Thompson Bill Targets Klamath River Water Crisis!
by Dan Bacher
November 2, 2002
In an ambitious attempt to resolve the water crisis in the Klamath Basin that resulted in the needless deaths of 40,000 to 50,000 salmon and other fish in September, North Coast Congressman Mike Thompson has introduced a bill, H.R.5698, that needs the strong support of everybody concerned about fisheries and the environment in California!
The Klamath River Basin Restoration and Emergency Assistance Act of 2002 allocates $200 million to landowners and tribes throughout the Klamath Basin who participate in water conservation projects and $20 million in emergency financial assistance to communities affected by the 2002 fish kill.
Thompson’s bill merges the upper and lower Klamath Basin working groups into one to ensure that North Coast communities are at the table when decisions are made. It also increases the water flows to levels recommended by the California Department of Fish and Game as necessary to protect the salmon, steelhead and other fisheries and requires the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to prepare quarterly reports to Congress on the progress of conservation projects in the Klamath Basin.
“It is time we work together to find workable solutions that take all affected communities into consideration,” Thompson said. “This is a comprehensive effort to help both the upper and lower basin communities. Nobody wants to repeat the disasters we experienced this year with the devastating lower basin fish kill, or the impacts the drought had on the producers in the upper basin last year. This bill encourages basin residents to conserve water with financial incentives and brings all the parties together to find feasible solutions for years to come."
The Yurok tribe and fishery conservation groups are in strong support of the badly-needed legislation to stop the continuing destruction of Klamath River fisheries by Bush administration policies that favor Klamath Basin farmers over the Yurok, Hupa, Karuk and Klamath tribes, recreational anglers and commercial salmon fishermen.
Troy Fletcher, executive director of the Yurok tribe, said the tribe supports the legislation as “a good first step towards resolving the issues of the Klamath Basin.”
“Most previous activity has focused on the Upper Klamath basin, while this legislation looks at the issues basin wide,” stated Fletcher. “The problem is that in the past, people have tried to protect their own turf, not appreciating the impact of their actions on the fish and people downriver.”
“In MikeThompson's legislation we see the thought of a statesman, one who understands Klamath/Trinity issues and would implement action that is imperative if fisheries are to survive,” said Byron Leydecker, representing Friends of the Trinity River and California Trout. “He is saying the Administration cannot continue to act to benefit only a small powerful group of heavily taxpayer -subsidized irrigators by ruining California's fisheries and the economies they support.”
John Beuttler of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance said, "The Klamath fish holocaust will long serve as a testament to the over allocation of the river's water. This legislation, when passed, will provide a huge step forward in better conserving the river's flows, while helping those most economically impacted by the government's incredible ineptitude.”
The over-allocation of Klamath River water by 100,000 acre feet each year, in conjunction with a poor water management policy by the administration, have caused the catastrophe in the lower Klamath Basin.
Other groups backing the legislation include the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisheries Associations, Trout Unlimited, Defenders of Wildlife and Earthjustice.
The $200 million can be used, but is not limited to, conservation projects such as incentives for using less water intensive crops, restoration of streams, lining and piping of earthen irrigation ditches and more efficient water delivery and monitoring systems, according to Jonathan Birdsong of Thompson’s office.
Some right wing “wise use” advocates have criticized the bill for just “throwing more money” at the Klamath River problem, but in my opinion the bill is absolutely necessary to counter the Bush administration’s strong preference for Klamath Basin subsidized farmers at the expense of all other water users.
The Klamath River farmers and their allies in the “wise use” movement have tried to falsely frame the Klamath River as a conflict between “suckers and coho and farmers and jobs.” In reality, it is a conflict between the farm-based jobs of the Klamath Basin in Oregon and the fishery and recreation based jobs of the Klamath River and North Coast communities.
Just 15 years ago, the commercial salmon fishery in the Klamath Management Zone along the southern Oregon and northern California coast was worth $1.25 billion per year. The value of the recreational salmon fishery to the local economy is even higher, when you consider all of the motels, campgrounds, lodges, grocery stores, gas stations and sporting good stores that depend upon Klamath River salmon and steelhead for their livelihoods.
The recent testimony of whistleblower Michael Kelly,the US Fish and Wildlife Service fisheries biologist whose two scientific reports advocating higher flows for coho salmon and other special were squashed by the Department of Interior, makes the need for Thompson’s legislation even clearer.
"Because the Bush administration has chosen to ignore the needs of fish, Tribes, and fishermen, Rep. T
"Representative Thompson has stepped in to fill the leadership gap,” said Kristen Boyles, Earthjustice attorney representing commercial fishing and environmental groups in court. “Rep. Thompson's Klamath legislation is a positive step in the right direction.”
Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a supporter of reaching common sense solutions to the Klamath basin crisis, is cosponsoring the legislation. The bill will be referred to the House Resources Committee for consideration.
I urge everybody concerned about the future of Klamath River and North Coast fisheries to support this legislation by calling or writing their Senators and Congress Members. Call the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.
Daniel Bacher is an outdoor writer/alternative journalist/satirical songwriter from Sacramento California. He is also a long-time peace, social justice and environmental activist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org