

    Or alternately, is OW advocating (as your post also could suggest) that we rely on agency scientists to determine what the best available science dictates we should do in terms of species preservation and that forms a baseline for water policy (something akin to the bi-op process on the Columbia)?

    I am genuinely interested in understanding what OW would envision happening as an alternative to the status quo - as this, to me, is a good example of where both the process and the policy matter. Given our increasing water demands as a state and region and the impact that climate change will have on water supplies, how we answer those questions would seem to loom large in our future and I can see merits in each of the approaches I've outlined.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    I grew up knowing a number of the families who farmed in the Klamath Basin. It's easy to take the human element out of it by categorizing them all as "agribusiness." These are people too, with children and families to support, and not the enemy. I think new management plans for the water use, for the agricultural methods, for the commercial and sport fishing groups, for the fishing rights of native people, can and should be done with a respect for each. Having lived on the Klamath reservation as a child and having a younger sibling who is a member of the tribe, the historic injustice on water and fishing rights to the tribe is not unfamiliar to me.

  • Solution (unverified)

    Oregon Wild's underlying threat to Senator Merkley here, is absolutely unacceptable. This Senator has come into our basin and in a short time made a real effort with staff on the ground to deeply understand what communities here are doing to dig themselves out of a 150 year hole. We care about tribes and agriculture in this basin. We care about fish, and water quality, and birds--not just the ones that land on National Wildlife refuges--also the ones that land on thousands of acres of open space that would be in jeapordy without a settlement. Fear mongering is no longer fashionable in the Klamath. Oregon Wild will have to find some other postage stamp to save--we're saving an entire river basin.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Perspective is a funny thing. Writing smugly from the city of Portland, Oregon Wild would have us all believe that those nasty agribusiness owners are the cause for the demise of the Klamath region water. Back in 2002, those of us who live and work in southern and central Oregon remember the crisis caused by the federal government unilaterally shutting off water rights to farmers. Water rights that were granted almost 100 years earlier.

    There was no discussion, no attempts at conciliation, no the water was literally locked out of use by the feds when the farmers needed it most.

    Since then several groups with diverse interests and dependence upon the watershed have worked together in attwmpts to reach a compromise. Yesterday's announcement that Pacific Corp will breach the 4 dams is important; and expensive. Unless California signs on to share the cost, it would appear that the compromise is doomed.

    If Oregon Wild has a genuine interest in assisting these parties work towards attaining their compromise, great. If they just want to Monkey Wrench the process they are advised to stay in comfortable Portland.

  • John (unverified)

    A few points -

    From a water perspective, these deals do not solve the fundamental problem in the basin - Too much water has been promised to too many interests. Until we bring demand back into balance with what nature can provide, some legitimate interest will lose each year in the Klamath.

    1. The announced agreement is not an agreement to remove the Klamath dams, but an agreement to go through a lengthy process to determine whether or not to remove any dams. The agreement is riddled with escape routes for the dam owner, and provides no guarantees that the dams will actually come out.

    2. Unfortunately, this agreement suspends the standard legal process for dam removal, and allows PacifiCorp to continue to harm the river for at least the next decade, with no assurance of dam removal at the other end. The Klamath salmon simply can’t wait.

    3. The dam removal agreement is linked unnecessarily to the so -called Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA), and is being inappropriately used to push the KBRA into law. A legacy from the disastrous conservation policies of the Bush administration, the KBRA is laden with sweetheart deals for politically-connected agribusiness interests at the expense of fish, wildlife, national wildlife refuges and the U.S. taxpayer.

    4. The KBRA attempts to lock in a water deal that puts Klamath salmon at risk, including coho salmon listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The Klamath River is widely known for the catastrophic Klamath salmon kill of 2002, when critically low river flows sparked the largest adult salmon die-off in U.S. history. Incredibly, the KBRA would allow similar salmon-killing low flows to occur in the future, while guaranteeing water deliveries to irrigators. This is no solution. No agreement has been reached on a drought plan that would prevent a similar fish kill from occurring. It makes no sense to open up hundreds of miles of salmon habitat just to kill fish with the low river flows allowed under these paired agreements. Even with dam removal, fish will still need water.

    5. In addition, the KBRA attempts to lock in commercial farming on 22,000 acres on Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges for the next 50 years. This harmful program has led to serious declines in two of the crown jewels of America's national wildlife system.

    6. The KBRA also calls for over 90 million dollars to be simply given away to Klamath irrigation interests so they can develop - without public input - a water plan for their ag use in the basin. Water is a public resource. This is not how we do business in Oregon with water.

    7. The agreements also tolerate reductions in currently protected senior streamflows and streamflows protected under Oregon's Scenic Waterways Act. Those reductions are inconsistent with current state law, and if allowed, will further degrade streams and wetlands in the basin.

    8. The Klamath has suffered for too long from political manipulation and backroom deals. I hope Congress will support removing the four lower Klamath dams, but will not sacrifice the river flows needed by salmon, our national wildlife refuges, or our children’s natural heritage in the process. We can do better than this proposal.

    9. My organization remains genuinely interested in a resolution in the Klamath and was fully willing to continue to negotiate in the processes that led to the current proposal and the KBRA. However, because we would not sign an oath of allegiance required by the Bush Administration to certain deal points, we were simply kicked out of what some on this post have called a "collaborative process."

    10. NB - The water "rights" Chapman refers to are held by the Bureau of Reclamation for the Klamath Irrigation Project, not individual irrigators. Individual farmers in the Project have contracts with the Bureau for water, not water rights. Those contracts have clauses that allow curtailment for Endangered Species Act needs, among other things. The contracts do not guarantee water. The only farmers affected by the curtailment in 2001 were those within the Klamath Irrigation Project. And those farmers received almost 70% of the water they could have reasonably expected in that dry year.

    The promoters of the deal can talk about salmon and potato festivals all they want, but the actual terms of the deals are quite tilted to agriculture. Fish, refuges and the Klamath River assume the risk here - as they have in the past.

  • Klamath Angler (unverified)

    Kurt, as I recall, 2001 was one of the worst droughts the Klamath Basin ever suffered. The federal government (who built the Klamath irrigation project with American tax dollars) was faced with the choice of how to divide up what little water they had between endangered fish, including coho salmon in the Klamath River, wetlands, and agriculture. It was hardly a “unilateral shut off of water rights.” If it doesn’t rain, the water isn’t there. Sorry, but I just can’t agree with the notion that when there is a drought the fish and wildlife are the only ones who should be cut back.

    The next year, in 2002, the Bush administration did what agribusiness folks wanted, they cut the water to the fish. 75,000 salmon died in the Klamath River as a result.

    Now we have a deal (which isn’t really a deal, because Pacificorp hasn’t actually agreed to do anything but continue running the dams until 2020), that is supposed to be about dam removal, but also includes language that makes agribusiness the priority for water for the next 50 years. And it continues to lock in agricultural development on National Wildlife Refuge lands that were supposed to be set aside for wetlands and wildlife, not private potato crops. And it spends $1 billion in federal tax payer dollars to make special interests in the Klamath Basin happy, including lots of new subsidies for Klamath agriculture.

    Sorry, but that isn’t the kind of “compromise” that I want to see.

  • Refuges (unverified)

    The refuges are public land, owned equally by every American from Hawaii to Alaska to Kansas, so attempts to paint the issue as class warfare or a Portland vs. Klamath thing are both uninformed and counter-productive. There is no us vs. them in the Basin. Nobody hates farmers or farming.

    It’s an issue of balance. Private farmlands in the Basin dominate the equation and dwarf the refuge leaselands. It’s not even close. The overwhelming majority of ‘what used to be’ is gone forever and will always be private farmlands.

