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Guest commentary

Upper Basin water: Talk or litigate? Which? Let's talk

Riparian fencing

< Riparian fencing is shown on the Loosely-Kizer Ranch in Ft. Klamath

The Wood Riverís bank are full of water and, yet, the valleyís irrigators are shut off due to a call of tribal instream water rights. I donít understand how we got here. And, more importantly, I donít know how we find a way forward.

In the 2013-14 negotiations with the Klamath Tribes, the Tribes made two specific asks that were distinct to the Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement and the irrigators and land owners in our region:

1) To increase the supply of water through retiring acres from irrigation.

2) To establish a riparian program to improve fish habitat.

The Upper Basin Agreement funding was tied to the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA). However, the Upper Basin Agreement remains an independent agreement between the Tribes and the landowners.

We agreed to both establish a water use agreement and a riparian management program. We agreed to just about everything the Tribes demanded. We conceded and agreed to invest an enormous amount of our own time, money and muscle so we could come to an agreement that would last ó that would provide some stability and certainty for both the Upper Basin irrigators and the Tribes.

Not only did we agree on paper, but we have been making progress on each of these agreements despite hiccups in funding and despite roadblocks, delays and obstructions from the Tribes. Not enough progress, to be sure, but the lack of cooperation and months-long delays in the riparian agreement alone are evidence of the barriers in place.

Collectively, the upper basin landowners have agreed to retire thousands of acres of irrigated land and built thousands of feet of fencing along streams, rivers and creeks.

If the Upper Basin Agreement is terminated, which the Tribes are actively pursuing, this progress will be lost. Without water for irrigation and stock water, we have no choice but to remove the fences and allow cattle access to forage and water. That seems counter to the Tribes habitat goals.

Despite the lack of funding after the KBRA died, we sought interim funding, lobbied for additional support and worked to keep the agreement intact.

We get it. The Tribes are angry. They were promised funds for economic development, land in the Mazama Forest and dam removal in the KBRA.

Ironically, the dam removal is moving forward under the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission and the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement, but the Tribes havenít signed onto that agreement either.

We love this valley and are invested in the success of the region ó and have been for decades. My great-great-grandfather brought my family to the Klamath Basin in 1872 as an employee of the Bureau of Indian Affairs to run the grist mill at the Klamath Agency and teach locals how to make flour.

Our success has been intertwined for more than 140 years. I like to think we can continue to work together to keep a healthy local and regional economy into the future that works for all of us.

If the Tribes want revenge, they should say so. If they donít want a settlement, we need to know. Then we can get on with the litigation process ó because thatís the inevitable next step. Litigation is expensive and itís divisive. It will not give the Tribes land and it will not preserve the improved riparian habitat created with the Upper Basin Agreement. But it is the only option landowners in the Upper Basin have for trying to get some water. And right now, thatís what we need.

We canít find a way forward without open communication and a willingness to get a conversation started. So, Klamath Tribes, what do you want? Letís talk.

Randall Kizer is a fifth generation resident of Fort Klamath and member of the Fort Klamath Critical Habitat and the president of the nonprofit landowner entity formed to oversee implementation of the Upper Klamath Basin Comprehensive Agreement.











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