There are many myths and much deliberate misinformation about the impact of new water policies in the Klamath Basin to protect fish and wildlife and prevent extinction of salmon as well as other species. This fact sheet includes the most common myths, indicates what the real situation is, and provides links and references to source material to back up this information. Feel free to challenge these myths wherever you see them and demand verification. In all but the rarest of cases the people circulating these myths are doing do for their own political reasons, and cannot back them up with facts. Also feel free to circulate this Fact Sheet widely. We believe the debate over water policy in the Klamath Basin will only improve once the people involved get beyond rhetoric and denial to actual facts and data, as we have done below.
Myth: Loss of water in the Klamath Project this year will lead to economic disaster for the region.
Reality: There is no doubt that some Klamath Project farming families will experience economic hardship. This is what happens in a major drought, when there is simply not enough water to go around. However, many non-Project lands in the Klamath Falls areas are still being irrigated, many farms have access to groundwater wells, and the Oregon Water Resources Department is not only issuing many emergency well drilling permits but has an estimated 100,000 acre-feet of water available from existing pumps that the agency is taking steps to provide for emergency relief. Oregon Water Resources is also taking steps to provide additional water from groundwater taps of the large Upper Klamath Basin aquifers.
Furthermore, the farm economy is no longer the economic driving force in Klamath, Siskiyou or Modoc Counties, and the economy will not collapse, nor will the towns in the region become ?ghost towns as claimed by irrigation interests, because of current water cutbacks. According to a recent economic profile done by The Wilderness Society and economist Carolyn Alkire, retail trade, manufacturing and wholesale trade are the now three largest industries in the Upper Klamath Basin in terms of receipts at $859, $774 and $300 million/year respectively, not agriculture. By way of comparison, the market value of all Upper Klamath Basin agricultural products sold in1997 totals $239 million, with crop sales representing only 60% of that figure (or $144 million). Total personal income in Klamath County is now only 1% derived from farm and agricultural services, with 8% in Modoc County and 3% in Siskiyou County.
International trade and competition problems and a worldwide glut of many of the products grown in the Upper Klamath Basin have already deeply impacted farm economies in the region, far worse than any ESA impacts are likely to have. Real personal income from farming and agricultural services declined 66% between 1969 and 1998 in Klamath County, 57% in Modoc County and 26% in Siskiyou County. Most farming families now have additional sources of outside income, with 42% of all farm operators principal source of income now non-farming in Klamath County, 35% non-farming in Modoc County and 39% non-farming in Siskiyou County. The whole regional economy has shifted away from agriculture as a major source of jobs. The farm sector now only employs about 6% of the total workforce in Klamath County, 17% in Modoc County, and 7% in Siskiyou County, according to readily available government economic data.
In other words, the economies of all these counties has been rapidly diversifying, and is simply no longer dependent on the farm economy. Like more once largely resource dependent economies, this process of diversification is likely to continue. Loss of farm income will certainly cause dislocation for some families, but the economy in the region will still be strong and still provide many alternative sources of income.
(Source: Economic Profile of Klamath County, Oregon, The Wilderness Society, 2000. See also the Declaration of Carolyn Alkire, Economist, in Kandra v. US, US District Court, District of Oregon, Civ. No. 01-6124TC, April, 2001, Document #87 (case files also available at: http://www.ord.uscourt.gov by case number). Contact The Wilderness Society, 900 17th St., NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20006, (202)833-2300 for more detailed economic information.)
Myth: Klamath Project operations take only a very small portion of the water from the river system, and thus cannot have much impact on downriver salmon.
Reality: This claim is blatantly false but is believed by many irrigators. Studies by independent hydrologists and flow studies nearing completion by the federal government indicate that at certain times of the year, particularly in the driest months of July through September, the total flow contribution of the upper river basin to the total flow of the river can exceed 35%. In other words, Upper Klamath Basin agriculture can affect as much as 35% of the total volume of the river at its mouth at Klamath, California. Of this 35%, according to the NMFS recent Biological Opinion on coho salmon, as much as 90% can be impounded by upstream irrigation operations (particularly in dry years), releasing only the remaining 10% below Iron Gate Dam. Poor flows below Iron Gate Dam result in hot water temperatures well into the fatal range for salmon, plus water laced with agricultural wastes such as pesticides and nitrate fertilizers which result in algae blooms and so little dissolved oxygen that fish simply suffocate for many miles downriver. For example, even 130 miles below Iron Gate Dam, at the USGS gauge at Orleans, readings there indicated that Iron Gate Dam releases constituted 47% of total flows as of April 15, 2001. Futhermore, these problems cause fatal or biologically stressful conditions for salmon and steelhead as far down as the rivers mouth.