    Dam removal is a good thing. It will be a genuine tragedy if, as planned, it comes at the expense of the refuges, which are already in a sorry state to put it mildly - dry, stripped of natural vegetation, full of algae and stagnant foamy water and pesticides, dusty, noisy, beer cans and shotgun shells and speeding trucks everywhere.

    The Lower Klamath and Tule Refuges are true national treasures – international treasures - that should have been made National Parks and World Heritage Sites decades ago, and should be seeing millions of visitors from all over the world. They are so transformed from their natural state – and have been for so long - that history has essentially been re-written, their value and potential all but forgotten.

    The flaw is not just in the failure to end the leases – that was scarcely a realistic possibility in this current agreement - but in language that will guarantee them for 50 years. It will go down as one of the low points in the natural history of the American West if it becomes law.

    Restoration of the refuges could be one of America’s great success stories. It would be an unqualified win-win for all parties involved, and it should be a top priority of wildlife and sporting groups across the country. If this guarantee becomes law we will have committed to going in the opposite direction – forever, for all practical purposes - and you can write off restoring the refuges in our lifetime.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    "Too much water has been promised to too many interests."


    "The flaw is not just in the failure to end the leases"

    When the Klamath Basin crisis broke in 2000 there was talk about buying out some of these leases to reduce the consumption of water by ranchers. I understood a few were willing to sell their leases but they were adamantly opposed by other ranchers. I never understood that. Can someone explain?

  • Solution (unverified)

    The Klamath Basin is a national treasure. The hundreds of thousands of acres of open space outside of these refuges in the Klamath Basin which serve both fish and wildlife--also a treasure. The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (a national treasure of an agreement in the making) assures water allocation for these precious refuges as they compete with the need for water to go downstream for salmon.

    We clearly understand the treasure in our own back yard. We understand the decades of decisions that got us to where we are today--and we will continue to restore not only the natural system in this place--but also the soul and spirit of our people.

    Oregon Wild has had an unacceptable approach to both our tribal and agricultural communities. If they had pulled some of the stunts they've pulled in this basin right outside of Portland--the majority of environmental groups wouldn't be the only ones rolling there eyes at them--the social justice community would be lit up as well.

  • John (unverified)

    I would like Solution (and for that matter the Oregon delegation) to consider and address the deal points I raised in my post and the points below.

    Solution, please tell us how low will the Klamath River will go in dry years under the KBRA with its guaranteed allocations of water to ag? According to the relevant models, the river flows will be very low indeed, in many years below what they were during the 2002 fish kill - and well below current flows for coho salmon under the Endangered Species Act. Especially without a drought plan. And as you know, there is no drought plan in the KBRA. Once again the fish and the river assume all of the risk and are left to make do with whatever water is leftover. That's not balanced. That's not a solution. That's not scientific.

    As for refuge restoration, in fact, the KBRA caps how much water the refuges can ever receive. They can never do better under the KBRA. Another flaw in the deal. Another tilt in the playing field towards ag. That's not balanced. That's not a solution. That's not scientific.

    Interesting that the Hoopa Tribe is adamantly opposed to the KBRA, in contrast to Solution's implication that all tribal communities are allied in their approach. The Hoopa's disagreements are quite substantial and their analysis has been exacting. Perhaps some tribes count more than others in the "social justice community?"

    In sum, there are many, many very legitimate criticisms of and damaging terms in these proposals that the proponents seem unwilling to address. Stop demonizing the opponents and defend the deals on the merits if you can. Kumbayaa isn't enough. Coming together is great, but not if it papers over the extremely damaging terms and giveaways in these proposals.

  • Klamath Angler (unverified)

    Solution, why are you demonizing Oregon Wild for advocating for fish and wildlife? They are a conservation group, that's kind of what they do.

    Really annoying when "locals" try and play the trump card of no one but they should have a say in how public resources are managed. I pay taxes, I am an American, the wildlife refuges, the fish in the Klamath River, the concrete in the Klamath Irrigation Project, belongs to me as much they they do to anyone else. Please don't try and dismiss people who disagree with you by saying only locals count, or demonizing groups who put a higher priority on the National Wildlife Refuges than you do.

  • Solution (unverified)

    Klamath angler--this basin is constantly being shaped by people from the outside that love it--as well as those from the inside. Some folks, including conservation groups have also realized that you can actually work with folks that live in a place and make change as well. (Real change--like miles of rivers being restored, water going in-stream, wetlands being created.) I'm simply making the point that dropping torpedos from the outside is a tactic that used to work well in this basin. (Both on the far left and far right.) We are moving on. You are more than welcome to join us--from wherever you live, in taking care of this place.

  • Klamath Angler (unverified)

    But you appear to be lobbing torpedos from the inside. Oregon Wild argues more needs to be done to protect the wildlife refuges. You could either a) include them into your "moving on" and improve the deal so that you get their support, or b) explain why what is being done to the refuges under the deal is acceptable to you.

    Instead you are doing neither, just demonizing them for voicing their concerns.

  • Ani (unverified)


    Ani here with Oregon Wild. (My response to your note will be in two posts.)

    The challenges in the Klamath Basin are three-fold, and until we address all three components—water quality, water quantity, and dam removal, we are unlikely to successfully restore and protect the fish, wildlife, and human communities in the basin. Oregon Wild has worked to protect fish and wildlife in the Klamath for over two decades, and we have had members in the basin since our founding back in the mid-1970s. It is always disappointing when concerns over fish and wildlife protection are dismissed by arguing that those expressing them are not “locals” and therefore should be ignored.

    Oregon Wild was a part of these Klamath settlement negotiations when they first began in 2004-2005. We recognized the long road ahead and the difficult compromises that would have to be made to reach consensus. However, in 2007 the negotiations took a turn for the worse when the former administration sought to use the potential for dam removal to secure their agenda to give irrigation top priority for water, and lock in commercial agricultural development on National Wildlife Refuges for another 50 years. Some interests were willing to go along with this. Oregon Wild and WaterWatch of Oregon were not, and we were evicted because of it. It was then that the long hailed “consensus based process” came to a screeching halt. Some parties made compromises greater than others, and ultimately, compromises were made at the expense of water quality, water quantity, and a sound plan for dam removal.

    The question now is where we go from here (and by “we,” I mean Americans who pay taxes and therefore collectively own the Klamath wildlife refuges). If we are going to get dams out and protect fish, wildlife, and human communities, we have to start unraveling this mess and solving all three underlying problems.

    Water Quality The Klamath Basin once contained over 350,000 acres of wetlands, shallow lakes, and marsh, but over the last century 80% of these historic wetlands have been drained, largely due to agricultural development. This has eliminated the natural water storage and purification system in the basin. Similarly, peak numbers of migratory birds have also dropped by over 80% during approximately the last 60 years. In spite of Congress’s passage of the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act in 1997, which made conservation the primary purpose of system refuges, commercial agriculture continues to dominate the landscape on Tule Lake and Lower National Wildlife Refuge lands. Meanwhile, lease land agricultural development continues to place burdensome water demands on an already drought-prone basin. Worse, while wetlands are nature’s most efficient system for filtering pollution, today Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges make water quality problems in the basin worse through run-off that includes pesticides and fertilizers, sparking algal blooms and other conditions toxic to fish.

    Rather than locking public refuge lands into commercial agriculture (one of the “compromises” millions of ducks, geese, and eagles had to make under the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement) for 50 more years, the federal government and negotiating parties should pursue other options. First and foremost is to simply leave the publicly-owned National Wildlife Refuge lands out of the bargain and allow refuge managers in charge to decide whether or not agriculture is compatible with wetlands, eagles and herons. Or, they could adopt a process for moving the existing leases on the refuges off of public lands and onto private lands (as Phil Norton, the previous Klamath refuge manager, tried to do before Bush took office). Or, ban the use of the most pesticide and water intensive crops on the refuges (as Rep. Earl Blumenauer tried to do back in 2002 and 2003). The options are many. Unfortunately, the refuges were used and trading stock, and the upper basin’s most efficient water quality filters could continue to be lost to commercial agriculture on public lands.

