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Put irrigation at the core of water proposal

 April 14, 2005

Purchase and consolidation of ranch lands and wetlands above Upper Klamath Lake to store water and provide fish habitat sounds promising as a step toward solution of some of the Basin's water problems.

It has to be done, though, in a way that makes sure that the responsibility to provide water for irrigation is one of the core management components.

Being proposed is the purchase of the 2,671-acre Barnes Ranch by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and either the transfer of lands by the Wildlife Service of the 7,159-acre Agency Lake Ranch from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, or joint management of the Agency ranch with the Bureau.

The properties are on the northern edge of Upper Klamath Lake, just west of Agency Lake, which is an arm of Upper Klamath Lake.

One of the advantages of the proposal is that it would maximize water storage on the Agency Lake Ranch. Storage there is limited because the Barnes Ranch is next to it, and the Barnes Ranch is used for pasturing cattle. Maximum water storage on the Agency Lake Ranch can't take place without also flooding the privately owned Barnes Ranch.

Another advantage of the proposal is that it could streamline management of the lands.

The major downsides appear to be the loss of property taxes to the county and its taxing districts from the conversion of private lands to public lands, and the loss of some economic activity because cattle wouldn't be coming to the Barnes Ranch to spend the summer grazing.

But losses of that magnitude could come anyway, as the attacks continue on Upper Klamath Basin agriculture.

It's important that the Basin move ahead to solve its water problems, even though it's disturbing that there's no overall plan with benchmarks agreed to by those in both the upper and lower Klamath Basin. The Upper Basin should get credit not just for what it does in the future, but for what it's already done in converting thousands of acres of farm lands to wetlands.

It's also important that the intent to store water and serve irrigators along with fish and wildlife is made plain and becomes part of the institutional memory for the management of lands.

Even clearly defined rights haven't saved the lease lands at Lower Klamath and Tule Lake national wildlife refuges from being continually attacked, even though agricultural use of the lands goes far back into history - in some cases predating the refuges - and is well established by law.

This is why it's important to strongly affirm agriculture's place in line when it comes to establishing more wetlands. There should be no doubt that significant amounts of water should be managed in a way that benefits agriculture. That has to be a commitment.

Editorial board

Pat Bushey wrote today's editorial, which represents the view of the Herald and News editorial board. Its members include:

  • Publisher Heidi Wright.
  • Editor Tim Fought.
  • City Editor Todd Kepple.
  • Opinion Editor Pat Bushey.

    In addition, members of the public usually sit in on editorial board meetings as community advisers.





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