The water wars. Guess what? Agriculture has lost the irrigation battle. The rest of the economy continues to suffer damage for a collective failure to understand what has happened and move on…but we must comprehend the history of mistakes in order to correct our course.
First, let’s validate the obvious. Yes, the entire situation was entirely unfair, unjust, and inconceivable for farmers and ranchers.
Long ago, the federal government established a system of canals to support agriculture and granted homesteads to early families and WW II veterans to utilize that water for farming and ranching. This century, the government did a 180 on irrigation users, aided with numerous collaborators. The turning point came in 2013 as both the federal and state government upheld the primary water use rights of various native American tribes in the Klamath watershed. The result of the 38 year deliberation ended with this decision once and for all. The tribes have consistently maintained that their water rights will be applied to the priority of fish and animal habitat (largely for their own consumption), further strengthened by the Endangered Species Act. To many outsiders, this sounded like a noble pursuit. Water flows tied loosely to fish habitat alteration was also supported by the fishing industry and sports fishing groups. That Endangered Species Act empowered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to align with random environmentalists to remove the major dams on the Klamath River.
And yes ag supporters…this was absurd because there are no guarantees that corrective measures will restore these salmon runs. For one, when the dams are removed (at a cost to the ratepayers, not the power company that installed them), some 80 feet of sediment will choke the life out of the river downstream for many years. Salmon spawn cannot survive in rotting mud, nor can most the life forms they feed upon. Second, the tributaries to the Klamath River are warmer than the river itself, so increasing the flow speed will not lower the overall temperature. Dead zones are known to occur with only a two degree temperature differential, and the well documented reality of global warming has irreversibly altered mean temperatures. Fourth, salmon feedstock have been consistently moving northward go cooler waters. With so much climate change damage to the ecosystem, salmon runs may never improve.
The decisions against the ag users are tragic and largely wrong, as is the act of removing dams which are the most consistently renewable energy resource we have. Other parts of the country are building new dams for irrigation and power generation. Klamath is taking them out. That lost electrical energy must be replaced with fossil fuel burning facilities, making the global pollution problem worse. We’ve been led to believe that wind and solar power is good, but these technologies are inconsistent and pollute enormously in the course of production and must be replaced often. They are simply not as environmentally sustainable as hydro energy. But none of that matters either.
Our society often builds political momentum in support of faulty logic for the sake of politics, and that’s exactly that has occured. Klamath ag is a relatively small, disenfranchised group compared with the huge resources and blind support attracted by the EPA and Nature Conservancy. Their supporters demand token projects. Its easy to jump on a bandwagon if you aren’t impacted directly by the outcome. Most of those stakeholders have never visited Klamath. A few interests downstream may benefit if the salmon return, but even if this does happen, it won’t be anything significant within the span of anyone alive now. Meanwhile, civilization has generated greenhouse gas levels higher than they have been in the past 400 million years (measuring CO2 alone). With a global population of 7.2 billion and growing, projections indicate no chance of emissions slowing. Sweeping measures to alter habitat are just polishing the brass on the Titanic.
None of this matters.
Ag users are now bitching loudly about the cost of electricity for well irrigation. As was pointed out in prior posts, the ag community committed suicide when they rallied their feckless spasm against the Citizens Utility Power Project. That project would have provided a new source of water from deep aquifers extracted for cooling the power plant that could have been used for irrigation at no cost to farmers and ranchers. It was also a prime opportunity to support the project in exchange for locking in lower electrical rates. The Whitsetts championed killing that project and Klamath rewarded them with consecutive terms in the Senate and House.
Agriculture based on canal irrigation is gone. Electrical rates will rise. Accept it and move on.
It is far past time to face reality and get on board with this new era. Begin by removing that damned bucket in front of the Klamath courthouse!
The strongest argument for removing the bucket is this: the devastation facing Klamath irrigators pales in comparison to what vast regions of California confront, where 80% of the non-grain, non-corn food is grown in this country. When California declared a state of emergency early in 2014 after almost no winter precipitation, government made it crystal clear that cities would have ag priority over ag users and issued notice of eminent shutdowns. Unlike Klamath that seems to have endless aquifers being replenished, California aquifers are likely to go bone dry no matter how deep they drill in most places.
Do we really expect to receive any sympathy the iconic bucket is imagined to generate in the face of such a calamity unfolding in California? To expect we would is utterly insane. Yet there it still sits. The game is over, folks, agriculture lost and Klamath’s water issues will forever fade into the background in the face of the food crisis that will ensue from Calif0rnia’s water problems. People can live without our comparative small volume of potatoes, onions and mint. The ag products grown in California are too numerous to mention here and they will be missed, painfully so, as shortages drain the supermarket supply chain and trigger a seizure in domestic produce prices.
The longer we persist in deluding ourselves that somehow we can reconstruct the fervor that led to irrigation being restored briefly after 2001, the greater the damage to the rest of the economy. Our communities, our stakeholders, our would-be assistance providers simply don’t have the inclination to focus on multiple issues. Water debates are unsolvable distractions that have become wasteful preoccupations. The ongoing presence of the loss-leading water fight, which is over in spite of delusions to the contrary, is preventing Klamath from focusing on adaptation and local economic restructuring.
In sum….again….as pleaded in posts from nearly two years ago…get rid of the damned bucket Klamath County. Its over.
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