  • Ani (unverified)

    Part two:

    (Ani here with Oregon Wild).

    Water Quantity Under the current Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement irrigation interests in the basin are guaranteed water diversions that have no scientific basis and are at a level that can’t be sustained by fish and wildlife in dry years. What the settlement proposes is that in 40% of water years less water would be left in the Klamath River than is currently required by the best available science and the Endangered Species Act. The compromise irrigation interests made under the settlement was to have plenty of water in wet years, in dry years, in any year, while the risk of future drought is borne by fish and wildlife.

    Also, you rightly raise concerns regarding climate change, which are worth addressing. When I was first introduced to the Klamath, it was as a graduate student in water resources engineering. I wrote a white paper on climate change impacts to the Klamath Basin; I was inspired by fish flow models, and the prospect of developing a plan to restore balance to this over allocated river. Unfortunately, the settlement does not include plans for climate change, nor does it include a drought plan.

    Senator Ron Wyden had the right idea with an amendment he tried to add to the Farm Bill back in 2002—a voluntary program to purchase water rights back from farmers within the sprawling Klamath Irrigation Project, at fair market value, who choose to sell them. Doing so would 1) reduce pressure to take water from fish and wildlife, 2) provide a way for irrigators who want to do the right thing for the environment to do so without financial hardship, and 3) ensure the irrigators who choose not to participate have more certainty for their supply of water. Unfortunately, the current settlement goes in the opposite direction. The only water demand reduction comes from less politically well-connected farmers outside the Klamath Project.

    Dam Removal Dam removal is a vital component of any restoration vision in the Klamath Basin. However, under the proposal announced yesterday, the status quo is what river communities will experience for at least the next 10 years. During this time, PacifiCorp can continue to profit from dam operations with minimal interim conditions to fix poor water quality and aid struggling salmon. In addition, the dam removal agreement is unnecessarily linked to the larger, and as noted, more controversial $1 billion Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.

    The hurdles that still remain to dam removal are large: A questionable Secretarial Determination, funding from the states (that’s on hold until PacifiCorp signs off on the whole package), the possibility that a state or PacifiCorp will veto of the agreement if something changes down the road, or that someone may sue to stop dam removal. This is far from a done deal.

    It makes a lot more sense to us to separate dam removal from the larger $1 billion dollar scheme, and simplify it. PacifiCorp should transfer ownership of the dams at a date certain, and allow a federal agency to take responsibility for their removal (as has been done with Savage Rapids Dam on the Rogue River, and is being done with the Elwah Dams in Washington).

    Senator Merkley has been a real environmental champion, and we hope he will ask some hard questions about the Klamath in the coming months. I hope he will demand the use of the best available science, identifiable restoration benchmarks, and the protections of wetlands and wildlife within the National Wildlife Refuges. We can’t afford a dam removal plan that makes other environmental problems in the Klamath Basin worse.

  • Solution (unverified)

    John & Klamath Angler,

    I have not demonized anyone. I've simply pointed out that we have found new ways to protect fish and wildlife that is clearly different than the way Oregon Wild goes about doing business.

    Perhaps I should not have mentioned the social justice infractions that I have seen out of Oregon Wild. But I have. I have not witnessed that from any other conservation group that has worked in this basin. Not one other group.

    As far as I can tell locals in the Klamath Basin haven't had much of a chance to share their story and understanding of these issues with our urban neighbors at all. It's nice to be able to say that we are working very hard to restore a National Treasure--the Klamath River Basin. I think both High Country News, and the National Geographic have done some good stories on what that scale of work looks like.

  • RobK (unverified)

    Thanks for the clarity Ani. It's a complicated situation that's important to understand. The announcement yesterday still seems pretty bogus. Other than Solution lashing out at Oregon Wild, I haven't seen anyone making a substantive case that this is a good deal.

    I'm all for dam removal because it would help salmon and other wildlife - but not when the dam removal isn't even close to guaranteed and certainly not when it's tethered to another deal that hurts wildlife.

    Cheers to Croucier - I hope Merkley and Wyden step up and take the good parts of this proposal and ditch the bad parts.

  • John (unverified)

    Solution - Your continued refusal to address the described shortcomings of these deals is quite telling.

    To Bill Bodden - Basin ag killed a Wyden proposal to spend $175 million on restoration in the basin that included demand reduction through voluntary purchase of willing seller water rights. Why? Certain ag producers (and ag leadership)did not want to see any acres come out of production and interests like the fertilizer and implement dealers are quite strident on this - despite support from some farmers. There was tremendous pressure by these interests to kill any voluntary demand reduction program.

    The leases on the refuges are also cheap and lucrative to a few well connected farmers. They provide a cushion to market swings and the few farmers that benefit from them are politically well connected.

    You are absolutely right that reducing or phasing out the lease land commercial agriculture program on the two refuges is a logical place to begin to balance the water budget in the basin while restoring these refuges. But this hydropower agreement and the KBRA won't do either. Instead, signatories have to vow to support lease land farming at its current level (22,000 acres) for the next 50 years. Those lease lands also get water before the refuges too.

  • Croucier (unverified)

    Solution: "I've simply pointed out that we have found new ways to protect fish and wildlife"... and in your plan fish don't seem to need water. Some plan. J

  • Solution (unverified)

    Crocier--Yes, the fish in the Klamath need water, and they also need good habitat, good water quality and good communication to go on from the top of their habitat to the bottom.

  • Klamath Angler (unverified)

    Solution... perhaps you should offer some specifics, and/or respond to John's request, rather than offering more vague and bizarre claims of "social justice infractions."

    So why is 50 years of additional commercial ag on Tule Lake and Lower Klamath NWR's a good idea?

  • Solution (unverified)

    Okay some responses to John--

    John says, "the hydro agreement is riddled with escape routes--and there's no guarantee that the dams will come out".

    John--the big point here is that Pacific Corp has agreed to move forward toward dam removal. It's sort of a big deal.

    John says, "the dams will continue to harm the river for the next decade"--Well, perhaps but isn't it amazing that these four dams will likely come out at all?

    John says, "dam removal agreement is linked to KBRA"

    Yes--because fish need a good home to go to when the dams are removed--and a restored basin--not just dams out. That's why we have a KBRA.

    John says, "The KBRA attempts to lock in a water deal that puts salmon at risk"

    Well John I can assure you that the environmental groups like American Rivers and California Trout, the Klamath, Karuk, and Yurok tribes who support this agreement will not lock into any deal that puts salmon at risk. Looks like you need to study how the water balance in the KBRA works.

    John says, "KBRA locks in commercial farming on refuges"

    What is commercial farming? Is anybody that farms a commercial farmer? There's a lot of family farms in the Klamath Basin. Is that what you mean--family farms that sell their product?

    John says--"Give 90 million to Klamath irrigation interests"

    What? These dollars are being spent to benefit the water balance for fish in the basin, and changing how the Klamath Project irrigators use water forever. This is the farmers changing their own water use in a logical vs. disjointed buy out program that may have not resulted in one more drop of water for the Klamath river.

    John says--"Backroom deals"

    Seems like you guys were at the table until it became apparent that you were unable to jointly create solutions and resolutions. Please take time to notice all the environmental groups that are still at the KBRA table.

    John says--"My organization remains genuinely interested in resolution"

    John those are the exact words that I hear from the Off Project irrigators who are hopping mad about the water allocation in the KBRA. They always say they were left out, it's a backroom deal, it's drying up all of agriculture in the basin. You guys should join forces--the extreme ag side and the extreme enviro side join forces and whine.

