Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Reclamation position a key one for the Basin
March 22, 2006
Dave Sabo has had one of the Department of Interior's most difficult jobs for the past four years. He has been in charge of the Klamath Basin office of the Bureau of Reclamation since February 2002 and he's moving on. We wish him the best. He did well here in a challenging job.
His responsibilities included the Klamath Reclamation Project, which has about 188,000 acres under irrigation in the Klamath-Tule Lake areas.
It's been called one of the most complex irrigation projects in the United States. The area is threaded with canals and reservoirs, efficiently moving water from one area to another.
The biggest of the reservoirs is Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon's largest natural lake, which lies to the north of Klamath Falls. Irrigation water is released through the A Canal. Water from Upper Klamath also flows through the Link River to Lake Ewauna, where the Klamath River begins. Other reservoirs in the system include Clear Lake and Gerber.
Perhaps the most complicated part of the project, though, isn't the mechanics of moving water from one place to another, but determining how to use water that's been overcommitted.
Decisions on water allocation annually pit irrigators against American Indian tribes and their treaty rights. In addition, Endangered Species Act protection for two fish species - suckers in the upper Klamath Basin and coho salmon in the lower Basin - is also involved and entwined with the treaty rights.
The Project unfairly gets a lot of the blame for problems downriver and even out into the Pacific Ocean. Neither logic nor science support the attack on the Project, but it comes anyway because it's the easiest water to get at through the courts.
The agency with its hand on the faucet is the Bureau of Reclamation, but it isn't a free agent. How much water goes to irrigators vs. how much is held in Upper Klamath Lake for suckers vs. how much is sent downriver for coho is a struggle that includes federal fisheries personnel and environmental organizations along with farmers and tribes.
When the water to the Klamath Project was cut off in 2001, the issue eventually made its way to the highest levels of the Bush administration.
There's nothing simple about the Klamath Project.
Sabo came into a complex and emotional situation.
He worked to set up a cooperative approach by the stakeholders for long-term solutions. He tried to deal with the more immediate problems through such things as the water bank that pays irrigators for the water that they would normally take, but don't - thus freeing water for other uses.
Sabo is leaving to become the new assistant regional director for the Bureau of Reclamation's Upper Colorado Region headquartered in Salt Lake City.
The Klamath Basin position hasn't been filled yet.
The job will take someone who not only has technical expertise and can pick up quickly on the Basin's complicated water system, but has a talent for working with people - stakeholders and federal officials alike. The feds need to find the right person, and then show that person the support that the job needs if the Basin's water problems are going to be dealt with properly.
Pat Bushey wrote today's editorial, which represents the view of the Herald and News editorial board.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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