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 Interior floats offer of 'reliable' water for
reduced Klamath Project deliveries

By Kehn Gibson
Staff Writer

According to a confidential memo obtained by The Tri-County Courier, a Department of Interior official told irrigators Oct. 2 that, in return for an 80,000 acre/foot reduction in water deliveries from Upper Klamath Lake, the Klamath Project could have "reliable" water deliveries.

In addition, the official went on to say the proposal includes a return of 672,000 acres to the Klamath Tribes.

The official, Bill Bettenberg, told the assembled irrigators that Interior’s Deputy Chief of Staff Sue Ellen Wooldridge has given him the job of managing the settlement of land issues for the Tribes.

According to the memo, Bettenberg’s deal was this:

He said the Klamath Tribes have the Basin’s senior water rights, for which they would like recognition and quantification.

He said the Tribes are willing to forgo those rights in exchange for a return of their reservation and a "significant restoration package."

Calling it a "scenario," Bettenberg said the deal would include the acquisition of an additional 50,000 acre/feet of upstream water rights, the conversion of 16,000 additional acres to "restored wetland storage" — for example, the Barnes Ranch — and the reduction of water deliveries from Upper Klamath Lake by 80,000 acre/feet each year.

Bettenberg’s proposal was not greeted by welcome ears.

Bill Kennedy, the president of the Klamath County Cattlemen’s Association, said Bettenberg’s proposal was "unreasonable."

"Converting farmland to wetland uses more water, and that’s proven," said Kennedy. "There were over flows downstream pre-project than there are now, and of the nearly 20,000 acres we have returned to pre-project condition, well, we haven’t gained a thing from that land."

Kennedy was not in attendance at the Oct. 2 meeting but received a copy of the confidential memo.

Bob Gasser, a Basin fertilizer dealer who did attend the meeting, was one of few who spoke openly against Bettenberg’s proposal.

"It has been made clear to me that the White House wants a solution that everybody can agree too," said Gasser. "A reduction of deliveries to the Project, especially on the scale that (Bettenberg) proposed, would devastate this Basin, and that is not acceptable."

Gasser began the fight for the survival of Klamath Basin agriculture as part of the group of organizers of the original Klamath Bucket Brigade, the event that first brought the attention of the national media to the Klamath Basin in 2001.

Since 2001, Gasser has continued to cultivate political contacts, and his strength lies in a simple mantra.

"We are right, and what we are trying to achieve is the right thing," Gasser said. "Devastating the communities that make up the Basin is not the right thing at all, especially based on the shoddy information they are using as the justification for it all."

Tony Giacomelli, a store owner in Tulelake, agreed with Gasser.

"He (Bettenberg) is talking about a 20 percent reduction to the Basin’s economy," Giacomelli said. "The Basin could not survive a cut like that, and I would dare you to tell me of an economy that could."

Some Basin farmers, while not agreeing to Bettenberg’s proposal outright, see a reduction in deliveries to the Project as inevitable.

John Crawford, a member of the Westside and Tulelake irrigation districts, said Saturday compromise will involve sacrifice on all sides.

"I can’t concern myself with the hunter who worries about losing access to the Winema Forest," Crawford said.

In Bettenberg the Klamath Basin faces the deadliest of foes. He has experience in communities like ours.

In 1999, he served a similar role in the settlement of the Newlands Reclamation Project near Fallon, Nevada.

The Newlands Project had components long familiar to Klamath irrigators. It involved an endangered fish, tribal trust issues, and increased residential demands for water.

Faced with an unyielding federal push to resolve competing water demands, farmers and ranchers did what they had done for generations — they took care of themselves first.

They used water beyond their normal allocations, and even began irrigating land that did not fall under the Newlands Project charter.

That was all Bettenberg needed.

As Interior’s ramrod for a settlement negotiated in 1990, Bettenberg was authorized to direct the purchasing of water rights to support 25,000 acres of wetlands. Ignoring local demands to protect established wetlands, Bettenberg held firm to his assigned mission. In the process, thousands of acres of farmland went dry.

The Newlands Reclamation Project, which predated the Klamath Project by one year, currently farms a tenth of its historical high of 80,000 acres. And most of that 8,000 acres is dryland farming.

"For us it’s a matter of priorities," Bettenberg told the Review Journal in Las Vegas in 1999.

Bettenberg, described as Wooldridge’s "eyes and ears" on Klamath Tribal issues by the Bureau’s Dave Sabo at an October meeting of the Hatfield Upper Klamath Basin Working Group, appears to not allow himself to care about the communities upon which his actions cause impact.





Page Updated: Sunday September 04, 2011 04:29 AM  Pacific

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