Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Felice Pace talks about Klamath water management and salmon diseases on the Jefferson Exchange

On May 8th, KlamBlog editor and chief writer Felice Pace was interviewed on Jefferson Public Radio's Jefferson Exchange. The discussion included the US Bureau of Reclamation's decision to use taxpayer funds to pay for private irrigators to pump 45,000 acre feet of groundwater for irrigation this growing season. Felice questioned whether taxpayers should be footing the bill so that irrigators within the sprawling Klamath Irrigation Project can mine groundwater in order to fully irrigate during a drought. You can listen to the interview and leave a comment at this link.

Ever since Reclamation was forced to release water to the Klamath River to prevent "jeopardy" to ESA-listed Coho Salmon, the Klamath River Basin's Irrigation Elite  has been able to continue fully irrigating even in drought years by mining the Upper Basin's deep aquifer, extracting groundwater in an unsustainable manner.

Groundwater mining occurs when the amount of groundwater extracted over time exceeds the amount of groundwater recharge. As shown in the graph below, the deep water table in the Tulelake Area (the lower Lost River Basin) has dropped significantly since 1992 when Reclamation was forced to allow more water to flow down the Klamath River. The groundwater aquifer has failed to recover even during years of above average precipitation and snow pack.

 Groundwater elevation in the Tule lake area over time (source: USGS)
The irresponsible lowering of the groundwater table in order to fully irrigate during drought years has caused nearby towns (Tulelake in California, Merrill and Malin in Oregon) to drill deeper for drinking water. Even so, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) testing indicates that drinking water wells in the Oregon portion of the Lower Lost River Basin are polluted with nitrates, pesticides and other toxic agricultural residues.

Oregon DEQ has been reported as calculating that 15,000 acre feet of water could be safely extracted from groundwater in the Tule Lake Area (lower Lost River Basin) this year. Reclamation is using taxpayer funds to facilitate the removal of 3 times that amount!

Another silent Klamath Salmon disaster

Meanwhile fish disease levels in the Klamath River below Iron Gate Dam continue to rise. During what should be the height of salmon out migration, few juvenile salmon are showing up in mid-Klamath River monitoring traps operated by the Karuk Tribe.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Members of the Klamath Tribes question their leaders' deal making

Friday, March 6, 2015

Members question Klamath Tribes' vote to approve the Klamath Water Deals

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples   states that before the rights of an Indigenous People can be terminated, the individuals whose rights are affected must provide their free, prior informed consent to the termination. The US Government says it abides by the Declaration. When it comes to water rights deals like the KBRA or the more recent Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement (UKBA), however, the feds don't require that tribal governments honor the Declaration

Of course, free, prior and informed consent is up for interpretation: How much information must a tribe provide its members and how much time must that tribe allow its members to study and debate the proposed deal trading away water rights or the ability to exercise those rights in order to comply with the UN Declaration?

KlamBlog's editor and chief writer, Felice Pace, has suggested that, within the context of a deal in which a tribe gives up water rights or agrees not to exercise those rights or relinquishes the right to have the federal government trustee protect those rights, "informed consent" requires that a cost-benefit analysis to determine the Net Present Value (NPV) of both the benefits a tribe would receive in a water deal and the cost of what that tribe would give up in the deal must be calculated. 

Felice further asserts that the cost-benefit accounting must be provided to tribal members well before any vote on the deal is conducted. Others have suggested that a cultural cost-benefit analysis should be completed by a tribe and provided to its members if and when the tribe is considering relinquishing water rights or the ability to exercise those rights.

Felice has also suggested that, when it comes to water deals in the American West, the feds have not honored their duty as trustee for the tribes but rather have worked during negotiations to keep the water with (mostly white) irrigators and especially with federal irrigation interests. That, in his view, is a fundamental abrogation of the federal government's duty as trustee to look out for and advance the interest of federal tribes. If that interpretation of the federal trustee duty is correct, tribes may have recourse in the future to reverse some of the western water deals in the federal Court of Claims.  

Over 30 western water deals involving tribes have already been approved by Congress and many more, including the KBRA and UKBA, are in the pipeline. Several tribes, including the Nez Perce and Klamath Tribes have approved water deals which trade away or agree not to exercise in-stream water rights which have been granted to sustain salmon fisheries. To date, however, few have questioned the morality of trading the water salmon need for funding and other benefits tribal governments want for their people and their reservations. Should federal tribes have the legal right to trade away water the salmon need? Even if they have that legal right, is a tribal government trading away the water fish need morally correct? As far as KlamBlog can see, these questions have not been raised, much less debated, by the leaders and members of the West's salmon tribes.     

There appear to be a number of members of the Klamath Tribes who agree with Felice's analysis of the Klamath Water Deals. Those members have banded together in the group "Honor The Treaty of 1864" which recently published a press release appearing on the Last Real Indians website. You can read the press release at this link. The Honor the Treaty of 1864 group's press release is also reprinted in full below.  

