- The Washington Times - Friday, April 5, 2002

An environmental group says the Klamath River is being polluted from farming activities and has listed it as the third most endangered waterway in the country.

This is the first time American Rivers has listed the waterway, which runs through Oregon and California and is the center of a sometimes violent war among farmers, environmentalists, and Indian tribes.

"Poor agricultural practices in the headwaters means that the river gets its start as the most polluted body of water in Oregon," Rebecca R. Wodder, president of American Rivers, said in announcing this week her group's annual list of the nation's most endangered rivers.

The announcement stunned federal lawmakers and locals, who said the new listing was political and scientifically inaccurate.

"Designating the Klamath River as one of the most polluted rivers in America is just ludicrous," said Rep. Greg Walden, Oregon Republican.

"It's unfortunate that these political operatives chose to denigrate the water-management practices of the Klamath Basin community for purely ideological reasons while they ignore the millions of pounds of toxic materials that are dumped into the Willamette and Potomac rivers every year," Mr. Walden said.

The Klamath Basin was settled by World War II veterans with federal promises of abundant water supplies. When the water was cut off last year to protect endangered suckerfish and coho salmon, farmers responded by forcing open the head gates on four occasions. Federal marshals were dispatched to the site to maintain order.

On Dec. 1, three men drove through Chiloquin, Ore., home of the Klamath tribes' offices, firing shotguns at street signs and yelling, "Sucker lovers."

American Rivers says large amounts of polluted agricultural runoff enter the Klamath River from its upper basin headwaters, which is the Klamath Lake.

But Bob Gasser, spokesman for the Klamath Water Users group, said there are no agricultural activities above the lake, only livestock grazing, and therefore no pesticides and fertilizers are used.

"This is based on feelings, not science, and that's what got our water cut off last year," Mr. Gasser said.

American Rivers also blames irrigation for increasing the amount of warm water, which harms coho salmon, flowing into the lake.

Mr. Gasser said the lake has warm temperatures because it historically has been shallow.

"Like the government's unjust irrigation water shut-off, this listing is not based on sound science," Mr. Walden said.

The environmental group wants the federal government to continue using a biological assessment study used to cut off the water last year and leave it for fish and wildlife.

However, a peer review of that study by the National Academy of Sciences found the science was baseless, and the water was turned back on during a ceremony last week attended by Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton and Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman.

"The times are still difficult for many in the region, and much work remains to be done," President Bush said in a statement after the water release.

"It is essential that the citizens of Oregon and California in the Klamath River Basin, whether farmer, rancher, tribe member, fisherman or environmental activist, embrace compromise and seek understanding," Mr. Bush said.

Rep. George P. Radanovich, California Republican, said he was surprised to see the Potomac River was not included on the American Rivers list. The federal government allows tens of thousands of milligrams of suspended solids per liter of water to be dumped into the Potomac. In Klamath, 20 to 85 milligrams per liter can be deposited into the river.

"While the Klamath River was listed as the third most endangered, citing pollution as a key threat, American Rivers neglected to notice the Potomac and the tons of sludge dumped into it every year," Mr. Radanovich said.

The 11 rivers on the list, from most endangered to less endangered, are: the Missouri River, Big Sunflower River, Klamath River, Kansas River, White River, Powder River, Altamaha River, Allagash Wilderness Waterway, Canning River, Guadalupe River and the Apalachicola River.

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