    John says, "The promoters of the deal can talk about salmon and potato festivals all they want but its tilted toward agriculture"

    John--why don't you head to a website called Klamath Basin Crisis and see if those folks think this agreement is tilted toward agriculture.

    In the meantime -- We welcome all our urban friends to come down, sit on a restored river bank and enjoy a big old salmon and potato festival with us.

  • Klamath Angler (unverified)

    I guess at least your are consistent in your obfuscation. I don't think you actually answered any of John's questions.

  • Refuges (unverified)

    I would like to put forth a sincere, serious thought in contrast to the he said/she said.

    There is no taking care of the refuges by keeping them as the only two in the entire country that are farmed, plain and simple. The refuges are in absolutely dismal shape. By capping water and locking in farming for 50 more years this deal will only make things far worse, and kill any chance of restoring them. No amount of cooperation or pleasantries will change that fact.

    I love the Klamath dearly, with every fiber of my being, and have spent many, many days and nights in and around the refuges (nights in the nearby Modoc NF of course, no camping allowed in the refuges). I can say without a doubt, from extensive first hand experience, that they are the most spectacular and at the same time degraded wildlife refuges that I’ve ever seen anywhere in the world.

    There is nowhere in the West with more incredible potential for restoration than the Lower Klamath and Tule. I will say it again, they should absolutely be National Parks and World Heritage Sites. Instead we are headed a complete 180 degrees in the opposite direction.

    The contribution that is needed from locals as far as the refuges are strictly concerned is to allow FWS to manage the Lower Klamath and Tule just like every other refuge in the country, just like every other community neighboring a wildlife refuge does. Wildlife refuges are for wildlife. That's why not one of the other 546 refuges allows farming like this.

    This has nothing to do with Oregon Wild. That's a scapegoat for taking an untenable position. I don't know what is motivating the parties ready to sign the refuges away, and whether all the people involved have ever even been there, but it will be one of the saddest days of my life if this goes through.

  • Refuges (unverified)

    Didn't mean to offend anyone by saying "the he said/she said" - everyone is entitled to their input. Didn't mean to make light of anyone.

  • John (unverified)

    These deals have been described - by one of the national conservation groups supporting them no less - as a leap of faith. We have apparently entered the realm of faith based conservation. And for some of us, extemeists apparently, that just isn't good enough.

    Deal proponents are betting, as they say, on a distant and uncertain come and they are willing to shortchange the river, assign the risk of failure to its fish, trade away 22,000 acres of intensive commercial farming on two of the nation's most important national wildlife refuges and make some very expensive giveaways to get even that. That's not an acceptable deal to a wide, decidedly non-extreme segment of the conservation community, much less the general public.

    Solution - you call me an extremist but you don't rebut that in 40% of the water year types, given the guaranteed irrigator allocation, the river will have less streamflow than under current ESA requirements and best available science. You don't rebut that there is no drought plan. You don't rebut the refuge terms. You don't rebut the reduction in streamflows the deals attempt to allow through development of groundwater. You don't dispute that the hydro deal is riddled with escape clauses.

    What did Ghandi purportedly say? First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win. I guess we're somewhere around the second stage in that process. . .

  • TruthInScience (unverified)

    I am an Oregon resident. That does not mean I have any more right to or vested interest in the public lands of Oregon than those who do not live here. It may mean I have access and exposure to more information about the Klamath and the Klamath Refuges than do most who live elsewhere. I have read lots of what Oregon Wild has put out to the media over the years. Like many groups, both far right and far left, they like others to believe that they represent a vast array of citizenry. They of course, do not. They no more represent the environmental movement as do the "birthers" represent all voters in America. With all due respect to the membership of OW, for I assume many of them are well meaning and believe what OW does is in the best interest of the environment, I would like to add to the story that Ani tells. It is what many radical groups do not tell you that is most important. Such can be the way of election campaigns,fundraising, ideology or selling snake oil. Fear or hope, but never the facts.

    The refuges are overlay refuges on top of Bureau of Reclamation lands. The BOR's Klamath Reclamation Project was established before the refuges were, by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1905. In 1908, President Roosevelt established Lower Klamath NWR to protect the vast and important wetlands and plumed birds of the region. Ironically and shortly thereafter, under the same President T.R., Lower Klamath NWR was actually reduced in size from its original acreage so as to accomodate continued draining of additional marshlands for agricultural settlement. By the 1930's, much of Lower Klamath NWR was dry because the primary water source to the refuge, the Klamath River, was cut off by the construction of a railroad. The wetlands remained dry and lifeless until the 1940's when a tunnel was established through a ridge separating Tule Lake NWR and Lower Klamath NWR, allowing the overflow water from TLNWR to be pumped through the hill to LKNWR. Lower Klamath became alive again, becoming one of the shimmering jewels of American conservation. After WWII, the wetlands of Tule Lake NWR began to be drained and offered up to veterans in a homestead lottery. This dwindling of wetlands alarmed fish and wildlife experts and once again, as they did in 1908 on behalf of LKNWR, conservationists rallied for wildlife to stop the homesteading on TLNWR. In 1964, after 10 years of heated debate, the Kuchel Act was signed into law. The Act was bitterly opposed by agricultural interests and strongly supported by the conservationists of the day. In the end, the Kuchel Act was successful at stopping the continued draining of wetlands. The farmland that remained was placed into a leasing program, with the proceeds of the lease revenue given to the Bureau of Reclamation, not the US Fish and Wildlife Service. This law is one of several laws which today govern the management of the refuges. Like many laws, the Kuchel Act was a compromise. It says that the lease lands will continue in their present pattern, but those lands are for the primary purposes of proper waterfowl management with full consideration to optimum agriculture that is consistant therewith. Clear as mud?

    Through all of the cobbled legislation over the past 100 years, including the Kuchel Act, nobody thought to make the refuges a purpose of the Klamath Reclamation Project. Why? Because for lots of years only agriculture and the refuges were at the table getting the Klamath River's water and there was always enough left over for the refuges. Being at the upper end of the system, this worked very well for the refuges over the years and that is why so many waterfowl came to the Refuges throughout the 50's, 60's, 70's and into the 80's. And remember, agriculture was alive and thriving on the refuges during the this same time when waterfowl were so plentiful that they "blocked out the sun".

    Then the 90's came. With the listing of several key fish species as endangered and Tribal governments finally exercising there legal rights to subsist, there is not enough water left over for the refuges. The refuges are still last in line to receive water but the line in front of them got longer. Refuges are behind Endangered Species, Tribal Trust interests and agriculture. Folks are right. The water is over allocated.

    What Oregon Wild won't tell you is that even if it was determined that the current leasing of lands was not providing for optimum waterfowl management, and all of the lease lands and commercial agriculture were removed from the refuges, the refuges could not get the water. There would be no legal mechanism for the Bureau of Reclamation to send water to the refuges. The refuges would go dry. What is now lease land would be dry peat soil and noxius weeds. How can that be fixed? Change the Kuchel Act? No, the refuges still would not be a purpose of the Klamath Project, and they would still go dry. Enter the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement.

    The KBRA makes the refuges a purpose of the Klamath Reclamation Project. The KBRA gives the refuges an equal purpose with agriculture in the Klamath Project and provides the refuges certainty of getting water. The KBRA gives the refuges a right to water for the first time in over 100 years. The KBRA mandates that a portion of the lease land revenues will now, for the first time, start going to the refuges for conservation purposes instead of all of the money going to the Bureau of Reclamation for who knows what.

