16 Apr 2008

How to Manage a River

Live on it for 10,000 years. This story describes a tribe whose destiny is tied to a river:
...the Klamath has suffered. Agricultural water diversions have depleted the river's once mighty flows; four moderately sized hydroelectric dams along the Klamath's main stem - plus a huge dam on its major tributary, the Trinity - have greatly reduced the spawning grounds for anadromous fish. Too, the main stem Klamath dams warm the river's water, encouraging destructive parasites and blooms of toxic blue-green algae. Increasingly, it is clear the Klamath can have the dams or it can have fish, but not both. For years, the Yurok have been at the vanguard in a battle to remove the dams. Allied with them are the other Klamath tribes, commercial fishermen and sport anglers. Opposing them are the dams' operators - which have shifted over the years, as the facilities have changed ownership - and farmers in the Upper Klamath Basin, who divert the river's water for potatoes, grain, alfalfa, horseradish and other crops.

The Klamath always has been a major front in California's water wars, one that has waxed especially hot throughout the Bush administration. In 2001, increased downriver flows by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to sustain salmon were resisted by Basin farmers, who seized irrigation canal head gates in protest. Water availability already was a flashpoint issue on the Klamath because much of the Trinity's flow is diverted south for the state's cities and agricultural lands.


In 2002, the Bush administration sided with the farmers and slashed the releases to the river, delivering the water up to the irrigation districts. A massive fish kill on the Klamath followed; the salmon never really recovered from the blow.
Bottom Line: Sustainable use means that you leave the resource in the same shape you found it -- or better. If you are mining the resource, you take it closer to depletion, population crash and/or extinction. That's true for trees, rivers, fish, and water the same way it's true for oil, coal or gold. Resources will be managed well when the owner/exploiter plans to be around for 100, 1,000 or 10,000 years -- not a few growing seasons, a few quarters or a few days.


  1. "Resources will be managed well when the owner/exploiter plans to be around for 100, 1,000 or 10,000 years -- not a few growing seasons, a few quarters or a few days."

    If my thinking is correct, your point here implicitly is bringing in the role of a discount rate and the relationship between a discount rate and extraction rate.

  2. I am not explicitly evoking discount rates. Those are important when you are trying to add up and compare costs and benefits of actions (e.g., invest in solar panels or buy a fishing boat)

    I suppose that I am more interested in sustainable actions that do not deplete the renewable resource -- so that what's here now will be here in 1,000 years.

    Discount rates only become relevant when one decides to deplete more now (getting a greater present benefit) at a cost to future extractions. Read this post


Read this first!

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