The Bush administration recently released one piece of a “Klamath Dam Settlement Agreement,” the product of three years of secret negotiations over the future of PacifiCorp dams on the Klamath River. Despite a $1 billion dollar price tag, the agreement does not include any provisions for dam removal. Additionally, the agreement fails to stipulate river flow levels for salmon consistent with what the best available science calls for, and contains language aimed at locking in commercial agricultural development on Tule Lake and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges for the next 50 years.
“The Bush administration’s settlement agreement is a billion dollar Christmas tree with money in it for every special interest in the Klamath Basin,” observed Steve Pedery, Conservation Director for Oregon Wild, a non-profit fish and wildlife conservation organization. “What began as an effort to help salmon and remove dams has turned into a plan to farm American taxpayers.”
The talks have centered on Bush administration guarantees to politically powerful agribusiness interests in the Klamath Basin. Included in the deal are generous water guarantees for the Klamath irrigation project, with no guaranteed flows for fish. Even if met, the predicted flow levels in the Klamath River under the agreement would fall well below the levels the National Research Council (NRC) has endorsed to aid the recovery of salmon, particularly during the critically important late summer and early fall months. The risk of insufficient water is again being placed on salmon, most likely in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
“In September of 2002, the Klamath River suffered one of the worst fish kills in US history because too much water was diverted by irrigation interests in a drought year,” said Bob Hunter, Senior Staff Attorney of Water Watch. “Instead of learning a lesson from that tragedy, the Bush administration has produced a sweetheart deal that continues to favor a handful of politically powerful agribusiness interests over the health of the Klamath River.”
The Klamath Basin once had the third largest salmon run on the Pacific coast. Today, salmon populations have dwindled to a fraction of their size as a result of irrigation development, dams, and water pollution. In 2005 and 2006, commercial fishing communities in Northern California and along the Oregon Coast suffered devastating closures in an effort to protect what remains of the once mighty Klamath Chinook run. The 2002 Klamath River fish kill, an event that the California Department of Fish and Game has linked to low river flows and excessive irrigation diversions, claimed as many as 70,000 fall Chinook before they could spawn and brought national attention to the plight of the river.
“While the package has important fisheries restoration components that are needed in the basin, the total package is so loaded up with special interest giveaways to agribusiness that it is hard to see how it could credibly move through Congress,” stated Hunter of Water Watch.