[env-trinity] Northcoast Journal Dialogue on Klamath Settlement and NEC Response

Tom Stokely tstokely at trinityalps.net
Tue Jun 3 14:10:34 PDT 2008


Drying Up

By Hank Sims
Is the Klamath Settlement Agreement dying? Not yet, but the proposal to end years of one of the West's most vitriolic water wars isn't looking too healthy right now. For the last couple of years, fishermen and environmentalists and Indians and farmers sat around a table, trying to reach an agreement that would share Klamath water, and to improve the overall health of the river. They wanted to avoid the water shutdown of 2001, in which upstream farmers were deprived of the ability to irrigate their crops in order to save fish. And they wanted to avoid the fish kill of 2002, in which as many as 70,000 salmon died in the river in order to save the crops.

Given all the vitriol that preceded the settlement talks, it is remarkable that two of the major antagonists in the battle — the farmers and (most of) the Native Americans — were able to find common ground. The settlement they came to would institute an on-the-ground management team that would control river flows at any given moment, within certain bounds set up by the agreement. It seeks to account for nearly all of the species and interest groups that use the river — not only the coho and chinook salmon and the people who depend on them, but the upstream sturgeon, suckerfish and farmers as well. The agreement is supposed to go to Congress with the support of all the interest groups, who will be vigorously lobbying to make its provisions law.

Now, though, there are two hold-ups. For one, the agreement hinges on another agreement. The groups involved are petitioning investor Warren Buffett, the world's richest man, to agree to remove the four hydropower dams his PacifiCorp company owns on the Klamath. PacifiCorp is under a court order to provide for fish passage past the dams, and studies have shown that it would be cheaper in the long run to remove them altogether and return much of the Klamath to the wild. But PacifiCorp is nowhere to be seen. The settlement group has been waiting two months for a promised PacificCorp status report on the dams, and many are giving up hope that it will ever arrive.

Just as troubling, parts of the coalition that sat around the table, hammering out that agreement, are now crumbling. Unlike the Karuk, the Yurok and the upstream Klamath tribes, the Hoopa Valley Tribe has refused to sign on, concerned that the agreement does not offer enough guaranteed protection for salmon. Two Oregonian environmental groups departed company from the settlement coalition last year, saying that the Bush administration had hijacked the process and guaranteed farmers too much.

Now, the local Northcoast Environmental Center has dropped out, and with the stakes this high that's led to some immense frustration. "I just felt like the NEC has shot from the hip, and they became critical of the agreement before they did their homework," said Karuk Tribe spokesperson Craig Tucker last week.

After the agreement was published, the NEC hired two scientists to review it. The conclusion they came to was that it contained insufficient protections for salmon runs. After the group received the scientists' report, they pulled out of the agreement. But that seemed to fly in the face of the science that had gone into drafting the report, and earlier this month the parties to the agreement held a "science summit" to address the NEC scientists' concerns. One of the two scientists recanted, especially after Dr. Thomas Hardy, widely acknowledged as the most knowledgeable person on the Klamath system, endorsed the settlement. The other of the NEC's scientist had not yet changed his view, and the NEC is holding out for his follow-up report before reconsidering its position.

There's a lot of hard feelings right now. NEC Executive Director Greg King said last week that the stakes are too high not to be absolutely certain. "We can't have the fish on the brink of extinction year after year," he said. He said that his organization, like Hoopa Valley, would like to see guaranteed amounts of water for salmon, and also an end to farming in wildlife refuges in the upper basin.

But Tucker — while insisting that he still respects the NEC — said that the group had plenty of opportunities to bring any concerns to the table while the agreement was being hashed out, and failed to do so. Now time has run out, and the stakes on the river are too high for quibbling.

"I wouldn't say it's not their place to bring up a concern," Tucker said. "But, shit, they had two years."


King's Salmon
By North Coast Journal Readers


The Karuk Tribe’s representative Craig Tucker has been making the rounds, both on the media front and in the rumor mill, to discredit the Northcoast Environmental Center’s position on Klamath dam settlement talks. (“Town Dandy,” May 22) 

Tucker’s pitch is unfortunate. He contends that the NEC has had “two years” to bring up our concerns. He says we “shot from the hip” and “didn’t do (our) homework” before stating our position. Tucker knows these statements are untrue. 

First, two years is a short time to craft an agreement of this magnitude. The settlement group has been through 11 drafts of the agreement, and we’ve been waiting three months for draft 12 to see what, if any, of the NEC’s proposed changes — the result of real homework — have actually made it into the Agreement. 

Obviously the NEC has not “dropped out” of the settlement process, as I made clear to Hank Sims when we spoke on this point. We attend every three-day meeting held by the settlement group, and we continue to stretch our budget to pay scientists and lawyers to identify and correct some of the potentially devastating elements of the settlement agreement. This effort has resulted in a thorough vetting of the scientific assumptions contained in the agreement, in essence compelling federal scientists to do more of their own homework to provide the settlement group with a full set of environmental documents, which has occurred during the last month. 

Problems remain. The only water guarantee in the Settlement Agreement goes to Upper Basin farmers. Water for fish? Sorry, no guarantees. There’s no minimum flow requirement to protect fish. Meanwhile, under the agreement the ag allocation in dry years could reach 40,000 acre feet more than the amount currently allowed under a court-imposed biological opinion issued to protect Coho salmon. Even if we had a dam removal deal in front of us today those dams wouldn’t come down for another 15 to 20 years, quite possibly longer. (And of course we still have no agreement with PacifiCorp.) What will happen in the interim? The guaranteed allocation for farmers with dams still in could result in another disastrous fish kill. 

In addition, the agreement insists that all parties support chemical-intensive farming in the Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, something the NEC has always opposed. Last year two settlement parties that objected to these provisions — Oregon Wild and WaterWatch — were ejected from the negotiations. (They didn’t “depart company,” as Sims wrote.) 

This is not some kumbaya moment. Klamath settlement has been a hardcore negotiating process, often dominated by upriver irrigators, their skillful (and well-paid) Sacramento attorney and the Bush administration. The NEC has hung in there and insisted on good science and water for fish, as our 6,000 members expect. We do not appreciate Craig Tucker’s almost daily issuance of misinformation about our work. We need to work together to get those dams out, and to provide fish with the water they need. 

Greg King, Executive Director, Northcoast Environmental Center 

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