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Water for Life opposes proposed water agreement
Agricultural water group likes conceptual framework, but wants lawsuits to decrease


By HELEN MOORE Guest Writer 3/1/08

   Water for Life is a nonprofit organization with the mission of protecting agricultural water rights. According to the Oregon Department of Agriculture, our industry had total cash receipts of over $4.1 billion in 2006. 

   Despite the importance of agriculture to our economy and our national security, irrigated agriculture is threatened with extinction in the Klamath Basin. The proposed Klamath River Basins settlement is inequitable and should not be approved as currently written. 

   Water for Life Inc. believes a well structured settlement agreement in the Klamath River Basin settlement is preferable to the alternative of almost certain continuing litigation. A fair and equitable settlement agreement serving to balance divergent interests and bringing about a reasonable degree of certainty for all parties is essential. It is apparent the current status, highly litigious in nature, is costly and unsustainable.

Unable to support agreement 

   While Water for Life Inc. supports the conceptual framework of a settlement agreement, unfortunately we are unable to lend our support to the proposed agreement as released Jan. 15. 

   The primary reason for this position is the agreement, as currently written, would ultimately have dramatic adverse impacts on production agriculture within the Basin. In the most general of terms, Water for Life Inc. believes that, as structured, the proposed settlement agreement weighs significantly in favor of in-stream interests, while neglecting the most essential needs of the Basin's agricultural base. Moreover, to the extent the proposed settlement does provide accommodations to agriculture, it does so in a fashion that is inequitable between the upper and lower basins.

Review extension requested 

   The proposed settlement was released Jan. 15 with the expectation that all of the interested parties would be able to fully digest the intricate details of the agreement and "sign" on within a 30-day time frame. Water for Life Inc. strongly believes extending the period of review and comment would be very prudent. 

   While frequently referenced, Water for Life does not believe the agreement serves to directly address the issue of coordination between the settlement agreement and the ongoing adjudication process. We believe the need to fully address this issue is an essential component of the final agreement. 

   As with the adjudication process itself, one of the cornerstones of the agreement must be the distribution of limited water resources on a priority basis. Structuring a system of distribution, which may neglect this cornerstone principle, will ultimately fail the test of time. The settlement agreement must be structured in a manner that meets the needs of the Basin for future years and future generations.

Must lessen litigation 

   The settlement agreement must serve to lessen, not increase, the degree of litigation. The current document does not accomplish this objective. 

   The proposed settlement, in several places, appears to create inherent conflicts between state and federal laws that will likely result in litigation. The proposed settlement contains provisions that are outside the doctrine of prior appropriation and could potentially injure third parties to the agreement. 

   In addition, there are fundamental questions as to how the current document can be reconciled with the ongoing process of the adjudication and whether the proposed settlement would require public agencies to abdicate their statutory responsibilities with respect to regulating and managing the resource.
The author 

   Helen Moore is executive director of Water for Life Inc., an organization founded in 1990 by farmers and ranchers in the Upper Klamath Basin to represent agricultural water users in legislative, legal and other proceedings. Its headquarters is in Portland.



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