    I have read about other benefits for the refuges in the KBRA. Expanding wetlands onto private farmlands, mandating more wetlands on the refuges in cooperation with agriculture, increasing more sustainable organic farming techniques. But Oregon Wild won't tell you that. I wonder what else they are not telling us?

    Like the Kuchel Act, the KBRA is not perfect. It is a compromise. It is not the best of all worlds for fish, tribes,farmers or the refuges. But on the whole, it is much better than what has been happening over the past 100 years.

  • Refuges (unverified)


    The crux of your argument is

    1) take a bad situation 2) make it 5% better - maybe 3) prevent any chance of actually fixing it for real 4) you've come out ahead

    This is a very poor solution for the refuges

  • TruthInScience (unverified)


    The refuges currently receive sufficient water 20% of years. Under the Agreement, they would receive sufficient water 80% of years. That is a 60% improvement.

    For now, I will support what is good, rather than hold a Basin hostage waiting for perfection. We can always continue to make it better, but we have to start somewhere.

  • Refuges (unverified)

    "We can always continue to make it better"

    Then continue to make it better under the current system of lease renewal and not under a 50-year lock-in, or let the leaselands go to weeds as you say. If those weed-filled lands are getting sufficient water 80% of the time as you say, it won't take long for the dormant and dispersed seeds of wetland plants to begin to flourish.

  • Ann (unverified)

    Although there are compromises made in the KBRA, I do not agree with all of the arguments made against it above. I believe that removing the dams would be a good thing for the Klamath. I do not understand why it is the end of the world that it is connected to the KBRA. I also understand that this is a complicated process that involves many diverse interests in the basin and that any compromise, no mater what it is, will take a long time to complete. Any agreement will have costs and benefits to all parties involved.

    It is important to remember that farmers have been given priority in the basin for many years. The government put them there and has greatly subsidized their business. Just because they had priority before does not mean that the pendulum will swing back and now give the environmentalists priority. The difficulty in the Klamath is finding a new balance that includes all voices. And there are a lot of voices.

    The fact that the KBRA has made it this far says a lot. It is a reaction by everyone involved to several problems in the basin. Some argue that the KBRA was started in the "Bush Administration" (the devil to the environmental community) and is therefore bad. But this agreement is so large and takes so long that it is beyond the short reign of a president. If the KBRA ends and another attempt begins (if that could even happen) would probably again cross different presidents. Also, if a different attempt were made, wouldn't that attempt be hampered by negative feelings of those involved. Those who were going to "get" something under the old agreement would not be as willing to give it up the second go round. Therefore it would actually be harder to get everyone to compromise out a different negotiation if the KBRA fails.

    Here are some comments I have about things that others have mentioned:

    First, although the KBRA does set specific water allocations for the Klamath Irrigation Project and the Refuges, this amount changes with regard to the drought level. Farmers and the Refuges would receive less water in drought years. The KBRA would not, as was stated above, trump the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The KBRA specifically states that it does not remove the application of the ESA on the Klamath. Just as in 2001, the ESA would still be able to stop all water deliveries to the Federal Projects.

    Second, with regards to the farming on the Refuges, the KBRA says that those signing the agreement agree not to challenge the Kuchel Act (the document governing the relationship between the farmers and wildlife on the Refuges). This act says that Wildfowl are the primary purpose of the Refuges, but that full consideration will be given to agriculture. It also says that the current pattern of farming on the Refuges will continue, so long as it is compatible with Waterfowl management. Currently, farming has been determined to be a compatible use on the Refuges. This will be reexamined during the Refuge CCPs that are going to happen in the next few years.

  • Ann (unverified)

    Someone mentioned that farming is continuing on the Refuges despite the fact that the National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act made Wildlife the primary purpose of the Refuges. While the Act did say this, it made an exception that explains that the Act does not supersede any previous agreements or purposes of the Refuges. This includes the Kuchel Act. Therefore the Lower Klamath and Tule Lake Refuges still have their purposes designated by the Kuchel Act. The Kuchel Act does not say anything about the type of crops, fertilizer/pesticide use, rotation requirements, harvesting methods, irrigation or other farming techniques that can be allowed or disallowed on the Refuge lands. The KBRA stating that it will continue to uphold the Kuchel Act does not dictate harmful farming on the Refuges.

    As one person mentioned, the largest problem in the Klamath is the lack of water with too much demand. But there is more to this problem than just amount of water. Priority is a big issue. The Refuges have a lower priority than many of the farmers in the basin, including the Federal Project (the farmers on the Refuge land). Therefore it is difficult for the Refuges to get any water at all. Some of the Refuge water comes from runoff from the farmers on the Refuge land (who have higher priority). If there is enough water for the farmers but not the Refuges, then the only water the Refuges receive is from the runoff of lease land farmers. If the farmers, with their water, are taken off of the Refuges, the Refuges might not get any water at all in some years.

    The KBRA would make the Refuges part of the Federal Project and would increase its priority. So that if any of the Federal Project farmers get water, the Refuges would also get some. Although it does cap the amount of water that the Refuges receive, it is nonetheless a lot of water. And, like the farmers, the Refuges like to have a predictable amount of water so that they can manage it properly.

    Also, at this time, the State of Oregon has not allocated water rights in the Klamath Basin. This means that there is no one to enforce water rights. It also means that no one knows how much water they have a right to in the basin. The KBRA would settle the amount of water for several parties in the basin.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    John: Thank you for the response to my question.

  • TruthInScience (unverified)

    Remember, those weed filled lands won't be getting any water. Without the KBRA, the refuges have no purpose in the project or right to the water. Drying up a national treasure seems pretty unsound to me. The KBRA gives the refuges a purpose in the project and a right to the water. The next 50 years will be better for fish in the rivers and wildlife on the refuges than the last 100 were. To throw away a chance at restoring an entire river basin because we can't make two refuges perfect, seems a been out of sorts.

  • Solution (unverified)

    Refuge--first I want to acknowledge what I feel is your genuine love for these refuges. I also want to acknowledge that the actions that happened 100 years ago changed this basin forever. We lost the bulk of our wetlands, we diked, drained, dammed and changed a natural landscape on a massive scale. It can be seen I think best from the air.

    We placed a human community on that landscape--and we displaced some human community. I think about the homesteaders that were welcomed onto the project lands to farm, and I know many of these people, and their children. They were invited to come to this basin to farm after the war. They were heroes--and they were doing good work for this country, a part of feeding this country. They did not come to destroy waterfowl. They came to farm.

    If we could turn back clocks and make different decisions in the Klamath with the knowledge we have today--I'm sure we would. What we have is what we've created. Now we can only think our way out of these issues, working with one another.

    Imagine for a minute that we might create back wetlands across the basin. Not just in a wildlife refuge. Some of this has happened. I believe more can happen.

    After watching us go through the peak conflict in this basin with the water shut off in 2001 and fish die off in 2002 I learned something. When the people are yelling at each other, and not trying to figure out how to dig our way out--nothing happens. When the people work together amazing things happen. Big things happen. This could be true with wetlands as well. When you reach out to people and talk about the possibilities, instead of just trying to scare, or litigate or shame people off the land where they work--there is possibility. I've seen this.

  • Refuges (unverified)

    "Remember, those weed filled lands won't be getting any water. Without the KBRA, the refuges have no purpose in the project or right to the water."

    Therein lies the problem with the KBRA. The water allotment is headed in the right direction. Keeping, and guaranteeing, the leases is the heart of the problem. The leaselands should be natural marsh and open water, receiving water along with the rest of each refuge. If the 80% water for the refuges is there with the leases, it can just as easily be there without the leases.

    "Drying up a national treasure seems pretty unsound to me."

    Yes, that's a terrible idea and one I would never support

    The next 50 years will be better for fish in the rivers and wildlife on the refuges than the last 100 were.

