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2001 Controversy
Science Policy




Center for Science and Technology Policy Research


Allocation of water in the Klamath Basin is both politically and scientifically contentious. There is sufficient complexity to the science that facts can be marshaled to support a variety of social values and thus a variety of management actions. The problem is not one of “sound” science versus "junk" science but is rather that nature is complex and can be viewed through many analytical lenses.

Allocation and management of natural resources is an evolving blend of science, sociology, law, and politics and is dependent on the ability of decision-makers to obtain high-quality information and to integrate that information into the political and legal processes. When humans want something from the natural world decisions are:

  1. Not entirely scientific though they are informed by science. Scientific information provides the boundaries within which decisions are made. However, scientific information will seldom provide all of the information needed to make a decision because within the bounds established by science are any number of possible courses of action each with a probable set of outcomes;
  2. Not entirely legal though they exist within a legal framework;
  3. Not entirely political though they occur within a political context;
  4. Not entirely sociological, though the culture, values and experiences of both local communities and of western society guide decisions-makers.

Perhaps the more appropriate role of science in policy issues of an ecological nature is to help guide action after political consensus is attained. It is at this point that the predictive abilities of science are most useful; describing probable outcomes, monitoring, and refining actions developed to meet specific, agreed upon social, economic, and political ends.

Proposed Klamath Basin Solutions

GAO has carried out two analyses of KB programs:
1. Reclamation Met Its Water Bank Obligations, but Information Provided to Water Bank Stakeholders Could Be Improved
GAO-05-283, March 2005

Since 2000 the Bureau of Reclamation has had difficulty meeting the water demands of the Klamath Project and Klamath River flow requirements for threatened salmon. To augment river flows and to avoid jeopardizing the salmon’s existence, BuRec established a multiyear water bank as part of its Klamath Project operations for 2002 - 2011. The water bank was established to facilitate the transfer of water entitlements between users. The GAO found that although BuRec has met its obligations it has not provided stakeholders with systematic and clear information concerning management of the water bank. GAO found that BuRec is using river flow data that are not publicly available which has limited stakeholders’ ability to monitor water bank activities resulting in confusion and doubt among stakeholders on whether Reclamation met its water bank obligations. USGS and Oregon Water Resources Department have found evidence that groundwater aquifers under the Project are refilling at a slower than normal rate in recent years. Many wells have shown significant declines in water levels, and an increasing number of wells have been deepened to reach groundwater in Klamath County in recent years.

See Water bank drags river basin deeper into debt, Oct. 17, 2005 High Country News.

2. Klamath River Basin Conservation Area Restoration Program: Limited Assurance Regarding the Federal Funding Requirements
GAO-05-804, September 2005.