Hayley Hutt: Ten years after fish kill, stalling threatens salmon

Hayley Hutt: Ten years after fish kill, stalling threatens salmon

Redding Record Searchlight
Op-Ed

July 29, 2012

Two major events that could decide the fate of Klamath salmon recently occurred. First, the Department of Interior decided to analyze putting extra water into the Trinity River to avert a possible fish kill. Second, the California State Water Resources Control Board decided to let Warren Buffett’s PacifiCorp, the owner of the Klamath dams, delay a Clean Water Act permit process for the seventh year.

Both events show the contrast between the public and scientific processes used to restore the Trinity River; to take down the Condit Dam in Washington state; and the politically motivated Klamath settlements. Dam removal is needed in the Klamath, but a costly and dangerous water deal is not.

For 40 years, up to 90 percent of the Trinity River, the Klamath’s largest tributary, was diverted to the Central Valley. Then, in 2000 — after a 15-year flow study and a public process — the Trinity River Record of Decision was signed. This ROD called for the Trinity to receive 47 percent of flows and appropriations for restoration. Salmon and tribal rights were balanced with farmers’ needs, and salmon began to rebound. This effort coupled with ocean conditions account for much of this year’s salmon run. This ROD is why more Trinity water may be available for Klamath salmon.

Full water allotments went to farmers in the Upper Klamath this year, which left little water for salmon. Only water mandated by the Endangered Species Act to keep coho salmon alive will be available, regardless of the fact 380,000 Chinook are expected. This is two-and-a-half times the run in 2002, when the fish kill occurred.

Proponents of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement say this situation will change under the KBRA. Flows will change, but not improve. The Bureau of Reclamation’s own study shows that under the KBRA, flows will be less than current flows in normal years and much less in dry years. The KBRA guarantees 378,000 acre-feet of water to farmers in dry years, yet includes no guarantees for salmon. The KBRA also strips federal protection for water rights of tribes even if they didn’t sign the agreement, and subverts the Clean Water Act, leaving no one to fight for salmon if the plan fails.

KBRA proponents say legislation is needed to get dams out and are supporting PacifiCorp’s effort to stall Clean Water Act processes. This stalling could continue through 2020, making PacifiCorp $27 million a year, even though PacifiCorp has operated the dams outside the law for over 50 years.

Arguments against regulation show the holes in the KBRA. Furthermore, PacifiCorp has removed dams, such as the Condit Dam, under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission process without $250 million from taxpayers. KBRA supporters assert Condit Dam removal involved negotiations. In truth, PacifiCorp issued a dams surrender plan and the government accepted it. Tribal water rights, and flows, were never on the table.

The Hoopa Tribe is committed to dam removal. This is why on July 17 more than 100 of us protested the Water Board’s decision. We cannot support a deal that terminates tribal water rights, sidesteps public processes, ignores the Clean Water Act, and is not scientifically justifiable.

It is time to return to public processes and undam the Klamath. PacifiCorp stated that relicensing the dams is uneconomical. Anyone who believes that Warren Buffett cannot surrender the dams without the KBRA is ignoring the facts.

Hayley Hutt is a member of the Hoopa Valley Tribal Council.

Leave a Comment