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Commentary: Legally defined water rights at heart of Basin solution
Arriving at a good agreement also requires strong values, vision and fair treatment
By Steve Harper, guest writer for Herald and News 12/6/09
About the author: Steve Harper was commander of Kingsley Field from 1984 to 1993. He was also executive vice president of the Klamath County Chamber of Commerce and served two terms as a state representative and one as a state senator. He owns and operates with his son a dry cleaning business in Klamath Falls and has been active in civic affairs.
There is one single thing we can do to best ensure the long-term stability and growth of our economy: Adjudicate the competing water claims in Klamath County according to current Oregon water law.
Without a legally defined water right, which is a private property right, any agreement you have is just so much casual conversation. These negotiations, done in good faith by the principals involved, are always subject to the whims of political forces beyond our control.
I recently attended the “listening forum” sponsored by our legislators.
Two things disturbed me: First, the unanimity in opposition to various elements of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement. Obviously, supporters declined to attend or comment. That is a shame and makes it much harder for the opponents and proponents in Klamath County to reach a compromise.
Second, I was struck by the anxiety and even fear displayed by the testifiers. Most of them were off-Project irrigators. There appears to be a discrepancy in how the on- and off-Project irrigators are currently treated in the KBRA. I assume and hope all of our irrigators will be treated equally in the final version.
A few years ago, I helped moderate discussions between the Klamath Tribes and the on-Project irrigators, and separate meetings with the Tribes and a large group of off-Project irrigators.
Afraid to talk?
These meetings were, by the way, a direct result of a comment I heard from a senior tribal member wondering why we were “afraid to talk to each other” to solve our water problems.
The goal was to reach a compromise on the competing water claims, and complete/accelerate the adjudication process. We knew that our agreement would just be the first step in climbing a big hill. The challenge would be to sell our ideas to the people who do not live here.
The underlying principles were quite simple. “We all live here. We went to school together. Our kids go to school together. We should be able to work this out.”
Although we reached a preliminary agreement with the Tribes and the off-Project irrigators, we were unable to complete the package and the project went on the back burner.
There is much discussion on the Klamath Tribes’ proposals for land acquisition.
While not directly tied to water use and water rights, if it becomes part of the “we can work this out” discussion, then we should not be afraid to put it on the table. I am convinced developing a plan viewed favorably by 80 percent of the county is possible.
Any permanent solutions to large problems require the participants have strong values and vision, but simultaneously have the ability to achieve results that treat everyone fairly and equally.
Studies have shown that a combat soldier is very often more concerned about the safety and well-being of the people around him than himself. I wish the Tribes and all of the irrigators could spend a few weeks emulating that attribute of a combat soldier and fight together for a water solution that is fair and equitable for all parties.
Page Updated: Monday December 07, 2009 12:49 AM Pacific
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