News from the Front #47:
What the Klamath Project Farmers Should Do, and Why
"This year . . . we are seeing significantly higher salmon and steelhead runs. . . . the federal goverment must assure that water, in the maximum volume possible, is dedicated to instream purposes."
Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber (April 3, 2001 letter to the Chairman of the Northwest Power Planning Council)
Judge Saundra Armstrong
On April 3, 2001, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations obtained an injunction from United States District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong in San Francisco. The injunction bars the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation from delivering any water to farmers from the Klamath Basin project whenever Klamath River flows at Iron Gate Dam drop below "minimum flows" recommended by one Dr. Thomas Hardy. As Judge Johnson put it, the claims in the lawsuit "revolve around the needs of the SO/NCC coho salmon", which have been listed as "threatened" by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The listing itself is a fraud. There is no chance that the Southern Oregon/Northern California coho salmon, a bureaucratic grouping of dozens of coho runs in Southern Oregon and Northern California, will go extinct. In 1998, I took the depositions of several government biologists, who all testified that there was "no way" that coho in the Rogue River, one of the many runs, would go extinct. Obviously, the possibility that the entire SO/NCC group would disappear is even smaller.
Since 1998, coho runs have improved further, and last week, the federally-controlled Pacific Fishery Management Council has approved a tripling of the harvest of coho salmon off the mouth of the Columbia River, which will probably catch quite a few SO/NCC salmon as well. So the first question Klamath farmers ought to ask is why are the fish listed at all? And why don't all the experts and professionals they have hired fight the listing? (See generally Instructions for a Delisting Petition.)
The second level of fraud is Dr. Hardy's "minimum flows". Dr. Hardy's recommended flows for April are 3,307 cubic feet per second. As the chart below demonstrates (from a United States Geological Survey website), in most years, flows in the Klamath in April are nowhere near 3,307. As of April 14, 2001, the flow is only 1,720:
These "minimum flows" are not minimum flows at all. Rather, they are a politically-driven target that can never be achieved, just like temperature standards and many other regulations spreading across the Pacific Northwest. This permits the media and environmentalists to crow that "our rivers" are "not meeting standards". Ordinary people still think that if the government comes up with standards, they must be right. Perhaps recognizing that Dr. Hardy's "science" was essentially pure speculation, Judge Armstrong adopted it on the ground that "neither the Bureau nor Intervenor direct the Court to any better science".
Judge Armstrong was on firmer legal ground than factual ground in issuing the injunction. Although the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has been immersed in Endangered Species Act consultations concerning the Klamath Project since 1992, it managed to commit one of the few instantly fatal errors under the Act: failing to obtain any biological opinion authorizing its 2001 operations. Last August, when the Bureau decided that it wanted to kill hundreds of endangered suckers to save them, it got a biological opinion authorizing the kill in 24 hours. So it may well be that the federal government wanted to lose this case.
We will never know why, and there are many players with many motives. One local resident pointed out that Steve Lewis, a local U.S. Fish and Wildlife official instrumental in the madness, is Commodore of the Klamath Yacht Club, and wants high lake levels for his deep-keeled sailboat. My personal theory is that the feds are bailing out PacifiCorp and generating a little more power for California at Iron Gate Dam.
In any event, three days after Judge Armstrong's decision, the Bureau announced a zero water supply allocation for most of the families who irrigate their farms and ranches from the Klamath Project. Many of them, who have been serving their customers for decades, will go bankrupt, and at least $150 million a year in agricultural earnings will vanish. Lives will be ruined, and honest, hardworking folk put on the dole.
The disaster brought a parade of politicians to the Klamath Basin. On Friday, April 13, 2001, Governor Kitzhaber visited. When the crowd hissed at him, he said, in substance, he would leave if they did not quiet down. They quieted down, like sheep, while he pretended powerlessness. "The biggest problem with the Endangered Species Act", said the Governor, "is how the act is implemented." Governor Kitzhaber didn't tell the angry crowd is that he and his appointees are the very problem children implementing the Act on behalf of the feds, or that the Governor himself has lobbied, over and over again, to bring the Endangered Species Act down on the backs of Oregonians.
If the Governor stood for more than rank enviro-hypocracy, he does have a very important power he could exercise to help the farmers: he could seek an exemption from the Endangered Species Act so that the Klamath Project can deliver water to them. The Endangered Species Act expressly states that "the Governor of the State in which an agency action will occur . . . may apply to the Secretary for an exemption for an agency action". This triggers the "God Squad Committee", which is supposed to hold a formal hearing to see whether the application for an exemption has merit. In such a hearing, people could point out that the coho and the suckers aren't endangered and the target flows are bogus. But, as far as I can tell from the softball news coverage, neither the Governor nor any other politician has suggested this. Why? Maybe the dirty little secret is that none of them really want to help the farmers; they just want to stand in front of crowds, make Clintonesque remarks about feeling pain and frustration, and help solidify their name recognition to fend off challengers who might actually do some good.
Real social change does not come from politely listening to politicians' lies. The Leftists have known that for a long time, which is why America continues to creep to the Left. The Klamath farmers would do better not to quiet down, and instead of driving their tractors in protest parades in the Klamath Basin, they should drive them back to Salem and Portland. Maybe if the Governor had a parade of tractors around his house (in Portland) day and night, and farmers protesting out front every day, he might eventually be persuaded to put his pen where his mouth is, and at least try and get the Endangered Species Act off the back of the citizens he is supposed to represent. And even if he didn't, a whole lot more people would begin to understand just how bogus Endangered Species Act decisionmaking has become.
© James Buchal, April 16, 2001
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