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Reliable water the reason Klamath Project was built

Published Dec 15, 2003
By Dan Keppen
Guest columnist

{KBC NOTE: Here is link to the Negotiation Page of articles, documents, petitions and letters}

The Klamath Water Users Association and other irrigation representatives are participating in meetings and discussions with numerous other parties interested in Klamath Basin water resources.

These other parties have included the states of Oregon and California, Klamath Basin Rangeland Trust, Water for Life, irrigators upstream of the Klamath Project, the Klamath Tribes, the Hoopa Valley Tribe, the Department of the Interior, coastal fishing interests and others.

These discussions have occurred in various combinations and through differing forums, and other parties are also engaged in discussions that do not involve the water users association.

Concerns have been raised in the community related specifically to discussions that have involved the Rangeland Trust, the Klamath Tribes, and some of the other upper basin irrigation interests. The association wishes to clarify its goals and objectives as it participates in all of these activities.

The association was formed 50 years ago in recognition of the desirability that irrigation interests combine their resources and efforts and speak with one voice where possible on water issues. Since 1953, the association's mission has been to protect irrigation water supplies and our entitlements to other resources, including electrical power, which are facilitated by the Klamath Reclamation Project.

Through time, we have, within our own resources' constraints, participated in every activity that could affect these assets. While the mix of interests and players has evolved, our mission and objectives have not. We have experienced success and disappointment.

The association is focused principally on the Klamath Reclamation Project, and its members are from the Klamath Project. The current project operations paradigm is simple - and risky to our irrigators.

If rigid lake levels - set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect suckers - and rigid Iron Gate Dam flow releases - set by National Marine Fisheries Service to protect coho salmon - cannot be met, project irrigation supplies will be curtailed until they are met.

More flexibility needed

We have consistently encouraged Interior and the Fisheries Service to reconsider the rigid proposals for streamflow releases and lake levels contained in the existing biological opinions. We continue to recommend a more flexible management plan that would allow all affected interests a better opportunity to respond and adapt to the water conditions as they develop during the irrigation season. Unfortunately, the apparent lack of flexibility caused by fishery agency regulations has already had a significant impact on the Klamath Basin irrigation community.

Local irrigators - even with annual operations plans in place - have almost no certainty that water supplies will be provided for the full season, regardless of the water-year type. Because certainty of water supplies is directly related to one's ability to secure financing for farming, there is an increasing sense of instability in the farming community. This is primarily due to the fact that - because of the rigid lake level and river flow requirements imposed by the agency biological opinions - project irrigators and the national wildlife refuges get the water that's "left over." Should unexpected hydrology or downstream tribal trust calls occur, and lake or river levels cannot be met, deliveries to the Project are simply curtailed. This very nearly happened last June in the midst of the irrigation season.

We've all heard the statements about there being "no certainty" in farming, and our association takes exception to them. A reliable supply of water for irrigation is exactly why the Klamath Reclamation Project was constructed nearly one hundred years ago.

The past 12 years - when project operations were first modified to address agency requirements related to sucker fish - have revealed a wholly new set of issues that needed to be addressed in order to serve our mission. Thus, beginning in the 1990s, we began to promote environmental restoration projects, both for their own merits and to try to maintain firm water supplies. We are proud to have received the state of Oregon's "Leadership in Conservation" award for 2003, which reflects our community's contribution to protecting the environment during the past 10 years. Nevertheless, we have been frustrated with the lack of payoff for those efforts, as evidenced by steadily increasing regulations, which ultimately led to the disastrous curtailment of project water supplies in 2001. However, we know this is the right thing to do, and we will continue to insist on receiving water supply reliability credit for these activities.

For water users in the Klamath Reclamation Project, the status quo is unacceptable. Our water supply is uncertain, our patience is strained, and our coffers are depleted. Often, attacks on the Project are fueled by stereotype and emotion. We have been insulted by the threats and intimidation of extremists whose objectives have nothing to do with the well-being of our community. The Klamath Project is being held hostage.

We have made progress in the past few years by continued insistence on sound science. However, we have only seen limited transformation of this progress into on-the-ground results that improve certainty for irrigators. By now it is clear that there is no magic bullet and escape unless we ourselves take action.

The recent report completed by the National Research Council is interwoven with an important theme: The 200,000-acre Klamath Project should not be expected to bear the burden of recovering fish species in a Basin covering more than 10 million acres.

We are working with the Bush administration, the states of California and Oregon, Congress and those stakeholder groups who have a real stake in this watershed to strongly promote and ultimately develop a fair and effective water management and species recovery program for the Klamath River Watershed.

Other interests accepted

We must accept, and do, that there are other interests in the Basin whose objectives intersect with our own. We must also accept that no one interest will achieve all of his or her objectives unilaterally, or at the expense of all others. We will continue to advance the positions in which we firmly believe, but we will not ignore reality or forego opportunities. For example, in 2000, legislation was passed which encouraged investigation of new water storage; the legislation - ultimately carried forward by the Upper Klamath Basin congressional delegation - was the product of initial negotiations between Klamath project water users and the Klamath Tribes.

We will engage with all interests that respect our objectives and are willing to participate in helping us achieve them. We will in turn seek to understand the goals and proposals of other parties and how they may or may not affect our interests. Wherever we find opportunity for collaboration that will improve the status quo, we will pursue it.

In recent discussions at the Shilo Inn, everyone at the table has developed a long list of issues that they would like to see resolved. To date, the water users association has not endorsed any proposal of the Rangeland Trust. It has not endorsed any proposal of the Klamath Tribes. It will listen to such proposals, and those of other parties, with an open mind, and will require a full explanation and understanding of how those proposals would affect us and our community before even taking a position.

At the Shilo Inn meetings, we are not negotiating agreements or settlements, and none of the irrigators have held themselves out as representing the agricultural community. The community should be assured that any sort of proposed settlement can never be implemented without congressional action, which will require a great degree of local and regional support. There is simply no chance of a "secret deal" being cut on this matter.

In the meantime, we will continue our work with state and federal agencies and elected officials at all levels to advocate for water supply certainty to Project irrigators. However, we will also keep talking with the tribes and upstream interests as we try to learn more about each other's needs. We hope that our community understands we cannot fully serve our own objectives unless we mind the realities of 2003.





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