Fate of Northern California at Stake in Trinity River War

September 16, 2013

Opinion

The Hoopa Valley Tribe applauds a recent decision by a federal judge to allow the federal Bureau of Reclamation to open the Lewiston dam and release Trinity River water needed to avoid a replay of the 2002 fish kill in the Klamath River.

The lifting of the restraining order holding back these flows, which was requested as part of a lawsuit by the Westlands Water District and San Lois & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, is good news for this year’s record run of salmon.

The fact that a last minute lawsuit could have caused a catastrophic fish kill in the Klamath River demonstrates the need for long-term solutions to water issues in the Klamath, and it’s largest tributary, the Trinity River.

It is regrettable that this latest lawsuit has reignited the war for the Trinity River, one of the fiercest in the history of California water. At stake are Northern Californian’s way of life, including thousands of years of tribal existence, and commercial and sport fishing economies.

In this suit, irrigators located hundreds of miles from the Trinity River revived arguments that water for salmon, environmental conservation and cultural preservation should more profitably be used to grow crops. These crops are grown with subsidized water on marginal lands.

This latest attempt to use environmental laws to block water for environmental protection is especially hypocritical and deplorable if we look at the history of the Trinity water struggle.

The last battle for the Trinity was twelve years ago. Then, a federal appeals court rejected similar efforts by these same water users that would have blocked salmon restoration in the Trinity River.

The laws, permits and contracts that established the nearly 60-year old priorities for Trinity water are clear. Westlands and the San Luis & Delta-Medota Water Authority have always known that federal law gives Trinity needs priority over their use of Trinity River water, yet they continue to use obstructionist tactics to hold up water releases when the fish need it most.

Moreover, the broad scope of the crisis affecting our fishery involves irrigation and hydropower generation in Oregon and the controversial Bay Delta Conservation planning process in California.

Central Valley farmers are not the only party to blame for this crisis. If Upper Klamath Lake in Oregon was not overdrawn last year, and more water had been released from Iron Gate Dam, the Klamath River would not be in as dire a situation. If Warren Buffett’s PacifiCorp would stick to its promise to remove the Klamath Dams instead of stalling dam removal through the manipulation of California’s water quality laws, water would be cleaner and cooler in the Klamath.

We cannot let wasteful corporate farming continue to diminish and pollute our rivers and groundwater to the point they cannot sustain fisheries or communities. The 2002 Klamath River fish kill was devastating not only the Tribes of the Klamath and Trinity Rivers, but also to coastal fishing communities.

It was also a wake up call for the stakeholders of the Klamath watershed, including California and Oregon. However eleven years, and millions of dollars in hearings and meetings, later very few solutions to the problem have been implemented.

There is a path forward. We have prepared long-term, comprehensive and science based solutions to the Klamath and Trinity crisis. We invite California and Oregon water managers to discuss them with us.

Danielle Vigil-Masten is the chairwoman of the Hoopa Valley Tribe.

Source: http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/09/16/fate-northern-california-stake-trinity-river-war

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/09/16/fate-northern-california-stake-trinity-river-war

Water From A Trinity Reservoir Will Be Released Into The Klamath River

The Bureau of Reclamation announced that it will release water from the Trinity River reservoirs to supplement flows in the Klamath River.

The additional water is meant to help prevent a fish kill and support salmon runs. 

Pete Lucero is with the Bureau of Reclamation. He says water from the Trinity River reservoirs has gone to help the Klamath River before.

We’re looking at perhaps making releases from the Trinity system as early as August 13 because it takes about two days for water to travel from the Trinity Reservoir through the rivers system to the point at which we measure flows,” Lucero says.

The reservoir is in California, west of Redding.  It feeds into the Klamath River, which crosses the Oregon-California border.

Source:  http://www.opb.org/news/article/water-from-a-trinity-river-reservoir-will-be-released-into-the-klamath-river-/?google_editors_picks=true

Reaping the Whirlwind: Water War Along the California-Oregon Border

 

 

Posted: 06/19/2013 6:16 pm

 

 

Not clear how many HuffPosters go Biblical, but this one fits. With a fresh backdrop of unprecedented forest fires in the West, ferocious storms along the Eastern Seaboard (tornadoes attacking elsewhere), alternating drought and flood in the country’s interior wreaking havoc on the Mississippi and the next of many rounds on its way, you can almost hear the booming voice indicting us with a good, “they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.”

