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Counterspin - Dam, straight!
By Phil Hayworth, Pioneer Press 12/26/07

I smell a rat, folks, and that rat is the Klamath River settlement agreement, due to be released any day.
Many in the know say it will have negative consequences for the Klamath Basin. Local editorials and even those in papers such as the Oregonian and the San Francisco Chronicle are pushing for dam removal. Only folks papers in the immediate vicinity of the dams are eyeballing removal with skepticism. But whether the dams stay or go, the final solution should be a winner for everyone. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like that'll happen.

Word is that the talks have gone one-sided, that environmentalists have essentially gotten their way while the settlement still doesn't protect area landowners and others from unwarranted environmental lawsuits. The Klamath Basin cannot withstand another 2001 water shut off. The place turned into a dessert, if you recall, and frankly more animals and fish were killed by the shut off of water than many environmentalists would like to admit. It was an ugly scene, with land values plummeting, farmers going bankrupt and hungry and the nation's food supply being threatened.

The big problem with the settlement? While 26 entities have been knocking out the details, including counties, Indian tribes, farmers and PacfiCorps, which owns the four hydro dams, the rest of us have been out of loop. What's going on here? Don't the dams affect us as much - perhaps, more - as those in the loop?

A recent editorial in the Oregonian, however, predicts the opposite affect of the settlements. More specifically, it states that "the Bush administration has hijacked the Klamath's confidential relicensing negotiation in order to deliver a sweetheart water and power deal for politically connected agribusiness interests."

If only that were true. But the editorial continues, reading that "secret negotiations about dam relicensing should not be used to lock in a program allowing commercial farming on 22,000 acres on Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges. This harmful program has led to serious declines in two of the crown jewels of America's national wildlife system and should be phased out. If this land were managed for wildlife purposes rather than for growing potatoes and onions, it could reduce irrigation season water demand, increase water supply through natural storage, provide greatly needed wetland habitat, and improve water quality. Commercial farming has its place in the basin, but not on the public's national wildlife refuges."

Nothing's been locked, as far as we know, but word is that, again, farmers have been locked out of guarantees for protection from lawsuits. Frankly, it's strange hearing about it all from second, third and fourth-hand sources. I'm looking forward to the settlement results - if only to break the horrible tension.
That is, I think I am.

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