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Another View: Klamath pact will hurt flows and fish

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 14A

Dam removal is needed on the Klamath River. However, the proposed Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, or KBRA – the focus of a recent op-ed in The Bee ("Time for Congress to act on Klamath pact," Jan. 31) – will actually lower flows for salmon, subvert environmental laws and take away tribal water rights, while wasting millions of dollars in subsidies.

This water sharing agreement should not be attached to dam removal. It is time to separate Klamath dam removal from Klamath water rights.

The KBRA will cost $970.45 million. Not one dollar goes toward dam removal; most of the money goes to subsidies for farmers and corporations using public lands and water. Flaws in the agreement explain the refusal of the 112th Congress to ratify the agreement.

Furthermore the KBRA does not settle the Klamath's water issues. It actually encourages fighting and litigation as the agreement promises a lion's share of the water to farmers on the public Klamath Project while leaving less water for off project farmers, the river and lake. The agreement's failure to provide the water that fish need is at the heart of the Hoopa Tribe's opposition to the deal.

Reclamation's studies on the unfinished dam environmental impact statement, which is posted on the KlamathRestoration.gov website, show that in most water years the KBRA will provide less water to the river. In fact, the agreement promises even less than the current flows required by the Endangered Species Act. (Please see Technical Report No. SRH-2011-02.)

Tribal water rights do provide water for fish, yet the KBRA sacrifices these rights. Under existing law, the United States ensures that irrigation does not interfere with tribes' senior water rights. Legislation is required to change water rights, but not to remove dams. KBRA Section 15.3.9 asserts tribal water rights will not interfere with the Klamath Project even though tribal rights have been the linchpin to keeping salmon alive in the river. Any attempt by a tribe to assert its rights against the river's dewatering would be trumped by the agreement.

There is no magic fix to the Klamath basin's water problems. Dam removal and restoration are needed, and do not require legislation. If dam owner PacifiCorp surrenders the dams, as it did in the Condit dam relicensing, they will be removed. This will cost less than relicensing the dams, or the KBRA.

It is past time to revise the current Klamath agreement. It only drags out the crisis by ignoring the needs of fish and the communities that depend on them. If we want to save California's salmon we need water in the Klamath.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Hayley Hutt



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