 

But before anybody cranks up the old Climate Deny Machine to deconstruct whether 19 of 20 scientists can agree these weather events are related, let’s pivot to something that we definitively know humans made happen: a burgeoning water war along the Oregon-California border. As you read this, Oregon state employees are traveling across the Klamath Basin, shutting down the irrigation systems of ranchers and farmers to make sure that the Klamath Tribes get water they just found out they are legally entitled to.

 

This water war, pitting tribes and fish and wildlife against ranchers and farmers, is truly the result of human actions: in every sense, this environmental whirlwind was engineered by America legally, physically and economically. It is the obvious result of the application of a century-old water law that struggles to keep up with changing demands and modern priorities.

 

The law that allowed this war to start, called “Prior Appropriation,” was drawn up to encourage the settling of a dry land for a nation in a hurry. Hastened by gold, railroads and Manifest Destiny in 1800s, we needed a practical and simple way to know who could use scarce water resources when. Prior Appropriation grew out of a time and place where the West seemed boundless. A world where no one could predict that someday in the future, just about every drop of water would eventually be promised to someone before it reached the ocean. Prior appropriation did just that: it allocated “water rights” to all comers on a first come first serve basis. And it over-allocated many: across the Western United States, more people hold water rights “on paper” than there is actual water in streams in a given year.

 

Despite the lack of water accounting, for a long time the system worked. Settlement grew. Agriculture grew. The desert literally bloomed. What didn’t grow was the water budget. In fact, we have no more water on Earth today than we did when the planet opened for business. But in this country, our water is highly managed–it moves when and how we say it moves. The plumbing system of the American West has enough water in ditches, canals and reservoirs to put all of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and a chunk of Montana under a foot of water simultaneously.

Prior Appropriation creates clear winners and losers during times of water shortage. In dry years, those with older (aka “prior”) water rights can tell those with younger water rights to shut off. And from this long-standing interpretation of water law came the current conflict in the Klamath. Before this year, most of the water right owners in the Klamath didn’t know who had the prior rights and who had the less valuable junior rights. That is because the basin had not yet finalized their Water Rights in a process called “adjudication.”

 

The Klamath water rights were finalized barely a month ago and this process once-and-for all legally determined who gets what water in dry years. It was through this process that the Klamath Tribes were awarded water rights with priority dates that go back to “Time Immemorial.” That trumps every other water right holder’s date in the Klamath Basin. As coincidence would have it, this year is off to a dry start. The Klamath Tribes have made a call on their water, shutting off an untold number of ranchers and farmers downstream, to ensure that they can use their water for traditional needs of fishing, hunting, and agriculture.

 

This has predictably upset the apple cart (quasi-Biblical) for those farming in the basin and tensions are as high as they have been since agriculture was shut off to help endangered salmon in 2001. Right now, for safety in the basin, watermasters (the state of Oregon employees who have to shut off junior users) have taken to going out in teams of two and notifying the sheriffs’ office where they are headed. In a developed nation, that seems pretty wild.

 

To me, the real question has become: What events will jar us into realizing we need to shift our water management style? Our high capacity to ignore big, observable facts gives preference to how things used to be over how things ought to be–and that won’t work on the road ahead. The environmental issues we will face will be violent, fast and unpredictable. Several factors will move beyond our control. But our water future is something within our control, and we should solve for that.

 

A pathway exists to achieve more optimized use of water, but it will look different than how we have done it in the past. We need to accurately quantify the annual water budget, leaving enough for streams and ecosystems to function properly. Then we need to allow the trading of water among uses to allocate the water to the most productive uses and users.

