During a time of crisis, Klamath Basin needs data-driven leadership

by: Audrey Denney

Rural California communities on the Oregon border are on the verge of losing it all. Record low runoff from snowpack is making a bad water situation worse - for fish, farmers, and communities. Unfortunately, the crisis in front of us could have been avoided if we had an effective representative in Congress, but once again, Rep. LaMalfa has failed to be the advocate we deserve.
The Klamath Project was constructed in the early 1900s, building the Klamath dam and reclaiming land that was previously underwater and has provided rich farmland ever since. The farmland in the basin grows $300 million dollars worth of crops annually and is the economic driver in the area.
Farmers planted their crops this spring based on the water allotment Bureau of Reclamation gave them in April - and now, that allotment has been drastically cut. Farmers' crops will die in the field. Fifth-generation farms will be lost. And the already poverty-stricken communities in the area will dry up and blow away like the cropland they are on.
This is an incredibly complex problem, and for the last 20 years stakeholders in the area have been trying to find a solution. I don’t pretend to have the answer. But I will tell you as your representative, I will always make policy decisions based on science and data.
Farmers in the Klamath Project will get as little as 55,000 acre-feet of irrigation water this year (when their need is about 400,000).
The Bureau of Reclamation will send 152,000-acre feet held behind Klamath Dam down the river to benefit salmon populations. This amount is not based on historic flows or our desire to restore our rivers to a natural state. Additionally, the Bureau of Reclamation is mandated to keep a designated amount of water in Upper Klamath Lake to protect endangered suckerfish. However, over the past 20 years data shows that the higher water levels in the lake have led to no increase in the survivability of suckerfish.
I am a passionate environmental advocate and I want to see salmon and suckerfish populations thrive. That will only become our reality when we rely upon data-driven and science-based methods for restoration. The Bureau of Reclamation is using bad science to hold water in the Upper Klamath Lake and send water downriver that could be the saving lifeblood to basin farmers and their communities.
In the face of climate change we will continue to face many more crises like this one. It is imperative to use the best science possible and make our federal agencies more responsive so we can face these challenges.
In 2010 - 39 diverse stakeholder groups came together after years of negotiation to sign the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KRBA). Yet after years and years of work and sacrifice by his constituents, Rep. Doug LaMalfa failed to finalize the agreement by passing legislation in Congress that would have implemented the KRBA before the deal expired in 2016. If the KRBA had been implemented - this year still would have been tough for farmers. But it would have been survivable. The KBRA would have simultaneously improved the fisheries that are so important to tribal communities.
Instead, we are faced with a crisis that would have been avoided if we had an effective representative who advocated for the needs of our region. Congressman Doug LaMalfa’s twenty-year legacy of representation for this region will be defined by failure to respond to the needs of real people who depend on his leadership, the loss of 5th generation family farms, and the economic collapse of that important region in our north state.