Wednesday, July 22, 2015

More ESA "protection" for the Klamath Basin's Irrigation Elite

The Klamath Falls Herald and News got the headline just right: House passes Walden’s plan to help protect Klamath Project water users (emphasis added). The article goes on to report that "the proposal would confer applicant status on those irrigators, ensuring that they are included in Endangered Species Act consultations that could affect operations of the water project they rely upon." Republican Congressman Greg Walden was able to add the provision to the "Western Water and American Food Security Act" which passed the House with "bipartisan support". The legislation now goes to the U.S. Senate.

Walden's effort to "protect" federal irrigators from the Endangered Species Act implements one of the main objectives of the KBRA Water Deal: to provide "relief" to Klamath Project Irrigators from requirements of the federal Endangered Species Act. That relief will also come in the form of wink-and-nod approval of Habitat Conservation Plans that KlamBlog predicts will remove ESA constraints on irrigation within the sprawling federal irrigation project. KlamBlog has previously written in depth about what we call the KBRA's "wink-and-nod" approach to implementing the ESA. The newer Upper Basin Comprehensive Agreement extends the same ESA "relief" to irrigation interests above Upper Klamath Lake.   

In the news report Walden states that the provision he championed formalizes what is already the practice: the US Bureau of Reclamation  routinely involved organizations representing irrigators in consultations with the US Fish & Wildlife and National Matrine Fisheries Services. Those consultations focus on impacts the 200,000 acre irrigation project has on Kuptu, Tsuam and Achvuun (Shortnose and Lost River Suckers and Coho salmon).

Walden's move may be in response to an investigation being conducted by the Department of Interior.  A former employee has alleged that Reclamation misspent funds which were appropriated to benefit fish and wildlife in order to pay for private growers to pump groundwater for irrigation. Involving a private entity in agency-to-agency government consultations may violate rules designed to protect such consultations from private interest influence. That may be why Walden is pushing the provision now, that is, to legalize what is otherwise an illegal practice. Whether it is legal or not, commercial interests should not be part of ESA consultations which by law are supposed to be based on the best available science and the scientific opinions of expert agencies.

Of course Reclamation does not include all those to whom it supplies water in those ESA consultations. Instead, the Klamath Water Users Association (KWUA), which is controlled by a handful of large and powerful growers, is given a seat at the table while smaller irrigators are left outside.

Growers who dominate Klamath irrigation politics live in mansions like this one 
near Tule Lake. When they don't get their way they advertise their dissatisfaction.

And what about the tribes, fishermen and others who have a vital interest in how Klamath River water is managed? Why doesn't Mr. Walden want to give them a seat at the ESA consultation table too? With so many of us dependent on Klamath River water, why is just one interest singled out for special treatment with respect to those ESA consultations?

Undue influence and taxpayer support:

Friday, June 5, 2015

World Prayer and Peace Day comes to Southern Oregon

KlamBlog wishes to call to the attention of readers and followers an important event that is taking place June 18-21 in Southern Oregon just outside the Klamath River Basin.  World Peace and Prayer Day is a "cross-cultural celebration" in which people of "all nations" and "all faiths"  join together with "music, dance, traditional teachings and feasting" to promote "co-existence among all peoples and nations."

This year's 20th annual celebration is being organized by Red Earth Descendants. It takes place  at Howard Prairie Lake Resort, 3249 Hyatt Prairie Road on the outskirts of Ashland, Oregon. Local Indigenous Elder Agnes Baker Pilgrim will be one of the honored guests and presenters.

To learn more about this year's gathering see this link; to learn about founder Arvol Looking Horse and the origins of World Peace and Prayer Day go to this link.

Let's join together in person or in spirit on June 21st to celebrate the solstice and pray for unity in our river basin and world-wide.


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