 

This won’t be an easy transition. Some enviros will say that the market is no way to allocate a public resource like water; some ranchers and farmers will claim that family farms will be out-competed for water by bigger, more sophisticated agribusiness interests. Risks have to be managed, but such a sea-change in water management is not without successful precedent Instead of creating winners and losers according to whose great-great-great grandfather settled first, a system in Australia efficiently and fairly promotes economic and environmental gains, and ours should too. A race to produce more with less rather than a race to the bottom of the well is the better one to run.

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joe-s-whitworth/reaping-the-whirlwind_b_3466880.html

Klamath water fight goes to Washington

Klamath Basin water users are testifying before a Senate committee in D.C. Thursday.

The Klamath Water Users Association represents farmers and ranchers in the basin and is hoping a senate committee will help get the water turned back on for ranchers.

Greg Addington with the association is testifying today, and representing 42 interested parties.

There’s been a long running struggle in the basin to ensure everyone gets enough water in the dry months.

Addington says irrigators need to be part of the solution along with fish groups, tribes and the power company, “for us to really fix some of theses things we have to have the government involved and to do that we need we need legislation passed to do that.”

Water in some irrigated areas of the Klamath Basin was turned off last week.

Despite court pleas from irrigators, tribes are still getting priority, to protect fish.

Thursday, Senator Ron Wyden said, the price tag is too high for agreements made after the Klamath Basin water crisis in 2001.

Many say, this year’s partial shut-off could have been avoided if Congress had passed agreements to help restore tribal fisheries.

Source: http://ktvl.com/shared/news/top-stories/stories/ktvl_vid_7726.shtml

Klamath tribes, feds call in water rights

The Oregonian

Doug Bectel

June 10, 2013

 

he Klamath Tribes and the federal government called their water rights in southern Oregon’s Klamath Basin for the first time Monday, likely cutting off irrigation water to hundreds of cattle ranchers and farmers in the upper basin this summer.

The historic calls come after Oregon set water rights priorities earlier this year in the basin, home to one of the nation’s most persistent water wars. Drought has cut water flows in upper basin rivers to 40 percent of normal.

“This is a devastating day,” said Becky Hyde, a longtime cattle rancher in the upper basin’s Sprague River Valley. “This is such a core piece of our economy. It’s not like we can lean back on tourism and things can be OK.”

Source: http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2013/06/klamath_tribes_call_in_water_r.html#incart_river

Petition to stop Warren Buffet from putting algaecide in Klamath River

Petition by Regina Chichizola, United States

Recently PacifiCorp quietly submitted a plan to apply toxins for the second year to Klamath River reservoirs as an algae killing experiment. River users, including fisherman and Native American Tribes unanimously oppose this action citing last year’s studies that show killing the algae actually releases the algae toxin, microcystin, at a time of year when people are in the Klamath River.

Levels of microcystin behind PacifiCorp have consistently been up to 3000 times over the World Health Organization limits for recreation contact. This has lead to the entire river below the reservoirs has been declared a health hazard every late summer for the past five years. Studies, commissioned through the Klamath dam relicensing process have proven the reservoirs create the algae.

The fact is it is time for PacifiCorp to move forward with needed Clean Water Act certification to remove their dams, which create the algae problem. PacifiCorp has stated publicly they want to remove the dams, but have not taken any needed legal actions to support dam removal in years.

PacifiCorp’s has state this proposal is part of an experiment proposed under interim measures of the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA). The KHSA is tied to Klamath water sharing legislation that died in the last Congress. Last year PacifiCorp did a simalr experiment without giving any notification of the chemical use to river users, or initiating public comment. This has lead parties to the KHSA that oppose chemical use in the Klamath River to initiate a conflict resolution process available for those who signed the agreement. However PacifiCorp has indicated they have no plans to initiate a public comment period or to notify the public of when the chemicals will be used.

This has lead to claims that PacifiCorp is using stalled out agreements to essentially make the Klamath a corporately controlled river. Needed Clean Water Act processes and other environmental regulations have been stalled by the promise of Klamath legislation for nearly a decade. It is time to move forward with dam removal

Source: https://www.change.org/petitions/warren-buffett-s-pacificorp-cancel-plans-to-use-algaecides-in-the-klamath-do-your-401-cert?utm_source=action_alert&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=26211&alert_id=ROJTpoZEpE_sIdWqcRhyl

Water war between Klamath River farmers, tribes poised to erupt

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — For decades this rural basin has battled over the Klamath River’s most precious resource: water that sustains fish, irrigates farms and powers the hydroelectric dams that block one of the largest salmon runs on the West Coast.

