Questions persist despite Klamath agreements

Questions persist despite Klamath agreements
by Jim McCarthy
Salem Statesman Journal Op-Ed

November 29, 2014

Contrary to the Statesman Journal’s Nov. 16 editorial, the Klamath Basin water agreements contain no assurances whatsoever of increased flows for Klamath River salmon. Moreover, claims that the agreements proposed in pending federal legislation will resolve the region’s water wars are simply false. These are two of the main reasons why WaterWatch, Oregon’s leading advocate for restoring natural river flows and the removal of obsolete dams harmful to salmon and steelhead, opposes this legislation in its current form.

We encourage anyone with knowledge of the Klamath Basin’s geography and an internet connection to evaluate the impacts of these agreements by accessing the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement’s Appendix E-1 online, as well as the Bureau of Reclamation’s annual Klamath Project Operations Plans and the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s annual Klamath Basin inflow forecasts from the last several years.

If readers do the math, they will see that even though the agreements increase flows each year by 9.8 billion gallons in waterways upstream of Upper Klamath Lake, they also greatly increase water diversions from the lake itself during droughts – before that water reaches the Klamath River.

For example, if the agreements had been fully implemented by the drought of 2010, water withdrawals to the Klamath Irrigation Project area would have increased by 76 billion gallons over the withdrawals estimated in the 2010 Klamath Project Operations Plan. In 2013, withdrawals would have increased by 32.4 billion gallons. In 2014, withdrawals would have increased by 48.7 billion gallons. In short, the numbers don’t add up: these agreements would have greatly increased the imbalance in the basin’s water budget during the past three drought years.

This means that salmon runs downstream, and Oregon’s salmon-dependent communities, lose big under this deal. If the intensified water imbalances created by the agreements had been in effect in 2010 and 2014, Klamath River flows would have dropped in both years below the levels that sparked the infamous 2002 fish kill. In 2013, river flows would have dropped below even the inadequate levels provided by current water management, which all parties agree necessitated emergency flow increases from the Klamath’s Trinity River tributary to prevent another fish kill disaster.

Supporters claim the KBRA’s drought plan will tackle the deal’s fish-killing water imbalances. But this plan, also available online, clearly lacks minimum flows for fish or any new tools for addressing drought. Instead, the plan creates new preconditions, including significant taxpayer funding burdens, which must be met before allowing a select group to vote on whether to temporarily reduce the KBRA’s water allocation to the Klamath Project. This select group inexplicably excludes conservationists, commercial or recreational salmon fishermen and a number of Klamath Basin tribes.

WaterWatch urges Sens. Wyden and Merkley to – at an absolute minimum – include science-based flow assurances for fish, measurable salmon and steelhead restoration standards and additional water demand reduction in their legislation to reduce the significant risk of another disaster for Klamath salmon runs and Oregon’s coastal fishing communities. These improvements should include some downsizing of the Klamath Project and the voluntary retirement of other water rights throughout the basin.

Jim McCarthy of Ashland is the communication director of WaterWatch of Oregon. He represented WaterWatch as a member of the Klamath Basin Task Force and has testified before Congress regarding Klamath Basin water issues.