    The next 50 years are whatever we make them. The refuges with farming will never live up to their potential - ever, not in a million years. Right now we can move forward with an end to the leases, restoration of natural habitat in the refuges (just look at Discovery Marsh for an example of the potential in Tule), and the 80% guarantee of water to the refuges you've eluded to. This would be much better for wildlife than the current plan.

    To throw away a chance at restoring an entire river basin because we can't make two refuges perfect, seems a been out of sorts.

    The greatest freshwater wetlands in the West. And you can't restore the entire Basin, 3/4 of the wetlands are gone forever.

  • Refuges (unverified)


    Thanks for the sincere message. The Klamath to me is the most beautiful and special place on Earth. I don't wish anyone in the Basin ill will, I'm sure they're all good people. I've met many wonderful people there. All I know is these refuges are severely messed up, and their restoration potential is absolutely spectacular.

    If we're going to pick two refuges to make the exception to the rule, these should be the last two on the chopping block. The KBRA can be whatever the people still at the table make it, and it sounds like you're one of those people. If we are going to keep the leases, I would simply encourage those at the table in the strongest possible terms to reject the 50 year lock-in, and at the very least continue with the current renewal process.

  • Steve Pedery (unverified)

    Howdy folks. Steve Pedery, the Conservation Director with Oregon Wild, here. Ani is out of the office for the rest of the week, but we'd like to respond to a few things.

    First, to "Truth in Science", we hardly keep information about the history of the refuges or the Kuchel Act secret. You can read all about it on our web site, here:




    And you can even view interactive maps of how the basin and refuges have changed over time here:


    The Kuchel Act does indeed make waterfowl habitat the primary purpose of Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges, with full consideration given to agriculture. Because of the political clout of agriculture in the Klamath, today this interpreted to mean the entire land base of Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge is managed for commercial agriculture (with the occasional exception of temporary "walking" wetlands that provide transient habitat for some wildlife). As "Refuge" mentioned, Tule Lake and Lower Klamath are in fact the only two National Wildlife Refuges in the entire country where this kind of intensive, commercial, private agriculture is given priority over wildlife habitat.

    However, the Kuchel Act also leaves room for US Fish and Wildlife Service to determine what level of agriculture is "compatible with the purposes of the refuge," and to reduce, or eliminate, private commercial agriculture on the refuges if they believe such practices harm wildlife.

    It is hard for anyone to look at Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge today, which consists of two waste water ponds (known as Sump 1A and Sump 1B), and thousands of acres of potatoes, onions, and alfalfa, and argue that the current level of agriculture on the refuge is "compatible" with its original purpose. In fact, refuge managers have an interpretive display at the refuge headquarters showing the dramatic decline of wildlife numbers on the refuge since the passage of the Kuchel Act and the prioritization of commercial agriculture. Back in 1999 and 2000, Phil Norton, who headed the USFWS refuge program in the Klamath, launched two initiatives aimed at reducing agriculture on the refuge. One was a compatibility determination, aimed at finding out whether or not the current level of agriculture was harming wildlife, and the second was a program aimed at relocating private leases off of refuge lands so that those lands could instead be managed for wildlife and wetlands. Both efforts were killed in 2001 shortly after Bush took office. As has been noted, the KBRA proposal would tie the hands of future refuge managers from launching any similar initiatives for the next 50 years.

    Arguing that simply making the refuges a purpose of the Klamath Project solves their water problems reflects a poor understanding of how water law and water politics in the Klamath Basin work. Water is divided on a "first come, first served" basis, meaning the oldest claims to water get their share first before any is provided to the next guy (the exception to this has been drought years and species protected by the Endangered Species Act). The refuges are "junior" water users in the Klamath Basin, meaning they generally receive water after the Klamath Project, Tribes, and other interests. Making them a part of the Klamath Project does not change this fact. Within the Klamath Project, there are Class A, B, and C water users who's claim to water are given priorities. Under the KBRA, the refuges simply become a new class of lowest priority water users within the project, "Class D", still last in line for water.

    And of course, making them a part of the Project does nothing to resolve the question of whether or not is appropriate to manage lands that belong to all Americans, and were set aside to preserve habitat for eagles, geese, and herons, for the exclusive benefit of private agricultural interests. Nor does it change any of the other issues John raised, such as the KBRA specifically restricting the refuges from ever being allowed to receive more water than they do today.

    The only other point I'd like to respond it is the notion that the settlement does nothing to restrict the ESA. It requires Congress to pass legislation endorsing the water guarantees made to agricultural interests. I have a hard time imagining how a NOAA fisheries biologist over rules that, when he thinks the water allowed to remain in the river isn't going to be enough for salmon.

    Over the years I have seen many efforts to justify why the Klamath refuge lands should continue be sacrificed, and why the staff, volunteers, and members of Oregon Wild, or anyone else who challenges the practice, are bad people for doing so. It is not unlike the justifications I've heard for why we must continue to log old-growth forests, or why protecting more of Mount Hood as Wilderness was a bad idea. The bottom line is that a century from now, very few people are going to look back and say "you know, I wish we'd have continued to make potatoes the top priority on that wildlife refuge." But I'll bet quite a few of them will look back with sadness if we allow the most important freshwater wetlands west of the Mississippi to continue to serve as the sacrifice zones of the Klamath Basin.

  • Jake Weigler (unverified)


    Thanks for the clarification - very helpful. And I appreciate the other contributions on the thread that help clarify there are more solutions than just a) accept the settlement and shut up or, b) fall back to a winner-take-all-approach that the settlement process was intended to move beyond.

    I do hope that we can find a way to build on this type of a consensus process in the future, even if - as some have alleged - this particular one was hijacked by certain interests. The challenge of allocating tight water resources for multiple priorities, and all the associated urban-rural dynamics we see playing out on this thread, are only going to get more pressing in the coming decades.

  • redside (unverified)

    From what I can tell, no one here has disputed that the KBRA and its guarantees of water for the Klamath Project will result in Klamath River streamflows in 40% of the water years well below current ESA mandated flows for coho as well as streamflows below those in 2002 during the massive fish kill. Apparently there is also no drought contingency in this deal.

    Ann, Truth in Science or anyone - what is your response? How would that result be acceptable? How would it not fundamentally conflict with or undermine the ESA? How the hell are fish going to survive in those years? Why should all of the risk be on the fish while the Project gets gauranteed deliveries of water?

  • Ann (unverified)

    Redside, I do not know the flows that are currently in the river and the KBRA does not state any minimum flow levels for the Klamath River. Therefore I do not know how the proposed allocations will impact the river flow. However, a new BO for Endangered Species in the Klamath will have to be created as a result of the KBRA. The BO will ensure that the KBRA is consistent with the EPA. The BO may do things such as require minimum flows, but until it is created, I do not know the true impact that the KBRA will have on the river flows

    The KBRA must adhere to the EPA. In fact the KBRA specifically says that it will be subject to the EPA: "In implementation of this Agreement, Public Agency Parties shall comply with existing legal authorities, including National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, and other Applicable Law..." (Section 2.1) In Section 18.1 the KBRA specifically states that, with regards to drought conditions, "Noting here is intended to limit the applicability or effect of the Endangered Species Act or other Applicable Law." Section 21 is dedicated to ensuring that the KBRA adheres with the EPA.

  • John (unverified)

    Ann, you are correct - there are no guarantees for river flows and fish in the KBRA.

    The problem with your analysis (and the KBRA) is that the modeling the settlement group did for river flows - assuming and accounting for the guaranteed allocation of water to the Klamath Irrigation Project - would take Klamath River flows well below current ESA flows for coho in 40% of the water year types. It will also result in river streamflows in certain dry years falling well below flows in the fish kill year of 2002. There is also NO drought plan in the KBRA to mitigate these effects in very dry years despite promises to develop one. The proponents of the deal apparently have been unable to create a drought plan.

