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A Dan Bacher Guest Editorial

Is Schwarzenegger Trading Klamath Dam Removal for the Destruction of the Delta?

by Dan Bacher, editor of the FishSniffer
November 15, 2008 -- Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger never misses an opportunity to push his environmentally destructive and enormously costly $ 9.3 billion water bond proposal to build two new reservoirs and "improved conveyance" - the peripheral canal.

True to his role as the "Fish Terminator," the Governor used a press conference that he appeared at with Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and Mike Chrisman, California Secretary of Resources, in Los Angeles Friday to promote building new dams in California the day after an agreement in principle was reached between Oregon, California, PacifiCorp and the Bush administration over Klamath Dam removal.

"We are here today to celebrate something really big, which is a great victory for the environment of California," Schwarzenegger gushed. "With the Klamath River Agreement we are making actual history, because this will be the biggest dam removal project ever in the history and the biggest one in the United States. So this is great for California and this is really great also for Oregon."

He then touted the tentative pact as a consensus-style, win-win situation for the Klamath Basin. "And I'm very proud that everyone here worked together, because something like this cannot be done if not everyone is cooperating and working together, if it is environmentalists, if it is the farmers, the Native American tribes, salmon fishermen, the state and the federal agencies, the PacifiCorp, everyone, and I want to thank them all for their great cooperation. Everyone cares so much about the magnificent river and also the water quality and the fish population, and that is why this came about," Schwarzenegger gushed.

After making that statement, of course, Schwarzenegger just had to promote building new dams and sub-surface water storage, although he didn't specifically mention "improved conveyance" - the peripheral canal. In numerous press conferences and photo opportunities over the past two years, Schwarzenegger and Senator Dianne Feinstein have campaigned for a water bond measure that would two new unneeded reservoirs, Temperance Flats on the San Joaquin River and Sites on the west side of the Sacramento Valley, in spite of the fact that water in both watersheds is dramatically over-appropriated already and the chances are that these dams would never fill anyway.

"Now, let me just say that we all know that we have a very serious water problem in California and, of course, we want to make sure that we build more water storage, above-the-ground and below-the-ground water storage, but they have to be strategically located," stated Schwarzenegger, changing from his role as the "Green Governor" to "Arnold the Dam Builder."

"So this is why it is important that we continue building those, even though we want to take four down," Scharzenegger claimed. "I've been worried, of course, about our declining salmon population, and with this agreement here we are setting the stage for the return of the historic salmon runs on the Klamath River."

Missed in most media reports of the agreement is Schwarzenegger's expectation that this agreement could become a "quid pro quo" to sacrifice the California Delta fish and Central Valley chinook salmon species, now in an unpredicted state of collapse, for removing dams on the Klamath.

A coalition of recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, Indian Tribes, conservationists and Delta farmers is strongly opposing Schwarzenegger's campaign to put a water bond including a peripheral canal and more dams on the ballot this coming year. Although massive opposition to dams and the canal prevented the Governor and allies from putting the proposal on the November ballot, dam and canal opponents fear that he and his corporate agribusiness backers will try to get the water bond on the June ballot.

Supporters of fish restoration in the Central Valley and the Delta fear that the water bond will result in building the infrastructure to increase water exports out of the Delta to Southern California and drainage-impaired land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. Central Valley chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, threadfin shad, striped bass and other fish populations have crashed in recent years, due to record increases in water exports, declining water quality and other factors. More dams and a peripheral canal would only exacerbate the deplorable condition of Delta fish and Central Valley chinook salmon, fish advocates point out.

After Schwarzenegger spoke, Kempthorne and Chrisman lauded the Klamath agreement also and praised Schwarzenegger for his environmental "leadership."

"If the data collected during the next four years shows that removal is environmentally prudent, the target for removing all four of the dams is the year 2020," said Kempthorne. "I appreciate the great leadership of Governor Schwarzenegger not only for staying at the table for these negotiations, but also for providing a platform by which Californians and Oregonians will have a future in the Klamath Basin through the restoration agreement."

I love it - here we have Kempthorne, the Secretary of the Interior for the worst-ever administration for fish and the environment in U.S. history, praising Schwarzenegger, the worst-ever Governor for fish and the environment in California history, for the Governor's "great leadership" on the environment!

The Yurok, Karuk and Klamath Tribes, California Trout, Trout Unlimited, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, American Rivers, two farming organizations and other conservation groups are touting the pact, after several long years of negotiations in the parallel Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement process, as being an important first step toward dam removal and the restoration of the declining salmon runs of the Klamath River.

The Hoopa Valley Tribe, North Coast Environmental Center and Oregon Wild are opposing the agreement for a variety of reasons, most notably because the agreement is non-binding and unenforceable and could become a bailout for Klamath Basin agriculture.