The Gulf Coast and Klamath Basin: News in the Interior


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Offshore Oil Platforms in Gulf of Mexico. Image by NOAA

Offshore Oil Platforms in Gulf of Mexico. Image by NOAA

Nature is not into restoration; it creates. Seeking balance, nature routinely alters landscapes and related ecosystems. Unlike nature, humans often find these changes difficult and tend to adapt slowly.

Consider the example of the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. The Horizon Oil Spill, begun in April of 2010, and only added to the already degraded beaches, wetlands, estuaries, and related coastal economies along the Gulf of Mexico.

Taking a step in the right direction, Secretary Jewell of the Interior this week helped unveil a plan dedicating $627 million to Gulf restoration projects proposed by the Deepwater Horizon NRDA Trustee Council.

In Oregon it was the DOI responding to overdrafting as they tried to solve a freshwater supply issue: adjudicated rights to the water from the Upper Klamath Lake.

Here is what else happened this week at Interior: We got a peek at Lythronax argestes  (A.K.A., “The King of Gore of the Southwest”) and they announced the Lighting of the National Christmas Tree.

Gulf Spill Restoration Projects

According to the Nature Conservancy, no one doubts that restoration of the Gulf will involve a scale beyond what has previously been accomplished and that scientists and its partners must make sound decisions. Put more succinctly:

scientists and other key stakeholders…must evaluate the best options for recovery and restoration investments. 

This week’s dedication of $627 million refers only to projects repairing the damage resulting from the oil spill from an offshore platform. There are 44 proposed projects that aim to restore barrier islands, dunes, marshes, shorelines, seagrasses, and oyster beds. They also begin to address lost recreational use of natural resources through boat ramps, park enhancements, and other projects. And as Secretary Jewell pointed out, the increasing frequency of storms in the area enhances the urgency.

Upper Klamath Lake Agreement in Principle

As Kyna Powers, et al pointed out:

severe drought in 2001 exacerbated competition for scarce water resources and generated conflict among several interests – farmers, Indian tribes, commercial and sport fishermen, other recreationists, federal wildlife refuge managers, environmental groups, and state, local, and tribal governments.”

In April of 2001. the Bureau of Reclamation announced that “no water be available” for farms normally receiving water from the Upper Klamath Lake – they stopped providing the water to avoid jeopardizing the existence of three endangered fish species. This caused serious hardship to many farmers. In addition, in September of 2002, warm water temperatures and atypically low flows contributed to the death of adult salmonids, damaging fish stocks and the tribes that catch the fish. 

Last year, irrigation was shut off to ranchers after the Klamath Tribes exercised newly-awarded water rights to protect fish. In response, irrigators and the Klamath tribes met to attempt a resolution. As announced by the DOI, the parties involved reached an agreement in principle.

Klamath River Basin. Image by US Government.

Klamath River Basin. Image by US Government.

In a nutshell, as reported by the Oregonian, ranchers have agreed to significantly cut water use to help provide irrigation for farmers on the Klamath Restoration Project downstream, and support fish habitat restoration projects and tribal economic projects.

In return, the tribes have agreed not to cut off irrigation if ranchers significantly reduce irrigation withdrawals.

This accord will join with an agreement to remove four dams on the Klamath River in Oregon and California to help struggling salmon runs, and an agreement to restore historical environmental damage from agricultural development and provide higher assurances that farmers on a federal irrigation project will not lose irrigation to protect salmon and sucker fish in times of drought.

Water and Coastal Issues

Too much water and a need for a more resilient Gulf coast, and too little water and overdrafting in western river basins are the major issues this week. This was the geoscience contribution to ‘This Week at Interior.’

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