- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 28, 2001

A panel of scientists is on a fast track to review Clinton administration studies that last year cut off water to more than a thousand farmers in the Klamath Valley of Oregon and California to protect endangered fish.
The panel's findings are due by Jan. 31, 2002, to allow farmers, who irrigate their fields with the water, and federal agencies to prepare for the next growing season.
Eleven scientists assembled by the National Academy of Sciences will meet in early November for public testimony and to outline the initial scientific findings used to shut off the water.
"I think we're breaking records here," said project director Suzanne van Drunick of the National Research Council, in charge of producing the report. "The agencies gave us that deadline. The reason is they need to make their 2002 water-allocation decisions."
The schedule is similar to other quick-turnaround reports on controversial issues, such as arsenic standards for drinking water undertaken by the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this year.
Interior Secretary Gail A. Norton said that by beginning the process of a "thorough and objective peer review" early, they minimize the risk of repeating last year's cutoff, which sparked months of protests by farmers facing bankruptcy.
"There are a lot of questions about the science by people affected by the decision," Mrs. Norton said. "There is no question it was the second-worst drought in the history of the area. If the drought continues, we will be in a very difficult situation to prevent a reoccurrence. We want to prevent that."
Based on federal biologists' reports on the needs of two endangered fish species in the Upper Klamath Lake, water from a federal irrigation system was cut off to nearly 1,400 farmers in April. Without water for livestock and field irrigation, the economic stability of the community just recovering from the timber-industry shutdown over the endangered species of the spotted owl is faltering.
Rallies and fund-raisers for the farmers were held throughout the summer, drawing thousands from across the country. Local farmers forced the headgates open on several occasions to allow water to reach their parched fields.
Mrs. Norton allowed a limited release of water during August, but the water was quickly used and fields again were left to lie fallow.
Meanwhile, farmers and supporters started a petition drive this month to remove one of the endangered fish, Oregon coastal coho salmon, from the endangered-species list.
R.J. Smith, senior environmental scholar for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, says radical environmental groups use the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to take control of water rights. They believe if you control water rights, you control the land.
The Endangered Species Act, he says, is key in their goal to seize private property.
"Absolutely, it's the key to the entire crisis: using the ESA to take private property and shred the Bill of Rights, instead of protecting wildlife," Mr. Smith said in the Sierra Times, a Nevada Internet publication.
Environmental groups want the Klamath Valley land to be sold to the federal government for a wildlife preserve.

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