(See Final Coho Biological Opinion on Ongoing Klamath Project Operations, (6 April 2001). This document is also available at: http://www.mp.usbr.gov/kbao/esa/38_cohobo_4_6-01.pdf . For pre-Project water flow information see: Initial Assessment of Pre- and Post-Klamath Project Hydrology on the Klamath River and Impacts of the Project on Instream Flows and Fishery Habitat, Balance Hydrologics, Inc., March, 1996.)
Myth: Irrigators provide water for eagles and other wildlife on Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. Therefore, when there is no water for farming, there is no water for eagles and other refuge wildlife.
Reality: This claim is blatantly false. Water deliveries for Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge have always been BOR's and Klamath basin Irrigation Districts' lowest water delivery priority. Irrigators try to make this claim based on the fact that when water does reach refuge lands it is often after having gone through the irrigation canal system. But during dry summer months the refuge only gets water when there is extra, and most of this "extra" water is already highly polluted. This is because most of Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge's water is agricultural waste water that is really just being returned to the Klamath River through the Straits Drain that flows through the wildlife refuge. Thus much of even this water is never truly "delivered" to the refuge. Instead refuge managers simply take it, as the only available water source as it is going by, thus redirecting it from the waste drain onto refuge lands. However, the Bureau is fully able to deliver water directly to the refuges if it choses to do so, but it does not. In other words, it is Bureau policy to favor irrigation over refuges and to cut off refuge water to provide for full irrigation demands, but not a physical requirement of the system nor even, likely, legal.
In all previous years irrigators in the surrounding Tule Lake Irrigation District have always received 100% full water deliveries, yet as was observed last fall Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge's water was shut just before the critical fall waterfowl migration.
As explained in the USFWS's Biological Opinion on the Upper Klamath lake fish of April, 2001 (Section III, Part 1, Page 13):
"In four different years between 1992 and 2001 the Refuge has had their water supplies shut off or reduced As recently as September of 2000, due to water shortages, Reclamation stopped delivery of water to the Refuge. This threatened the availability of water for fall waterfowl habitat reducing the numbers of waterfowl that would use the refuge. Refuge managers and agency executives considered the possibility of closing the refuge to waterfowl hunters. A thunderstorm system brought additional water to Upper Klamath Lake, water was released into the system from Clear Lake and the hunting closure was averted."
Also (same page):
"Therefore a combination of harsh years, reduced water deliveries, high numbers of wintering eagles and low or non-existent waterfowl populations would result in very high levels of adverse impacts to local and wintering eagles. This underscores the importance of maintaining and managing for the stability of the wintering eagle population in the Klamath Basin."
Source: Biological Opinion Regarding the Effects of Operation of the Bureau of Reclamation's Klamath Project on the Endangered Lost River Sucker (Deltistes luxatus), Endangered Shortnose Sucker (Chasmistes brevirostris), Threatened Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and Proposed Critical Habitat for the Lost River/Shortnose Suckers (April, 2001) also available directly at: http://www.mp.usbr.gov/kbao/esa/34_final_sucker_bo_4_06_01.pdf
Myth: Klamath Basin farmers are feeding the waterfowl and other wildlife by using lands within the Klamath National Wildlife Refuges for farming.
Reality: Only a few of the hundreds of species of waterfowl that use the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges feed on grain crops - and fewer still feed even minimally on potatoes. None feed on onions and hay crops, which are the crops mostly grown on refuge lands. In addition, the farmers on the refuges use a wide variety of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals which are known to kill birds and fish. Overall, commercial farming on the wildlife refuges does much more harm than good.
Myth: The Klamath Basin farmers paid for the Klamath Project.
Reality: Actually, the American taxpayers paid for this Project - and are still paying through subsidized water rates for irrigators and many other types of subsidies. Some of the many ways federal taxpayers subsidize farming operation in the Klamath Basin include:
Direct Agricultural Subsidies. Many farmers receive direct payments from the U.S. Treasury under programs such as the Income Support Program, Disaster Assistance Program, and Conservation Payment Program. Farmers are authorized to obtain USDA backed and subsidized crop insurance, which is sold through private insurance agents. Other financial assistance available through the USDA includes ownership/operating and emergency loans. For example, under the USDA Farm Service Administrations (FSA) guaranteed loan program, FSA guarantees loans made by conventional agricultural lenders for up to 95 percent of the principal borrowed. Regarding emergency loans, these are designed to help cover production and physical losses in counties declared disaster areas. To qualify, the producer must be an established farmer who suffered a qualifying physical loss, or a production loss, of at least 30 percent in any essential farm or ranch enterprise.
Price Supports: Many of the crops grown in the Klamath Basin are surplus, meaning that they cannot be sold at or above the costs to produce them. In some instances these crops are subsidized so they can be sold, in other cases farmers suffer losses, and in others, crops are given away or destroyed. For example, 71% of the land leased within the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is used to grow crops (barley, wheat, and oats) that are classified by the USDA as surplus. These crops necessitated federal price supports because production is far above demand.
