July 12, 2001
Tensions mounted in the fight over how to allocate scarce water in the Klamath system last week, with farmers desperate for irrigation flouting the law while fish downstream showed signs they may die for lack of water.
Events took a dramatic turn June 30, when someone opened a Klamath Irrigation District headgate in Klamath Falls, Ore., sending water that had been reserved for threatened fish species into an irrigation system that feeds Klamath Basin farms.
Local law enforcement did not pursue the individual, claiming that no state law had been violated. Klamath County Sheriff Tim Evinger said in an interview with the Associated Press that he was instructed by the FBI only to step in if public safety was threatened.
The gate was welded shut July 2 by the Bureau of Reclamation, but a crowd cut the gate back open July 4 using blowtorches and a chainsaw. The gate was closed again a few hours later.
The threatened coho salmon, which was supposed to be protected in this drought year by a Bureau of Reclamation decision not to divert water from the river to the farms, has begun showing signs of a fatal disease caused by low river flows.
A report in the July 7 Times-Standard said that about half of the young chinook salmon sampled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have ceratomyxo Shasta, an intestinal parasite that often kills its host. Infection rates in coho are expected to be similar. The disease is always present but remains latent until water temperatures rise, as they do when insufficient water is in the river.
Meanwhile, California Assembly lawmakers passed a resolution this week that places them squarely on the side of farmers in the growing battle. Assembly Joint Resolution 14 asks the federal government to amend the Endangered Species Act and convene the "God Squad," a committee that can exempt certain species from protection under the ESA.
That may not be far-fetched. Vice President Dick Cheney said in a radio interview July 2 that the ESA "needs to have more flexibility built into it" to deal with the situation in the Klamath.
Fish processing company Eureka Fisheries announced July 9 that it will suspend operations at its nine sites in the Northwest, laying off more than 100 employees.
The move is due to reduced supply, lowered demand, and high prices for the fish, shrimp and crab the company processes, according to a faxed statement from the company.
The statement blames the company's situation on "the pressure environmentalists have put on the National Marine Fisheries Service to stop commercial fishing on the Pacific Coast." The groundfish fishery is undergoing major regulatory changes in response to concerns that some species are becoming overfished.
The company has suspended the purchase of fresh seafood until the end of the month. That time will be used "to meet and discuss our future direction," according to the statement.
A compromise between PG&E and state and federal regulators on the amount of water to be left in the Eel River has been criticized by Sonoma County.
PG&E diverts about 52 billion gallons of water a year from the Eel River to the Russian River at its Potter Valley hydroelectric dam. While the dam produces only negligible amounts of power, the water supplies farms and developments in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties.
PG&E has suggested reducing the amount of water taken from the Eel by 15 percent to help protect federally protected salmon and steelhead in the river. The National Marine Fisheries Service, which is responsible for protecting the fish under the Endangered Species Act, published a report earlier this year stating that the 15 percent reduction wasn't enough.
That sent PG&E, NMFS, the state Department of Fish and Game and the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency, which has final say over the river diversion, back to the drawing board.
In May, the Journal reported a compromise had been reached. It has not been made public, but representatives for PG&E said last week it gives the Eel more water in the summer without appreciably affecting Russian River water supplies.
According to a letter from PG&E attorney William Madden Jr. to the commission, the compromise contains provisions to adjust flows to respond to changing river conditions. It also addresses the problem of pikeminnows, an introduced species that preys on juvenile salmon.
Attorneys representing Sonoma County lodged complaints with the energy commission against the proposal last week, claiming it would reduce the water available to Russian River users. The attorneys also said the plan was drafted without sufficient public comment or scrutiny and would affect wildlife on the Russian.
Public comment was reopened July 6 on a federal rule that would prevent road construction in some undeveloped areas of National Forests -- including sections of the Six Rivers and Shasta-Trinity National Forests.
The rule was issued by President Clinton in the closing days of his administration. The Bush administration has been under pressure from Republicans, timber companies and off-road vehicle users to void or weaken the rule.
The rule has already been the subject of more than 1.6 million comments and 600 public hearings, including one last June in Eureka. But U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Chief Dale Bosworth said in a statement that more comments were necessary in order to be "responsive to the concerns raised by local communities, states, tribes and other stakeholders."
More information on the rule is available at roadless.fs.fed.us
A state law passed last week ensures that the way money is shared between two county fair horse racing franchises stays the same.
Gov. Davis signed the bill July 2, cementing the current revenue sharing agreement between the San Mateo and Humboldt County fairs. Their racing franchises sometimes overlap, and rather than compete they have held to an agreement to share their proceeds. When the San Mateo County fair sold the racetrack, that agreement -- which has brought $100,000 a year into the Humboldt County fair's coffers -- was put into question.
The revenue sharing agreement is now binding on whatever entity operates the San Mateo racing franchise.
Humboldt County, in marked contrast to the rest of the country and the world, had a good May in economic terms. The economy was up across all sectors, according to the latest Index of Economic Activity, published monthly by HSU Professor Steve Hackett and his student, John Manning.
While some sectors, especially lumber and home sales, showed lower activity than in past years, May was better than April in every way. Unemployment decreased 1.2 percent; tourism revenues increased despite high gas prices; and retail sales bounced back from a lackluster performance in April.
Some of the improvements were in direct contrast to national trends. National demand for hotels and motels fell 0.7 percent in the first quarter of 2001, and San Francisco's hotel occupancy rate fell by 11.4 percent in the same period. Humboldt County, on the other hand, had the best May for tourism in three years.
The service industries added 600 jobs in Humboldt County during May, while the number of jobs in this sector nationally fell for the first time since 1958.
Humboldt County shouldn't be too cocky, however. Many of the gains posted in May merely made up for losses experienced during a difficult spring.
Gains in service sector employment, for example, are just helping to offset losses in manufacturing that the region has experienced -- and service jobs rarely pay as well as those in manufacturing. The composite index, which measures the overall health of Humboldt County's economy, increased 2.5 percent during May, but was
5.8 percent less than at the
same time last year.
The Index can be viewed online at www.humboldt.edu/~economic/current/index.html
Eureka's Multiple Assistance Center, a planned municipal facility providing job training, housing and rehabilitation services to homeless individuals, received $1 million in grants last week.
The money came from a grant and a loan from the state Department of Housing and Community Development. The city of Eureka received a $500,000 grant and the Redwood Community Action Agency was awarded a $500,000 loan.
Eureka senior planner Gary Bird said the money would likely be pooled, but administration of the funds had not been settled. The money will be used to rehabilitate the future MAC site at 2nd and Y streets.
Both the city and RCAA are gratified to receive the money, Bird said.
"A lot of people worked a lot of long hours making this happen," he said.
Other grants announced last week include $353,750 to Humboldt County for the construction of new homes and the creation of a tribal Court Appointed Special Advocate Program.
The Humboldt County Grand Jury's 2000-2001 final report has been published, although you won't find it in your Times-Standard as you have in past years.
Hard copies of this year's report will be available at the county library and courthouse, but the emphasis is on the Internet, said Assistant County Administrative Officer Karen Suiker.
"It's more universally available on the web," Suiker said.
Grand Jury Foreman John Westrick said the decision not to publish the report in the Times-Standard had less to do with availability than financial necessity.
"The county is in charge of our budget, and in their wisdom they decided we didn't need to" publish the report in a newspaper, Westrick said.
The report is online at www.co.humboldt.ca.us/GrandJury/Reports/2000-2001/
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