    This is a major reason why my organization - WaterWatch of Oregon - believes this is a bad deal. There is simply not enough water in the basin to satisfy the guarantee for irrigators under the KBRA and at the same time provide what fish need. This "settlement" fails to address the basic cause of the problem in the basin - too much water has been promised to too many interests.

    So, right off the bat we have a major conflict built into the deal. Now, the cynic in me anticipates another round of "combat biology" and "new science" that says fish need less than what is currently provided when the new Biological Opinion comes out. And that would unfortunately be consistent with the history of water and fish in the Klamath - as Ronnie Pierce so aptly pointed out a few years ago. Fish always get what's left over. I hope my cynicism is misplaced. The KBRA simply does not address this very troubling issue.

    We strenuously object to the one sided water guarantee and placing all of the risk of water short years on the fish and the river.

    I'd like to hear Truth in Science's response to these points, if he or she is still reading.

  • Larry Dunsmoor (unverified)

    I have been working to restore healthy conditions to this river basin for more than 20 years now, and have spent the last 9 years focusing on the FERC relicensing and the KHSA/KBRA settlement efforts.

    These agreements offer complex approaches to complex ecological, political, and socioeconomic issues; really complex. It is useful and appropriate to consider individual components of the agreement, but always in the context of the overall package, as well as in the context of the available alternative. This dynamic is missing in much of the discussion I see above.

    The agreements mark a fundamental change in approach to management of aquatic resources in the Klamath Basin. They move us from regulation-based warfare with Biological Opinions and litigation as principle weapons, which can only address symptoms of our environmental problems, to innovative collaboration that address the real, foundational problems, for the first time. I speak as one who worked hard for many years, trying to use the ESA to make real, lasting, beneficial change happen.

    There is much criticism about flow regimes in the previous postings. When considering flow outcomes of the KBRA, the parties considered a future with:

    1. the lower four Klamath River dams gone;

    2. mainstem spawning and rearing habitats revitalized by restored gravel storage and movement dynamics, which the dams have all but eliminated;

    3. no toxic Microcystis (algae) blooms in the hydro project reservoirs impacting downstream river reaches;

    4. thermal impacts of the hydro project reservoirs removed, restoring a thermal regime similar to that measured in 1926. This is a big deal, since fall Chinook spawning runs are delayed (compared to historic timing) by weeks, and when they do run they face a river that gets warmer as they move upstream to spawn. Both are caused by the hydro project reservoirs slowly releasing heat stored during the summer. Late spawning leads to late fry emergence and then to late out-migration of smolts, which likely decreases their success.

    5. anadromous fish access to large concentrations of cold water, and to new mainstem and tributary spawning and rearing habitats;

    6. no more peaking, or diversion of most or all of the flow from the Klamath River within the hydro project.

    7. major efforts to remove nutrients and organic matter before the water flows past Keno Dam. This is crucially important to the health of the river system downstream, not to mention within Keno Reservoir.

    8. increased diversions into the Klamath National Wildlife Refuges. The KBRA substantially improves the water supply for the refuges.

    9. reduced and capped diversions into the Klamath Irrigation Project. Big reductions and a real cap.

    10. an interim program for managing lake levels and river flows – that is between now and when the dams come out, Project diversion cap is realized, etc.

    11. a more collaborative approach to managing water in the lake and river that will facilitate simultaneous consideration of upper and lower basin needs;

    12. a plan for managing through droughts – not fully developed yet, will improve the drought year flow/lake level regimes beyond what is presented in the KBRA appendix.

    13. increased storage (>100,000 acre ft) and habitat for suckers, waterfowl, etc. in Upper Klamath Lake by reconnecting former wetlands;

    14. increased inflow to Upper Klamath Lake by 30,000 acre ft through retiring upstream water uses;

    15. major river restoration efforts in the Klamath River, its tributaries, and above UKL. This is the centerpiece of the KBRA as far as fish are concerned.
      I could go on if I had more time.
      The present river BO does not consider any of these things. Please stop comparing present BO flows to those projected to result from the full build-out of the settlement agreements. It is just not a valid comparison. The present BOs will change, and so long as coho, Lost River suckers, and shortnose suckers are listed, will continue to be present in the Klamath system.

    Other issues:

    • From Ani: Water quality: Far and away the biggest water quality challenge is the nutrient and organic matter flowing out of Upper Klamath Lake. The focus on the “fertilizers and pesticides” flowing out of the Klamath Irrigation Project is really off-target. Project return flows could be distilled water and still we would face big problems associated with what is coming out of Upper Klamath Lake.

    • From John: You don't rebut that there is no drought plan. Nor are there plans yet for a dozen plus other elements of the KBRA, including the habitat restoration plans, reintroduction plans, etc. The purpose of the KBRA was not to fully develop the plans, it was to establish what plans would be developed, and the structure for that development.

    • From John: You don't rebut the refuge terms. KBRA significantly improves conditions on the refuges. Water supply is improved, and cooperative programs with landowners are expanding bird habitat – even off the Project. Nothing short of removing ag works for you, and that isn’t practical or realistic given the dual purpose history of these refuges. If it’s a matter of increasing bird habitat, consider the enormous benefits to the wetland systems and waterfowl in and around Upper Klamath Lake and the Upper Basin tributaries brought by the KBRA. The massive wetland complex that once existed here was not confined to what are now the refuges.

    • From John: You don't rebut the reduction in streamflows the deals attempt to allow through development of groundwater. Protections are built in, and were developed in close consultation with the most knowledgeable experts available (USGS). If even small reductions in spring flows occur because of pumping, the pumping diminishes or stops.

    • You don't dispute that the hydro deal is riddled with escape clauses. I won’t try to. PacifiCorp made a business deal, and the escape clauses give them a place to go if that deal goes sour. I too wish that we had a deal that removes the dams next year, and delivers certainty. It was not possible to get there. No one has proposed a better alternative that addresses the issues more expediently – and can actually get done!

    Detractors face a pretty important decision – if it is to oppose the agreements, then what is the alternative approach to solving our problems if their opposition succeeds?

    If your answer is “get PacifiCorp to agree to remove the dams next year”, or “get the parties to agree to stop lease land farming”, or anything similar, then my answer will be “stop restating old positions that have failed already, they are not achievable through settlement”.

    If your answer is based in litigation, then lay out an effective litigation strategy that will deliver the benefits identified in the 15 points above, tell me how long it will take, how much money it will take, how many court victories you need, and how many losses you can sustain without failing. Settlement parties all went through this calculus, and came to and stayed at the table because the clear truth is that litigation cannot deliver the kind of package that settlement efforts have delivered.

  • John (unverified)

    Where have I heard before that "this is the best of all possible worlds" and therefore, we should accept it?

  • TruthInScience (unverified)

    For Steve Pedery: Hello Mr. Pedery, you raise a couple of interesting items. A few thoughts. First, a primary focus of the KBRA is intended to resolve water rights within the Basin. For the refuges, the current situation of ABC priorities is not a good one, since the refuges are last in line. Currently, refuges are last in line because they are not recognized as a purpose within the Klamath Project. The KBRA makes the refuge equal with the agriculture, including all A priority irrigators. The need for a purpose is to put the refuge on equal footing and to provide a mechanism whereby Reclamation can write contracts for water delivery. Contrary to OW's stated position, giving wildlife and fish a purpose in the Project and providing the refuges an allocation of water is important. Providing that the refuges do not exceed their allocation, a purpose and equal priority with agriculture allows the BOR to deliver water to refuge lands for fish and wildlife conservation even during times when agriculture has exhausted their allocation. It is important to understand that the refuge allocation in KBRA will be measured at the point of delivery to the refuge boundary, not mixed or combined with the irrigator allocation. This will allow the refuge to measure their allocation independently from that of agriculture's allocation-an important item to remember. I will not assume your omission of this information indicates a poor understanding of how water works in the Basin, just an indication of how one can miss key components of information that can be useful in problem solving. Of course, that assumes one wants to be part of a solution.