Subsidized Irrigation Water: Water for irrigation is supplied by the federal government to Basin farmers at below market costs, primarily due to below market electricity rates. In addition, irrigators pay only for the supply (again, below cost) of irrigation water, not for the value of water itself. It is important to note that this amount does not include the full cost of the irrigation system construction (i.e., the interest) that normally would be included in repayments. According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), delivery costs have been very low because electricity is supplied by PacifiCorp through a 50-year contract signed in 1956. The current power charges range from 1.3 mills (.0013¢) for irrigation drainage system and 1.6 mills for pressurized water irrigation supply. The least expensive production costs range from 3.7 mills to 8.5 mils. See Meeting Notes, Hatfield Upper Klamath Basin Working Group (Nov. 8, 1999). Consequently, Klamath Basin users pay far less than the actual production cost and nothing for its distribution.
The federal government, through the taxpayers, paid for the initial capital investment to construct the Klamath Basin Project, which included dams, irrigation projects, and distribution systems. Although users of the irrigation project are charged a fee to pay back the construction costs, the cost of the capital (interest) is not included. In other words, financing of the construction costs is interest-free. According to a 1994 report from the U.S. House of Representatives, for a 50-year project, this interest-free repayment schedule equates to a 70 percent subsidy rate for beneficiaries, based on the Office of Management and Budgets current discount rate. (General Accounting Office, BOR: Information on Allocation and Repayment of Costs of Constructing Water Projects, (GAO/RCED-96-109) (July 1996), at 3 (The cost to the federal government of providing interest- free financing can be substantial over a projects lengthy repayment period.)
(Source: Economic Profile of Klamath County, Oregon, The Wilderness Society, 2000. See also the Declaration of Carolyn Alkire, Economist, in Kandra v. US, US District Court, District of Oregon, Civ. No. 01-6124TC, April, 2001, Document #87 (case files also available at: http://www.ord.uscourt.gov by case number). Contact The Wilderness Society, 900 17th St., NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20006, (202)833-2300 for more detailed economic information. The GAO Report is cited above and available from the GAO website at: http://www.gao.gov).
Myth: Some 1000 farmers in the Klamath Irrigation Project got no water at all in 2001.
Reality: This is simply not true, but has been perpetuated as a media myth by the irrigators. Even though 2001 was the worst drought in 72 years, with less than 6 inches of rainfall in some places, Klamath Project farms got an initial 70,000 acre-feet of water from Gerber Reservoir and Clear Lake early in the season, which provided considerable water for farmers lower in the irrigation system. Then later in the summer, farmers in the upper part of the system got roughly another 75,000 acre-feet of water during the summer. Additionally, at least additional 100,000 acre-feet of irrigation water was obtained by the Bureau from purchases of water from surrounding non-Project landowers who have wells that produce surplus water, and from emergency wells paid for and installed by the States of Oregon and California as part of drought relief. Altogether, this amounts to 245,000 acre-feet of water, or about 57% of a multi-year average of 430,000 acre-feet, which is considered 'normal.' Total rainfall in the Upper Basin, however, was less than 52% of normal in 2001.
While many Klamath Project-dependent farmers did not get the water they needed when they wanted it, and some crops suffered as a result, many others got enough. Surrounding non-Project landowners (about 250,000 acres, or half the total irrigated lands in the Upper Basin), however, always had enough water and some to sell in 2001, because unlike Klamath Project-dependent farmers, they long ago invested in wells.
Myth: Most Upper Klamath Basin farmers will not receive emergency disaster assistance.
Reality: While owners of only about 20,000 acres of Project lands chose to invest in federal crop insurance, a wide range of other programs are still available to provide emergency farm and small business assistance now that a drought disaster has been declared in Klamath County. Aid may be provided through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency, Risk Management Agency, Rural Development, Rural Development Agency, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and Small Business Administration, as well as Oregons Emergency Management Division, Watershed Enhancement Board and Water Resources Department. All these programs and others are being brought to bear to assist farmers in the current drought emergency.
$20,000,000 was provided by Congress in direct relief to Klamath Project farmers who were cut off from water and suffered crop losses. The number of farmers who enrolled and could qualify was much lower than expected, and the total aid package tallys out to about $129/acre. At least one comprehensive economic study (available from ECONorthwest, http://www.econw.com/) indicates that the true economic return on commercial farming in Klamath County of all working farms on average is only about $35/acre, less than one-third the amount Klamath Project farmers received in disaster aid. Unfortunately, many Upper Klamath Basin farms lose money, even in normal water years, due to increased competition from glutted global markets, which has pushed the prices those products can command ever lower each year.