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
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
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
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.