KBRA Water Management Already in Action, Fails to Protect Coho

OP-ED by Felice Pace

Bureaucrats charged with implementing the Endangered Species Act under the KBRA Water Deal have once again sacrificed the well being of salmon in order to assure that Upper Klamath Lake is full at the beginning of the irrigation season.
The National Marine Fisheries Service has dutifully gone along with the Bureau of Reclamation’s plan to cut flows below what was ordered in the 2010 Biological Opinion for Klamath River Coho Salmon. As the KBRA prescribes, salmon are taking a back seat to making sure the Irrigation Elite—the small group of wealthy irrigators who control most irrigation within the BOR’s Klamath Project – get the water they desire. Once again the needs of salmon are being reinterpreted by federal bureaucrats to conform to management for irrigation first.

Last year when it looked like the federal agencies were going to prioritize flows for salmon over filling Upper Klamath Lake—which would have been an indication that the KBRA actually could benefit salmon—an uproar in the Upper Basin caused the feds to change plans. This year the feds are not even making a pretense of putting the needs of salmon first. Instead they are reinterpreting salmon needs to conform to water management that prioritizes irrigation, i.e. filling Upper Klamath Lake. Of course this is presented to the world as needed to provide for ESA listed Kuptu and Tsuam (Shortnose and Lost River suckers). Meanwhile the federal bureaucrats are doing nothing for these fish in the Lost River which should be the prime recovery site but instead has become a KBRA sacrifice zone. Saying you are acting for the benefit of an ESA species while really serving irrigation interests is a bureaucratic trick as old as the ESA, which became law in 1973.
The alleged “trade-off” for lower winter flows in the 2010 Biological Opinion, which closely tracks KBRA negotiated flows, was supposed to be higher flows in the Spring to aid the out migration of salmon and to lessen mortality due to natural fish diseases made epidemic as a result of poor Klamath water quality. As numerous government studies have documented, that poor water quality is primarily the result of highly polluted agricultural waste water exacerbated by PacifiCorp’s Klamath River dams.

So far, the federal bureaucrats are sticking to their plan for variable flows this spring to reduce fish disease and aide out migration of young salmon. But if the mountains remain bare of snow—i.e. if drought intensifies—look for the Bureau of Reclamation to back off on that commitment as well in favor of filling Upper Klamath Lake for irrigation. If that happens—and if previous actions are an indication of future actions—we can expect NMFS bureaucrats to dutifully go along by approving cuts to Klamath River spring flows.

This is the brave new world of ESA management in the KBRA era. And there’s yet another aspect: The self-styled “Defenders of the Klamath Salmon”—the  Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, the Yurok Tribe, the Karuk Tribe and others who once had Earthjustice lawyers sue to challenge flows which were higher than those now in the River are not even raising their voices in protest much less suing. In fact, these and other KBRA parties are telling Earthjustice not to sue to protect Klamath Coho. KBRA politics is trumping not only science but controlling the actions of environmental organizations and the law firm which in the past was the number one defender of Klamath Coho.

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January 7th, 2012

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