The Journal article on pending Klamath River Basin dam and water deals by Hank Sims is among the best that has yet been written on the complex web of political and biological considerations currently in play on the Klamath. That web is so dense that few if any can unravel all the strings. That means there is real potential for unintended consequences which few if any foresee today. Under such circumstances scientists tell us to be careful; this is known as the precautionary principle.

Historians and wise environmentalists understand that tomorrow’s environmental problems have often been the result of deals that looked good for the environment today. Politicians on the other hand prefer us to ignore history and complexity; their bias is action that will look good to voters.

Two important threads which Hank Sims didn’t mention may be critical for readers who want to understand what is really going on with these proposed deals:

  1. The National Research Council — the only truly independent scientists to have reviewed the science on which the proposed Klamath deals are based — concluded that we should not ignore the Shasta, Scott and other tributaries and that we have been treating the Klamath River as if it were “the Upper Basin and a gutter to the sea.” NRC scientists said that the proper way to set flows and water allocations for the Klamath is a whole-basin flow assessment. Troy Fletcher and Mike Belchik fail to mention this when they discuss flows because they were part of the decision not to look at flows in that manner. The flows and allocations they are pushing are based on a good scientific methodology which has been improperly applied as a result of political decisions. This is not good science.

  2. Totally missing from the Journal article is anything on implications of the proposed deals for governance of the Klamath River Basin. Under the proposed water deal decisions about water management will be made by federal and state agencies along with irrigators and tribal bureaucrats behind closed doors. So will decisions on who gets restoration funds and for what purposes. There is an alternative to such closed-door management. If a new Klamath River Compact were established with seats for feds, states, tribes and counties, water management and restoration decisions would be done in public. Giving the public access to decisions about public resources is fitting in a democracy and would also serve as a deterrent to politically inspired mischief. Hiding decisions behind closed doors, on the other hand, invites mischief and bureaucratic misconduct.

The answers to important questions remain unknown. How, for example, might Humboldt County’s contract for 50,000 acre feet of Trinity River Water be affected when state legislation required by these deals is actually written and works through the legislature? Under these circumstances the County Supervisors and other decision makers may be wise to employ the precautionary principle rather than blindly supporting complex deals the implications of which have yet to become clear.

Felice Pace, Klamath

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