California Research Bureau leads Klamath Basin Educational Policy Tour

Since 1991, California State Library’s California Research Bureau (CRB) has offered the California legislature reports, explanatory memoranda, policy seminars, conferences and on-site tours – services that supply California lawmakers with non-partisan research and information about policy issues confronting the state.

This fall CRB representatives took key California agency and legislative staff on an educational tour of the Klamath River Basin, a watershed area spanning both northern California and south-eastern Oregon that is the focus of important environmental policy decisions currently being considered by regulators and lawmakers at the state and federal levels. The CRB tour, funded by a grant from the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, provided tour participants with an opportunity to visit key areas of interest within the Klamath River Basin and hear presentations from stakeholder groups representing the diverse Klamath Basin communities who rely on the Klamath’s scarce water resources.

The Klamath Basin: A complex history

Since 1905, the federal government has encouraged and developed farming homesteads and wildlife refuges in the Klamath River Basin. To support these developments dams with hydropower facilities to generate electricity and provide reservoirs for flood control, irrigation water storage, and recreational uses were built. Although licensing prescriptions and watershed policy regulations were enacted to manage the distribution, quality and flow of the Klamath River waters in an effort to protect the interests of the stakeholder groups who rely the river for their economic and cultural survival, conflicts regarding water rights have persisted.

Klamath River Basin’s stakeholders include Klamath Basin Indian tribes in both Oregon and California, irrigators, commercial fishing enterprises along the California and Oregon coasts, hydropower operators, commercial salmon fishers, California and Oregon state governments, county and local governments, multiple federal agencies, watershed managers, wildlife refuges, recreational rafting outfits, and various other groups from inside and outside of the basin.

When watershed management policies in 2001 and 2002 resulted in both severe economic hardship for irrigators and commercial fisherpersons and the death of more than 30,000 threatened salmon, water use conflicts intensified. Many parties called for better management of Klamath River water as well as the identification and mitigation of the causes of the mortality. Subsequent reports by governmental and private agencies identified many potential causes of poor river water quality, the 2002 fish mortalities and the overall decline of salmon populations. Several select stakeholder groups cited the presence of the dams along the river as a major factor causing the ecological decline of the river.

In 2004 when PacifiCorp, the main operator of hydropower plants along the Klamath River, applied to renew licenses at various Klamath River facilities the search for solutions to watershed management within the Klamath Basin began in earnest.

By the summer of 2006 watershed management policy conflicts reached an all time high. The commercial fishing industry was virtually shut down as a result of declines in the returning salmon populations. Fishermen were limited to 10% of their normal annual catch resulting in literally tens of millions of dollars in lost revenues. Recreation area closures attributed to the presence of high levels of Microcystis aeruginosa, a species of toxic blue/green algae, in the Iron Gate and Copco reservoirs concerned local citizens and limited the recreational uses of the reservoirs. In response stakeholder groups, already in negotiations as a result of the hydropower re-licensure process, formed new coalitions and began focusing their efforts on finding a workable consensus on watershed management solutions.

The Tour

The CRB’s fall 2006 tour of the Klamath River Basin was designed to educate California policymakers on Klamath Basin issues by providing them with an overview of Klamath stakeholders’ concerns, contact information for all major stakeholders and a first-hand look at the area’s topography.

The CRB group flew from Sacramento to Siskiyou County where they boarded a bus for the Mirror Cove Recreation facility on the Iron Gate Reservoir to witness an example of the algae bloom along the river. The group then was given a tour of the Iron Gate Dam and fish hatchery before retiring to a local facility to hear presentations from the Klamath Compact Commission, Siskiyou County Supervisor Marcia Armstrong, the Department of the Interior, PacifiCorp, and the Klamath Water Users Association.

The group then took a one hour narrated aerial tour of the Klamath River Basin starting at the Upper Klamath Lake just over the Oregon border. The aerial tour ended at Crescent City, California where the group boarded yet another tour bus for a trip to the mouth of the Klamath River at Requa and a visit to a nearby tribal fishing ground. The bus then brought the group to the Yurok Tribal facility in Klamath for a series of afternoon briefings from tribal representatives, a Humboldt State University professor regarding fish health, and the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. After the briefing, the group headed back to the airport and boarded the planes one final time for the return trip to Sacramento.

All tour participants reported that the CRB tour was a great success, with many taking the time to put their support in writing. The CRB looks forward to making policy tours an continuing part of their services in the future.

For more information about CRB services, please contact CRB Bureau Chief Dean Misczynski at (916) 653-8303 or email at dmisczynski@library.ca.gov.
 
 

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