Klamath Basin report sparks differing interpretations

Klamath Basin report sparks differing interpretations

Article on the National Research Council’s report on the Klamath River.

By Mateusz Perkowski
Capital Press
December 07, 2007


A new report from the National Research Council that calls for a more expansive scientific view of the Klamath River basin has been welcomed by irrigator and environmentalist groups alike, although they can’t seem to agree on what it actually means.

For some environmentalists, the report — a review of two studies pertaining to river flows in the Klamath river — vindicates the Instream Flow Phase II study conducted by Utah State University professor Thomas Hardy, which recommended boosting flow rates.

“It confirms what we’ve been saying all along about Hardy’s report being some of the best available science for the basin,” said John Devoe, executive director of WaterWatch of Oregon.

Agricultural groups point out that the NRC report also contains strong criticism of that study, commonly referred to as Hardy II, and requests that more comprehensive methods of studying water in the region be developed.

“It points to the need for a watershed-wide approach,” said Dan Keppen, executive director of the Family Farm Alliance. “You have to look at it all as one big package, and that’s how you have to manage it as well.”

According to the NRC report, the Hardy II study and the Bureau of Reclamation’s Natural Flow of the Upper Klamath Basin study have their strengths, but both contain serious flaws that would prevent lawmakers from making effective water-management decisions in the region.

Because the Hardy II study doesn’t take tributaries into account, for example, it’s akin to scientists studying a tree’s trunk but ignoring the branches, according to the report. As for Reclamation’s study, the report faulted it for imprecise flow estimates and questioned the accuracy of its model results, which indicated more water would return to the Klamath River if more were used for irrigation.

“Science is being done in bits and pieces, and there is no conceptual model that gives a big picture perspective of the entire Klamath River basin and its many components,” William Graf, geography professor at the University of South Carolina and chairman of the NRC report committee, said in a statement.

Steve Kandra, farmer and board member of the Klamath Water Users Association, is hopeful that the NRC’s report will serve as a tool in collaborative efforts to improve fish habitat without diminishing irrigators’ ability to grow crops.

“The report identifies work that needs to be done,” he said. “There needs to be a broadening of scope in how we deal with the problem.”

Some environmental groups, on the other hand, believe the report will establish the Hardy II river flow recommendations as a baseline.

“It sure looks to me like the NRC has declared Hardy II as the best available science,” said Steve Pedery, conservation director for Oregon Wild.

Because the NRC report agrees with Hardy II that increased flow rates would likely benefit fish by creating more habitat, it provides a solid argument against any Reclamation water management proposal that falls short of Hardy II standards, he said.

Pedery said he hopes the agency follows Hardy II recommendations — but if it does not, he predicts the matter will once again wind up in court.

“What I don’t want to see happen is everything getting swept under the rug,” he said.

In light of the general sentiment of the report, praise for Hardy II has been taken out of context by environmental groups that wish to “cherry pick” conclusions that suit their agenda, Kandra and Keppen said.

“I think they’re reaching,” said Kandra.

Promoting some aspects of the report while ignoring others runs counter to the NRC’s underlying message, said Keppen.

“We can’t just focus on one particular finding.”

Staff writer Mateusz Perkowski is based in Salem, Ore. E-mail:mperkowski@capitalpress.com.