Merkley Legislation on Klamath Falls Short

For Immediate Release

Oregon Wild * WaterWatch of Oregon

November 10, 2011

Steve Pedery, Oregon Wild – 503.283.6343 ext. 212
Lisa Brown, WaterWatch of Oregon – 503.295.4039 ext. 4

Merkley Legislation on Klamath Falls Short
Oregon conservationists frustrated by anti-wildlife provisions, lack of water for salmon

Portland — Oregon conservation groups today expressed disappointment with legislation introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) that would divert over $500 million in federal tax dollars to support a Bush-era proposal on agribusiness and water in the Klamath Basin. The deal would lock in agribusiness development on over 20,000 acres of land within two National Wildlife Refuges, and provide guaranteed water for Klamath agribusiness without adequate protections for salmon and other fish. The groups joined the Klamath Basin’s Hoopa Valley Tribe in expressing grave concerns that the plan is unscientific, unsustainable, tramples on Native American treaty rights, and is bad for American taxpayers.

“It is disappointing to see Senator Merkley embrace a Bush-era agreement that is bad for wetlands, bad for wildlife, and bad for fish,” observed Steve Pedery, Conservation Director with Oregon Wild. “This bill doesn’t advance Klamath dam removal, but it does stick US taxpayers with the bill for hundreds of millions of dollars of wasteful and environmentally destructive spending in the Klamath Basin.”

The legislation comes less than six months after an independent science review found that the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) was unlikely to succeed in recovering salmon runs unless substantial improvements were made to the plan. As reported in the Los Angeles Times, the panel found that the deal does not provide enough clean, cold water for salmon to thrive even if four Klamath River dams are removed. In addition, the independent scientists concluded that to be successful, any restoration effort would need to address water quality and quantity impacts created by excessive water diversions for agribusiness, destruction of wetlands, and the overuse of pesticides.

“Rather than listen to the science, agribusiness and other backers of the KBRA are charging ahead with a plan that utterly fails to address the Klamath’s fundamental conflict over water,” added Lisa Brown, staff attorney with WaterWatch of Oregon. “Though it attempts to guarantee specific quantities of water for the Klamath Irrigation Project, this deal fails to provide any guaranteed minimum survival flows for fish and fails to permanently reduce irrigation water demand to a level that will provide river flows consistent with science, tribal trust responsibility, and the requirements of the Endangered Species Act.“

The legislation announced today would codify the Bush water plan for the Klamath Basin into law, but is separate from an agreement with Pacificorp to remove four aging dams from the Klamath River. While dam removal enjoys broad scientific support, Oregon conservation groups worry that the controversial KBRA legislation will make it harder to achieve the goal of removing the dams and restoring the Klamath
Basin. Providing Klamath River streamflows to meet long-term recovery needs for salmon and other fish will require more reduced water use in the basin and better water management than proposed by the KBRA.

“Any Klamath bill needs to address water issues in a constructive manner and build a durable long-term solution that works for the basin and its fish. This bill simply fails the test,” observed Lisa Brown.

“Dam removal makes sense, promoting agribusiness development on two National Wildlife Refuges does not,” concluded Pedery. “We appreciate Senator Merkley’s interest in the Klamath, but this legislation is the wrong approach.”