Commentary: Irrational Klamath water
management a formula for failure
No one likes to fail. But anyone who
has been successful in life is going to tell you that
failure is part of a learning curve necessary to be
Yet to repeat failure is the
definition of insanity. However, that is exactly what is
occurring on the Klamath Project right now. We are taking
20-plus years of bad decisions, based on poor science, and
doubling down on them.
Unfortunately, farms and ranches of
the Klamath Basin are going to fail as a result. Itís not
because of bad business, poor work ethic, or anything in our
control. Rather, we are going to lose farms and ranches this
year because of insane approaches to water management that
are embedded in agency cultures.
An approach hell-bent on destroying
multi-generational businesses is disturbing in its own
right, but the foolishness of the reasoning is even worse.
While it looks like the Klamath
Project will only get as little as 55,000 acre-feet in a
year that irrigation demand would be approximately 400,000
acre-feet, we are going to send a minimum 152,000 acre-feet
of stored water from Upper Klamath Lake down the Klamath
River. Thatís 152,000 acre-feet, or more, of water that
never, under any circumstances, would have been provided by
nature. The only reason itís even available is the
reservoirs that were built for a single purpose ó storing
irrigation water for the Klamath farmers.
How does a legitimate Biological
Opinion include water that naturally would have never even
Letís not forget that in natural
conditions, prior to the construction of the Klamath Project
in the early 1900s, there were two large lakes here that
evaporated over 2 acre-feet per acre. The Project reclaimed
that land, and allowed the water to be stored behind dams
and managed for beneficial uses. My farm, like many on the
Project, was developed on land that was under 10 feet or
more of water until that time. Now, we are told that there
isnít even 0.5 acre-foot available for that same acre.
The Lower Klamath River isnít the only
place there are irrational decisions being made. Upper
Klamath Lake (UKL) is being held at a higher level than
necessary, purportedly to allow sucker populations in UKL to
access spawning habitat.
Unfortunately, for the past 20 years,
agency-imposed higher and higher UKL levels have contributed
to a whopping 0% survivability. You read that right. Not
0.01% or 0.001%. ZERO. Does it seem rational to continue to
ruin the economic base of the Klamath Basin in order to save
The salmon of the Lower Klamath River
and the suckers in UKL are in bad shape. Iím not denying
that it is a dire situation that we need to address. Klamath
Project farmers have always tried to find ways to help the
communities that depend on those fisheries. We know
firsthand what itís like to see a ruined community. It
happened in 2001 to our communities, and unfortunately itís
going to happen again in 2020. But, continuing to double
down on what HASNíT worked doesnít seem like a solution to
Albert Einstein once said that
insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting
a different result. Truly, we are living in insane times.
I hope and believe that the Trump
administration is coming to understand what a mess it
inherited. We urgently need a fix.
Ben DuVal is a
Klamath Project irrigator in Tulelake, Calif.