Now, one of the nation’s fiercest water wars is on the verge of erupting again.

New water rights have given a group of Oregon Indian tribes an upper hand just as the region plunges into a severe drought.

Farmers and wildlife refuges could be soon cut off by the Klamath Tribes, which in March were granted the Upper Klamath Basin’s oldest water rights to the lake and tributaries that feed the mighty river flowing from arid southern Oregon to the foggy redwoods of the Northern California coast.

Within weeks, the 3,700-member tribes are poised to make use of their new rights to maintain water levels for endangered Lost River and Shortnose suckers, fish they traditionally harvested for food. Under the “first in time, first in right” water doctrine that governs the West, the Klamath Tribes can cut off other water users when the river runs low.

Low flows have already raised tensions between tribes and farmers who draw from the river’s headwaters. Cutting off water this year could dry up farmland and bring that looming conflict to a head.

“A lot of people’s water could be shut off, and that has huge implications and it affects peoples’ livelihoods to the core,” said Jeff Mitchell, a tribal council member and its lead negotiator on water issues. “But I also look at our fishery that is on the brink of extinction. We have a responsibility to protect that resource, and we’ll do what we need to do to make sure that the fish survive.”

The tribes’ cutting off water could also spell the end to a fragile truce that was supposed to bring lasting peace to the river. A coalition of farmers, fishermen, tribes and environmentalists forged the Klamath Restoration Agreements three years ago to resolve the distribution of water and restore habitat and bring back salmon by removing four hydroelectric dams. But the deal has languished in Congress, and a year of drought and discord could unravel it for good.

Before the attempt at compromise, the Klamath had lurched from crisis to crisis for more than a decade: water shut-offs that left farmland fallow, flows so low they caused a mass fish die-off, recurring toxic algae blooms that fouled reservoirs, and salmon population declines that closed 700 miles of coastline to fishing.

The tribes fear that exercising their new water rights will make them a target for retaliation or violence. Klamath County is 86% white, and the long history between Indians and some farmers is strained.

Some of the farmers resented payments that some tribal members received after the U.S. government terminated their federal recognition and dissolved their reservation in the 1950s.

In recent months, members monitoring water levels have reported being threatened by farmers, and the tribes have sought assurances from law enforcement that they will be protected. State officials have taken the unusual step of assembling a 15-person Klamath Action Team to protect public safety and stave off water conflicts as the region plunges into a severe drought, said Richard Whitman, natural resources policy advisor to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber.

::

The truce was supposed to bring peace along the Klamath. Instead the discord has surged since it was signed and sent to Congress, where it has sat unsigned.

Several environmental groups say the deal provides too much water to irrigation interests and not enough for fish and wildlife. Conservative groups have organized in opposition to dam removal and the Endangered Species Act through the Tea Party Patriots and have unseated pro-restoration officials from local posts in the watershed’s upper basin. In February, the Klamath County Board of Commissioners voted to withdraw from the deal altogether.

Tom Mallams, a hay farmer and tea party member from Beatty, Ore., who was elected Klamath County Commissioner in November, said the new tribal water rights are being used as a hammer to try to force opponents to sign on to the deal.

“The supporters of this are desperate,” he said. “They’re making a last-ditch effort to make it go through right now because they know it’s dying. I think some people will sign on to it in sheer desperation, but there is no trust in those agreements.”

Becky Hyde, a cattle rancher who lives across the road from Mallams on one of the Klamath’s upper tributaries, is a close ally of the Klamath Tribes and worked for years to build support for the settlement. Now, she is trying to assess how many of her and her neighbors’ pastures will go dry.

“A year like this,” she said, “may be the only thing that gets the people who represent us in Congress to get serious.”

