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Basin agreement may be farming's spotted owl

Tom Mallams, Guest Comment for the Capital Press 12/11/08

The Klamath Basin has a rich history of timber and agriculture as our main industries. The hard-working citizens of the basin have been richly blessed by the natural beauty of our area and being able to work with our natural resources.

We all know what happened to the timber industry, and I see agriculture being directed down the same path. Our agriculture industry is continually changing and adapting to the demands of special interest groups. This is why I feel the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, as written, is not beneficial to all of the Klamath Basin. Agriculturalists continue to be excellent stewards of the land, honing technology to increase productivity and protecting the natural resources that are so near and dear to us all.

A fair and equitable basin-wide settlement has always been the ideal solution for the water issues in the Klamath Basin. Klamath Off Project Irrigators do not prefer litigation. Litigation is expensive, time-consuming and detrimental to the entire community. We have to pay our attorney bills just as the project irrigators do.

A recent commentary in the local newspaper announcing support for the current settlement agreement was signed by 74 individuals. A petition against the current settlement agreement, as written, with close to 300 off-project individuals along with another petition from Siskiyou County with 250 signatures, many of which are tribal members against the agreement, as written, has been submitted to the Klamath County commissioners.

The Klamath Basin Alliance has a separate petition with more than 600 signatures against the current settlement. It's apparent there is no widespread support in the basin for the current agreement as written. In the Reclamation Project, the board of directors of the various irrigation districts have endorsed the current agreement. However, many of the individual project irrigators openly do not favor the agreement and acknowledge that it is not an equitable agreement basin-wide.

Most people admit that they haven't read the agreement. It isn't an easy read, but it doesn't take long to see major flaws and the inequity for both project irrigators and off-project irrigators.

Some say the current agreement is the best we can do. I do not believe that is the case. If implemented, the current agreement, as written, will adversely affect all irrigators in the basin, including all surface irrigators and eventually all groundwater irrigators. Ultimately it will adversely affect the economy of the entire basin. This will be agriculture's "spotted owl."

There have been claims that there is no organized group representing off-project irrigators.

That claim is absolutely false.

Already in place is the Klamath Off Project Water Users Association Power Group, which has been engaged in the power issues since 2005. Sprague River Water Resource Foundation and the Resource Conservancy umbrella organization represent virtually all of the contestants in the adjudication, and they represent the vast majority of all off-project irrigators. Sprague River Water Resource Foundation has been active in water-related issues for more than 25 years, settling many claims in the adjudication. Resource Conservancy has been actively engaged in the issues for more than 11 years. To form yet another group seems redundant.

The Klamath County commissioners organized and facilitated meetings between project irrigators, the Klamath Tribes and an acceptable off-project water user representation months ago to keep dialogue moving and to look for common ground.

Unfortunately for the Klamath Basin, the project irrigators and Klamath Tribes refuse to meet with us.

We have been labeled as uncooperative and uncompromising. Yet the Off Project Water Users Power Group, Sprague River Water Resource Foundation and Resource Conservancy are the only groups that are still willing and waiting for the meetings to take place. It is quite obvious that the "closed door" meetings with all the confidentiality agreements in place have one purpose - keep the public from knowing what is going on in secret. These are the public's natural resources being discussed with our tax dollars and the power ratepayers who are going to pay the ultimate price.

I encourage everyone to read through this settlement agreement completely and realize what is at stake here and what you will be giving up if you sign on the dotted line to accept it as written.

Remember what one of our nations great founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, said, "They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserves neither liberty nor safety."

Tom Mallams has been an irrigator in the Upper Basin for over 30 years and has been active in agricultural and water issues for more than 25 years. He is president of Klamath Off-Project Water Users Association Power Group, serves on the board of directors for Klamath Soil and Water Conservation District, currently chairs the Headwaters Local Advisory Committee and is past president of Sprague River Water Users Association.

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