The valley-altering plan is the Wallowa Valley
Water Management Plan of 2004, contained in Senate
Bill S. 1355RS. This Bill is close to
passage in Congress. To view this Bill please
Among the Bill's most significant features:
- locking up valley irrigation water and placing
it under outside control;
- disrupting the valley ecosystem with water
transfers and pipelines; and
- facilitating the (re)introduction of endangered
species of salmon.
Water War in the Making at Wallowa
By Rachael McDonald
JOSEPH, OR 2004-06-28
(Oregon Considered) - A proposed new dam in
Eastern Oregon is dividing the citizens of
sparsely populated Wallowa County. The Nez Perce
tribe and many local farmers are seeking federal
funds for the project. But others are angry that
the money will come with strings attached and
they're fighting to keep the government out.
The Wallowa Valley is breathtakingly beautiful.
Lush and green after spring rains, with snowcapped
peaks in the Eagle Cap Wilderness looming high to
the west. At the foot of Wallowa Lake is a
Jim Harbeck: "Old Chief Joseph, when he died he
wanted to be buried close to his people."
Jim Harbeck is a biologist for the Nez Perce
Tribe. He points to Chief Joseph's final resting
Jim Harbeck: "And he wanted to be buried there
because he knew that his people would always be
here because the fish would be here."
Since the days of Chief Joseph, this valley has
been a land of conflict and heartbreak. The Nez
Perce were pushed out. Then white settlers blocked
the river and started irrigated farming. Like many
places in the northwest the dam has spelled doom
Jim Harbeck: "You can't help but have a gut
reaction to a place like this in the fall, and
when you see perfect conditions and there's no
salmon here. There should be salmon here. And to
be honest that's a horrible feeling."
The 90-year-old Wallowa dam is in disrepair and
how to fix it is now at the center of a fight over
the future of the valley. The Nez Perce would like
a new dam to include fish ladders and a pipeline
to help restore sockeye and Chinook to the region.
The trouble is the project will cost $32 million.
Local landowners who are members of the privately
owned Associated Ditch Companies, say they can't
David Hockett: "We looked at a lot of different
funding sources, talked to a lot of people. It
became painfully obvious that we were going to
have to go to the federal government for help. Not
something we wanted to do right off the top."
David Hockett is a manager with the Associated
Ditch Companies. At town meetings, he's built
support among many local farmers for a water plan
that includes both irrigation and salmon
Farmer Jim Dawson likes the idea even though the
return of salmon may bring more federal scrutiny
to this isolated corner of Oregon.
Jim Dawson: "The regulators are already here. And
these laws are going to be complied with either
voluntarily or involuntarily. We prefer to do it
as a partner with the regulators and with the
other agencies, rather than butting heads with
Others are afraid. For nearly a century control of
the valley's water has been in the hands of
farmers and ranchers and the new dam proposal
would more clearly include other stakeholders.
Wayne Wolfe: "We got a nice little valley here and
we do our own business and if they let all those
agencies in here and the tribe, I think they're
going to ruin Wallowa County. I can't understand
why they'd even want such a thing."
Wayne Wolfe is a Wallowa old timer. He's been
raising cattle here for 50 years. Wearing a seed
cap and faded, dirt-stained jeans, he stands in
the shade of his hay barn.
What drives his fear is what happened in the
Klamath Basin in Southern Oregon when irrigators
lost out to salmon because there wasn't enough
water for everyone.
Wayne Wolfe: "You know down in Klamath Falls, the
water was shut off, by government agencies. So,
why would they want to get them up here? I don't
The feud has grown bitter in recent weeks with
opponents taking out full page ads in the weekly
newspaper. One calls the Nez Perce tribe's
alliance with government agencies a "cabal" that
is deceiving and conspiring against farmers. In
other ads the dam proposal is described as a
"Trojan Horse" and, quote, a "water-wolf in
The dispute has even poured into the streets of
the valley's tiny agricultural towns. Opponents
lumbered down the main street of Joseph in
tractors, hay-trucks and pickups. With patriotic
music booming one truck towed a float depicting a
giant salmon with a farmer clenched in its teeth.
Resident #1: "We need our dam fixed but we don't
want government money in it."
Resident #2: "The government is gaining too much
control over the west and it's an eastern movement
as far as I'm concerned."
Resident #3: "I think the signs pretty well say it
all. We want to keep Wallowa water in Wallowa and
not have a lot of government agencies involved in
what we're doing here."
The Wallowa dam proposal is now in senate
committee in Washington. A vote is not expected
until the next congress convenes in January. Until
then, it's likely the deadlock over the future of
the valley's water will continue.
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