    Second. Though John is correct that the refuges will be limited to the amount of water they can add to the allocation (this includes agriculture, by the way), the refuge allocation in the KBRA is greater than what the refuge has been currently receiving. I have read that the refuges have been experiencing shortages in almost every year since the ESA designated listing of salmon and suckers. The KBRA would alleviate those shortages. John is also correct that these lands are managed on behalf of all Americans. As such they must be managed according to the laws of the land. Currently the laws says the refuges are last in line to receive water. KBRA places refuges at least equal with agriculuture within the Klamath Project and gives refuges its own independent water allocation. This water can be called for by the refuge at any time.

    Finally. I do believe that all refuges must (presumably the refuge manager?) sign a compatibility document stating that secondary activities taking place on the refuges are indeed compatible with the purposes for which the refuge was established. The Kuchel Act is one of those purposes. If, as you say, a determination was done, then the manager found commercial agriculture compatible. Proposing to remove lease lands from the refuges failed. Why? 1)Commercial farming was not shown to be incompatible with the purposes of these special, yet unique refuges and, 2) not enough farmers were interested in selling their land to make it remotely feasible. Like it or not, our public lands are governed by laws, not wishful thinking. Any attempts to remove commercial agriculture without first determining they are a secondary use and incompatible with refuge purposes, would be illegal. I do not think that past managers have wanted commercial agriculture on the refuges, it is just that the law allows for it as long as it promotes proper waterfowl management. And therein is where opportunity may exist.

    As "Ann" suggested in an earlier post, the refuge will be undergoing a compatibility exercise again during an upcoming planning document. This plan (CCP?) will be an exercise to see what kind of agriculture is compatible with "proper waterfowl management" as mandated in the Kuchel Act. All of us should press the FWS hard during this planning process to see a clear definition of what proper waterfowl management really means and what kind of commercial agriculture (if any)is compatible with refuge purposes. There exists opportunity for change within the law. The KBRA does not prohibit the public and the refuges from changing the face of commercial agriculture on the refuges. In fact, the KBRA alone will improve the health and increase wetland acreage and change the way farming is conducted. But a modern interpretation of what proper waterfowl management means, can also create futher change that benefits wildlife and improves wildlife friendly agriculture within the entire Basin. So, it appears that positive change on behalf of wildlife can occur within the Kuchel Act and within the scope of the KBRA.

    My wife and I are both birders, waterfowl hunters, and fishers of the rivers. Though retired, we still don't get to the refuges or the upper parts of the basin near often enough, but that doesn't dampen the passion we both have to see the entire watershed improve. But change that comes from courtroom drama never lasts long and only leads to more courtrooms. It can be a great fund-raising strategy for some groups, though. Collaboration is the most effective way to create change that lasts. Some groups should try that more often. I am optimistic that continued collaboration is the only way our rivers, wetlands, forests, communities and cultures will benefit and thrive in the long run.

  • John (unverified)

    To those who endorse collaboration above all else - and who denigrate the courts - that constitutionally co-equal branch of government- I offer the following op ed from the LA Times. It is particularly apt for the Klamath. If you think the KBRA won't undermine the ESA, refuge laws and state water law, you are simply mistaken.

    THE LOS ANGELES TIMES http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/opinion/la-oe-rosenberg24jan24,1,1 457111.story?ctrack=1&cset=true

    Environmentalists out on a limb For a seat at the negotiating table, they are jeopardizing their true role. By Erica Rosenberg

    January 24, 2008

    There's nothing wrong with a group of people historically at odds sitting down to find common ground. Or is there?

    For decades, our public lands have been a battleground: Timber, wildlife, recreation, wilderness -- which interests and uses should dominate? But now, "collaboration" is all the rage. In collaboration, diverse stakeholders (as they invariably tag themselves) -- environmentalists, developers, off-roaders, timber companies, county officials -- hash out an agreement on how to manage their local public lands and then submit it to Congress for approval.

    A few deals already have been enacted, and another half a dozen are in the works across the U.S. Collaboration has been touted as the solution to "gridlock" on our national forests. Timber companies and their allies gripe that the normal process -- extensive analysis, citizen involvement and the right to challenge agency decisions -- has ground all "management activity" (read/:/ logging) to a halt. Western counties surrounded by public land argue that they need room to expand. Others believe lands worthy of protection are still threatened. The new paradigm means everyone sits down with their adversaries.

    But these collaborations are troublesome, particularly for environmentalists, who risk undermining their mission as well as the very laws that are the basis of their power, effectiveness and legitimacy.

    For example, a bill poised for introduction in Congress would turn into law an agreement reached by one collaborative group on how to manage Montana's 3.3-million-acre Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. The stakeholders -- Montana Wilderness Assn., National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and timber companies -- had one thing in common: They hated the management plan proposed by the Forest Service. So they came up with their own plan specifying which areas can be logged, which can be opened up to off-roaders and which should be recommended to Congress for wilderness designation.

    Sounds reasonable enough. So what's wrong? To start, as owners of the public lands, all Americans have a stake in their management, and they have not designated these representatives. Even the most inclusive collaboration can go bad: Outliers who pose a threat to consensus are either not invited or made to feel unwelcome. And ultimately, decisions are being made behind closed doors. But Congress loves a done deal. With a local sponsor, Congress is inclined to rubber-stamp these initiatives, overlooking the fact that they are an end-run around the suite of laws that safeguard public lands and keep land-management decisions an open process.

    The Beaverhead bill, for example, triples the acreage where logging can take place from what was in the Forest Service's plan. It requires an environmental analysis only for individual logging projects rather than the plan as a whole, thereby waiving the bedrock U.S. environmental law, the National Environmental Policy Act. It also allows logging in roadless areas -- a radical departure from the Roadless Area Conservation Rule that environmentalists championed during the Clinton era. Other deals have sold off vast acreage of public lands in exchange for wilderness designations.

    The collaboration prototype -- the 1998 Quincy Library Group legislation -- illustrates the problem. That group, named for the California town library where it met, came up with a plan for three national forests in the Sierra affected by endangered-species listings. The proposal increased logging while protecting pristine areas. When it landed in Congress, California Rep. George Miller insisted on adding one provision: All environmental laws would apply. That meant the Quincy Library logging plan had to go through the same environmental analysis a Forest Service plan would.

    The Quincy Library proposal, held up at the time as a model of local, consensus-based decision-making, has never been fully implemented. Why? Primarily because it didn't jibe with Endangered Species Act guidelines protecting the California spotted owl. In other words, it did not pass scientific or legal muster.

    That environmentalist "stakeholders" signed on to the Quincy Library agreement in the first place highlights the danger of the collaboration fad. After years of being tarred as obstructionist ideologues, some environmental groups now have a seat at the negotiating table -- indeed, are seen as crucial to legitimizing any deal. Enjoying their newfound popularity, these self-appointed decision-makers become heavily invested in reaching an accord, regardless of the science, the law or the long-term effect on the land.

    For decades, environmentalists fought to get a more level playing field and establish transparency and accountability in public-lands policy; they continue to fight the Bush administration's relentless efforts to dismantle these policies. How ironic it would be, then, if in their eagerness to embrace the new paradigm, they craft and push through Congress deals that undercut the very laws that got them to the table in the first place. / Erica Rosenberg directs the program on public policy at Arizona State University's law school and served as counsel to the House Resources Committee from 1999-2004./

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