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Know the West

Truth - the newest Klamath casualty


Klamath Riverkeeper’s letter in the 7/21 edition portrays PacifiCorp (owner/operator of the Klamath Hydroelectric Project) as an example of “multinational corporations perpetrating underpublicized acts of environmental injustice against rural communities.”  Wow! Maybe so; but I am struck by the fact that this is precisely the way many “rural communities” portray Klamath Riverkeeper and other “environmental terrorist (sic) organizations.”

Klamath Riverkeeper and the Karuk Tribe have been promoting the demonization of PacifiCorp as part of their efforts to get four of the company’s five Klamath Dams removed. I’m also in favor of dam removal but I question whether promoting “war” is really necessary to achieve our objective. In fact, Klamath Riverkeeper’s assertion that PacifiCorp “obstinately refuses to discuss dam removal” flies in the face of the fact that PacifiCorp was at the time the letter was written and is now engaged in negotiations about the very dam removal that Klamath Riverkeeper seeks.

And that is not the only questionable assertion in their letter.

Klamath Riverkeeper asserts that “PacifiCorp’s reservoirs are breeding late-summer blooms of toxic algae…”  While this is also true, the organization fails to point out that the water is already very dirty when it enters those reservoirs – the result of agricultural pollution in the Upper Klamath Basin and a naturally high nutrient load. Could it be that this fact was omitted because Klamath Riverkeeper wants to promote the idea that “irrigators, tribes and willing environmentalists have made great strides toward ‘peace’?” And why is it that Klamath Riverkeeper is not also calling for removal of the fifth PacifiCorp dam – which creates a reservoir wherein fish kills – including kills of endangered fish – occur almost every year?

As a person who has lived and worked in the Klamath River Basin since 1975 I find it deeply saddening that certain environmental organizations and tribes have found it necessary to bend the truth to the breaking point in pursuit of their objectives. The Karuk elders who inspired me to become a forest and river advocate would not, I believe, approve. It was those elders who taught me what I now call the “Politics of Truth” and what others have called “Speaking Truth to Power”.  These elders modeled a non-violent approach to struggle which rejected the idea of treating the adversary as “enemy”. While I have not always lived up to their example, I have always striven to act in accordance with it.

The abandonment of “Speaking Truth to Power” by some environmental and tribal leaders on the Klamath gives me great sadness. I can’t help but believe that it is both unnecessary and that it ultimately damages and delays the very objectives which these folks claim to champion, that is, social, economic and environmental justice.