Under the settlement, the Klamath Tribes agreed not to use their water rights to shut down the largest group of irrigators. In exchange, the tribes would see restored habitat and the probable return of their salmon fishery and would regain some 92,000 acres of private forestland, a small portion of the reservation the U.S. government dissolved when it terminated their federal recognition in the 1950s.

The Klamath River basin was harnessed for large-scale irrigation by the federal Bureau of Reclamation’s 1905 Klamath Project, turning a relatively dry expanse on the Oregon-California border into a rich belt of farms and homesteads, many settled by World War I and World War II veterans. The irrigated lands now support 1,400 farms on 200,000 acres, where fields of alfalfa, potatoes, grains and mint feed from an intricate system of canals, drains and pumps.

Clashes over the water supply boiled over in 2001, when the federal government cut off water deliveries to Klamath Project farmers in order to protect endangered suckers and coho salmon from a drought. The enraged farmers made national news after they formed a massive “bucket brigade” to manually pass water into irrigation canals as an act of civil disobedience.

The Bush administration resumed water deliveries the next year, leaving so little flow that tens of thousands of fish in the river’s lower reaches washed up dead. The fish kill devastated California’s Karuk and Yurok tribes, who depend on the salmon harvest.

Confidential settlement negotiations began in earnest around 2006, when regulators made it clear that PacifiCorp, a subsidiary of billionaire Warren Buffett‘s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., would have to make expensive modifications to its series of dams near the California-Oregon border to get them re-licensed. The company agreed to the removal, a condition that was ultimately linked to the 2010 agreement.

Last month, the U.S. Department of the Interior recommended the removal of all four Klamath dams. In one of his last acts in office, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar urged Congress to approve the agreement and fund $800-million worth of habitat restoration and water management programs.

“Once again the communities of the Klamath Basin are facing a potentially difficult water year under a status quo that everyone agrees is broken,” Salazar said in a statement.

Not everyone, though, seems ready to move on.

On country roads here, roadside signs in favor of the settlement compete with those reading “Stop the Dam Scams.” The Klamath Tribes keep their official seal off government vehicles to prevent windows from being broken and tires flattened. And a giant metal bucket still stands outside the county government building in downtown Klamath Falls to commemorate the demonstrations 12 years ago, when the flow of irrigation water stopped.

Source:  http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-klamath-20130507,0,1265691.story

Conservation groups to file lawsuit over Klamath River water flow

Associated Press  April 4, 2013

GRANTS PASS — Two conservation groups warned federal agencies Thursday they plan to sue to get more water devoted to protected salmon in the Klamath River.

Oregon Wild and WaterWatch of Oregon filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue. They object to a new water management plan for a federal irrigation project that straddles the Oregon-California border south of Klamath Falls, saying they are afraid it will produce a repeat of 2002 conditions that saw tens of thousands of adult salmon die.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation implemented a new plan governing how much water goes to farms and how much to fish before NOAA Fisheries Service finished reviewing it for potential harm to threatened salmon. At the time, the agencies said they had cooperated closely in developing the plan, which was based on the latest scientific information, and it was better to start the irrigation season with the new plan, than change to it later. NOAA Fisheries is due to finish the Endangered Species Act review later this month.

The Bureau of Reclamation and the NOAA Fisheries Service both said they could not comment on the notice of intent to sue.

The notice said the new plan is providing less water for salmon in March than the old plan, which was approved under terms of the Endangered Species Act. That means less rearing habitat for young salmon.

“It seems like any opportunity to break the law to give more water to farmers, (the bureau) will take it,” said Steve Pedery, Oregon Wild’s conservation director. “The ultimate legal issue will be that, while scientific cooperation is wonderful, what scientific basis do they have for saying these flows are OK for salmon, when they are lower? There is this black box they operate in, and they are not accountable to the public.”

He added that the bureau is delaying the start of irrigation season because it drew down Upper Klamath Lake too much last year to provide irrigation, and has been shorting the river ever since to make up for it.

A big return of chinook salmon is predicted for late summer. That sets the stage for a repeat of 2002, when tens of thousands of adult salmon were stranded in low and warm pools and died of disease, Pedery said.

Source: http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2013/04/conservation_groups_to_file_la.html