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In Klamath, Politics Defeat Science and Common Sense

Dozens of stakeholders within the Klamath Basin agree dam removal would be an enormous benefit to the Klamath River, but dam removal is tied to bad water agreement.

By Leonard Masten
Special to the Klamath Falls Herald and News
In Klamath, Politics Defeat Science and Common Sense

Klamath River Canyon (photo by Wendell Wood).

Recent claims of retribution by government scientists come as no surprise. The Klamath Bureau of Reclamation has used bad science in the past.

No one living on the Klamath River can forget the Bush Administration decision to manipulate Klamath science in 2002 and the subsequent death of 60,000 salmon, followed by years of fishing disaster declarations because of scant salmon populations. It appears we may be slipping back toward those dark days.

The Klamath River is the third largest river in the west. It hosts five California Tribes, including the state's largest, and regulates the West Coast's iconic commercial fishing industry. Its water aids no major cities and therefore the river has the greatest chance for fisheries recovery in the West.

Even the Klamath's one large corporation, PacifiCorp, has agreed dams should be removed to aid fish recovery.

Yet, nowhere have water wars been more fierce. Lawlessness regarding water and pollution is common. Tribal senior water rights are still compromised. Science often takes a back seat in decisions. To the detriment of an entire ecosystem, the lands, including public lands, are drained and farmed with little regulation to benefit subsidized farms.

Currently, Klamath settlements add to the lawlessness by lowering flows. Dam removal, which would greatly benefit the Klamath River, continues to be tied to a bad water sharing agreement. The settlement was a great effort to bring people together, but it provides less water then the Endangered Species Act currently calls for.

Last year Klamath flows were too low for the salmon runs and extra water was needed from the Trinity River, a tributary to the Klamath, to avoid a fish kill.

Next year the Bureau of Reclamation proposes lowering flows to levels not supported by science, and without the benefit of dam removal. Agencies tasked to protect the environment oftentimes fold to anti-fisheries pressure. Widely accepted concepts like fish need water are studied for decades on the Klamath, with no conclusions drawn.

Here are some recent examples of how politics are currently dominating science:

  • In December, almost 20 years after the original proposal, the Fish and Wildlife Service finally defined mandated critical habitat for endangered short nose and Lost River suckers. The result: agencies agreed to remove the species from the Lost River, for which the species was named, and a wildlife refuge, to prioritize farming. In the end, the total acreage of critical sucker habitat was reduced by 630,000 acres, a 72 percent reduction in habitat. These fish only exist in the Klamath River and are declining fast.
  • Late last fall flows for Coho salmon were reduced by 23 percent, even though just months before flows had to be increased in the Trinity River to avoid a fish kill. Now the Bureau of Reclamation plans to reduce Klamath flows even more.
  • Despite claims of proponents, The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement reduces water for fish, ignoring studies proving fish need water. Government studies, which are posted on the KlamathRestoration.gov website, show in most years the KBRA will provide less water than fish need and less than the current ESA-required flows.
  • Similarly, the Clean Water Act seems not to apply in the Klamath. Studies show that the Klamath dams and farmers' pollution create record levels of toxic algae.
  • However, the only Clean Water Act process that can address this issue was recently delayed for the seventh year even though the law calls for it to proceed within a year of the polluter's, PacifiCorp, application.
  • The Scott River, which now goes dry in the summer, was once one of the biggest Coho producing tributaries to the Klamath. Numerous studies have shown the dewatering of the river has accelerated due to unregulated ground water pumping. A groundwater study in progress could prove this, yet agriculture interest control the study and water data is kept secret.
 

Leonard Masten is the chairman of the Hoopa Valley Tribe. He has been active with the Tribal council for the last 14 years and is a retired law enforcement officer with over 26 years of experience.

Klamath Falls Herald and News

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