The water rights issue facing the Klamath Basin is not about pitting one group against another. This is about solving a resource allocation problem and governmental transparency that assures all parties are involved and the interests of all parties are treated fairly. The first determination, moreover, should be that the claim for reallocation of the resource is reasonable and valid.
Thereafter, the process must scientifically and fairly compensate and allocate resources to all affected parties, not merely silence the loudest or the most powerful claimant on a temporary basis.
This process of reaching an agreement needs a lot of open discussion and notice to all of the possible adverse impacts to them. It is not possible for the few insiders to anticipate the needs or impacts of their decision on the public at large.
It seems to the Klamath Basin Alliance that people who bought land with the reasonable expectation of availability of water for their land should be entitled to such water. If we, as a society, have changed our priorities to say that the water rights should be limited or eliminated for various landowners to satisfy new river level goals, then all parties who will be affected should have a say in how the water rights are to be modified, limited or eliminated.
Water levels in streams may affect traditional fish runs or they may not. That is a subject that is being continually debated. However, the reduction of water availability to the traditional farms of the Klamath Basin will definitely and adversely affect the property values and incomes of many people. That is not debatable.
The Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS 539.100 through 539.240 and ORS 192.620 through 192.690) make it clear that all affected people are to be given notice and an opportunity to have input in how changes, if any, will be made in a given community.
Our society is based upon public participation in governmental decisions. Backroom deals and political exclusion of interested persons is contrary to our Constitution and is a violation of our Oregon statutes. In this case, the Shasta Indians have been excluded, sportsmen, businesses and other groups, who are affected, have been excluded and off-Project irrigators have been partially excluded.
The water rights agreement that is proposed affects many people who have not been allowed to participate in the decision-making process.
Exclusion doesn’t work
Backroom deals at the exclusion of all affected parties smacks of preferential treatment. This agreement does not seem to be more than an appeasement to a threat, with no guarantee that the threat will not return in the future, requiring even more appeasement down the road.
The proposed settlement should be widely distributed locally and regionally to encourage broad public review and input. Independent reviews for environmental and legal analysis of the scope of the agreement’s impact should be made available to the public.
Far too often, “feel good” deals and legislation are put together by limited coalitions of special interest groups without the knowledge, input or analysis of the public art large.
The results of such deals are almost always incomplete with disastrous consequences because there was no thorough investigation of the long-term impact. Just as suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, so too is this proposed water settlement.