 Kientpoos Prayer Pole, Captain Jack's Stronghold, Lava Beds National Monument

Monday, January 26, 2015

Trinity Victory not a solution for Klamath Salmon

There was good news in January for those who value and depend on Klamath River Salmon. Lawyers for the Department of Interior released a legal opinion finding that Humboldt County's right to 50,000 acre feet of the water stored behind Trinity Dam is distinct from water designated when the dam was built to sustain Trinity River fisheries. The US Bureau of Reclamation, part of the Interior Department, had claimed the opposite. That allowed them to divert more water from the Trinity and ship that water to corporate farms far to the south in the San Joaquin Valley.

North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman, who had pushed for release of the legal opinion, hailed its release in a special press release
          Humboldt County’s annual right to 50,000 acre feet of water from Trinity Lake is not a close call – it was explicitly guaranteed by statute and in a federal contract six decades ago, but these commitments have been ignored by the federal government....I’m gratified that the Solicitor thoroughly examined this issue and that the Interior Department heeded my requests to publicly release the solicitor’s findings.  The disclosure of the Solicitor’s legal opinion confirms the position I have argued for the past two years and is an important step toward honoring the promise Congress made 60 years ago.

Before becoming an elected official, Congressman Huffman was an environmental lawyer at the NRDC where he specialized in water law. 

Ich (Gill Rot) Disease 

If followed by the US Bureau of Reclamation, the legal opinion should make more water available to prevent unnatural die-offs of Klamath-Trinity Salmon. But using Trinity water to mitigate for inadequate flows and terrible Klamath River water quality is not a solution. Trinity River water enters the Klamath low in the watershed at Weitchpec. Increased Trinity water releases can help prevent adult salmon die-offs in the Lower River but will not prevent juvenile salmon migrating through the mid and upper Klamath River from contracting fish diseases which are related to poor water quality and low river flows.

Scientists and government reports confirm what has been hidden from most citizens: In 2014 up to 100% of the juvenile Chinook salmon monitored while migrating down the Klamath River were found to be diseased. High disease rates occur in every dry year as flows are cut and always poor water quality gets even worse. Biologists tell us these fish may or may not die as juveniles but are significantly less likely than healthy salmon to survive long enough to return, as adults, to spawn in Klamath tributaries.

Algae clogs the River starved of flows to maximize irrigation water delivery

Why is it that the yearly tragedy of Klamath River juvenile salmon disease and mortality is not reported in the media? And why is it that the self-proclaimed defenders of Klamath Salmon - the Yurok and Karuk Tribal Governments - whose leaders have claimed that for their peoples "salmon is everything" are not bringing this information out and taking action to address the Klamath's salmon-killing flows and terrible water quality?

In essence, the Yurok and Karuk Tribal Governments have become docile in the face of ongoing Klamath outrages because they agreed in the 2010 KBRA Water Deal to support the Bureau of Reclamation's management of Klamath River water. Reclamation manages Klamath water to maximize diversion and delivery of irrigation water. Under the KBRA the Klamath River gets minimum flows barely sufficient to prevent ESA listed Coho salmon from going extinct and a promise of higher spring flows when and if there is water in excess of irrigation demand.

These tribes have also become increasingly dependent on funding from the US Bureau of Reclamation to run their fisheries and restoration departments and projects. If these tribal governments were to anger Reclamation managers that funding could and would be cut off. In essence, it is jobs and government funding which help make Karuk and Yurok leaders docile in the face of ongoing threats to salmon. 

To make matters worse, the Upper Basin's Klamath Tribes recently agreed to give up their claim to Klamath River flows for salmon below Upper Klamath Lake if the federal government comes up with money to buy land and for economic development projects. The Klamath Tribes' leaders want to get into the timber business and they are willing to give-up their right to Klamath salmon flows if the feds will finance their business plans.

Are the Yurok, Karuk and Klamath tribal governments selling out Klamath salmon? Each person must judge for herself. KlamBlog takes note, however. that humans are adept at rationalizing their decisions. It is thus likely that tribal government leaders truly believe they are acting in the best interest of the River and Klamath Salmon. Like many other tribal governments across the West, most restoration organizations and even some environmental groups, these leaders have bought the idea that funding for "restoration" can substitute for the river flows needed to restore salmon to abundance.  

Where they have water rights related to fisheries, federal tribes have a right to river and stream flows sufficient to restore fisheries to the point where they can provide a moderate living for the tribal folk who depend on them. Across the West, however, the right to restoration flows is being negotiated away by tribal government leaders in exchange for funding for tribal programs, infrastructure and "restoration".

Historians will look back at these water deals as the second great rip-off of the American West's Indigenous natives: first they took the land and tried to "exterminate" the people; now, with the acquiescence of tribal governments, they are taking the water for the modern equivalent of a fistful of beads. History will not look kindly upon tribal government leaders who made these Faustian water deals. 

History will also make clear that the idea we can substitute "restoration" for the water flows a river needs is hogwash. Unfortunately, by then it will likely be too late for Pacific Salmon.